Thankful for Iowa’s turkey farmers

November 25, 2015
Iowa turkey farmer Mark Herrig

Iowa turkey farmer Mark Herrig

This Thanksgiving, as my grandmother-in-law serves the traditional Thanksgiving turkey and chicken-filled raviolis (she’s Italian), I’ll pause an extra minute to think about the farmers who grow the food for our meal.

I’ll especially think about the turkey and chicken growers I visited with as they battled avian influenza this year. I know they made difficult choices and worked hard to be back into business, raising safe, healthy turkeys we enjoy. Thankfully, most of Iowa’s growers are back in business.

I know Mark and Terry Herrig are thankful, too. They were forced to depopulate their 43,000 turkeys after the disease was confirmed on their farm near Albert City in late April. They spent the entire summer cleaning and disinfecting their barns, composting birds that had to be euthanized, and trying to piece their farm back together. They did all of this because they believe in raising healthy turkeys that provide safe food for us to enjoy.

Finally, in September, a flock of baby turkeys, or poults, arrived at their farm and they were back into turkey production.

The Herrig family is slowly starting to rebuild their turkey flock to full capacity. They want to continue to raise healthy birds, which will eventually be used in deli meat for restaurants like Jimmy John’s and Subway.

This Thanksgiving, around the family’s dinner table, the Herrigs said they will be counting their blessings.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Terry said. “We’re thankful to be back in business. Things are going good again.” The Herrigs’ story is just one of several among turkey growers here in Iowa and in other states like Minnesota and Missouri, which raise the turkeys that will be a part of our Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m grateful for all farmers, but this year, I’m especially thankful for the hard-working men and women who work hard to raise healthy, safe turkeys. Now, please pass the turkey.

By Bethany Baratta. Bethany is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Commodities Writer.

Is the Des Moines Water Works leader really worth a half million bucks?

November 17, 2015

Bill StoweSo is Bill Stowe worth a half-million dollars?

The Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) board, a public utility, has agreed to pay Stowe, their CEO, a $500,000 bonus for staying on the job through 2020. That’s on top of his annual salary of $211,665 and the $90,000 bonus he’ll collect by staying through 2017.

Not surprisingly, Stowe and the DMWW board are starting to get some heat from rate payers over the bonus plan, especially after the water supplier recently announced that it is raising rates to its customers by 10 percent.

A recent editorial last week in the Des Moines Register, long an ardent supporter of the DMWW leader, wondered whether Stowe’s bonus was over the top. Earlier, an editorial in the Storm Lake Pilot Tribune raised similar questions and noted: “Most people in Iowa would like to have a $500,000 bonus for continuing to stay on the job.”

Any way you look at it, Stowe really is getting a very sweet deal.

He collects the $500,000 bonus for staying until 2020, but can still cash in if he leaves earlier “for good reason.” Those reasons, according to the Register, include the DMWW board disagreeing with Stowe on policy and direction; the board substantially reducing Stowe’s authority or the board refusing to appoint staffers that the CEO wants on the payroll.

With contract provisions like those, you’ve got to wonder who’s really in charge at DMWW, Stowe or his bosses on the board of directors. It also provides an indication why DMWW, with Stowe leading the way, charged down the road to file a misguided lawsuit against three northwest Iowa counties. The suit is trying to force the drainage districts there to obtain Clean Water Act permits for ag drainage tile systems. Stowe’s also been highly critical of Iowa farmers, has advocated for one-size-fits all regulations and has dismissed attempts at rural–urban collaborations to improve water quality.

Yet Stowe’s focus these days seems to be less on delivering water at reasonable rates and more on disparaging Iowa agriculture.

As a rate payer of DMWW, my question to their board is, “Other than bring a lawsuit that is costing me more money and will not improve water quality, what has Stowe done specifically to ensure safe water delivery over the long-term at reasonable rates?” It’s no secret that DMWW has aging infrastructure that has caused the city of Des Moines great pain in terms of water main breaks (one in my own neighborhood). What is the plan to fix that? That goes well beyond a nitrate removal facility and is not something I’ve heard addressed by Stowe or the board.

So one has to wonder, is he worth a half a million dollars? Or is this more of a smoke and mirrors game he’s playing while pushing his own personal, environmental activist agenda at the rate payers’ expense?

Either way, his tactics are a stark contrast to many other Iowa communities, including Cedar Rapids, who are collaborating with farmers and others to find real solutions to water quality issues in the state. They are working through Iowa’s innovative Nutrient Reduction Strategy to work with farmers to reduce losses of nitrogen and phosphorus from farm fields by promoting cover crops, wetlands, bioreactors and other proven practices to improve water quality.

These collaborations are getting conservation and water quality improvements on the land right now and will make lasting improvements in Iowa’s water quality. That’s something a torturously-long lawsuit can never do.

One can only hope that DMWW board and their half-million dollar man, CEO Bill Stowe, will someday see the light.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s news services manager.

It’s almost turkey time, and there’s going to be plenty

November 12, 2015

Turkey whole GFWith Thanksgiving a few weeks away, I can’t stop daydreaming about the holiday meal and piling up my plate with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and my favorite pumpkin pie.

I’ve been scoping out the weekly grocery ads, trying to find the best deals on frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving. I get a kick out of seeing how the stores will compete to be the go-to stop for all my holiday meal shopping. One store will offer turkeys for 98 cents per pounds, another will advertise 79 cents per pound. Or I’ll see coupons for a free turkey if I buy a ham.

Yet, I was little worried about turkey prices – and supplies – earlier this year when the avian influenza outbreak hit turkey and egg farms in the Upper Midwest, including Iowa.

In late July, I made an overnight trip to Cedar Rapids for a meeting. I remember turning on the TV in the hotel room and seeing a local news story about how there could be a shortage of turkeys this fall because of the avian influenza outbreak in the spring.

But despite what you may hear in the news, Iowans likely won’t see a shortage of turkeys this holiday season, says Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that supplies of frozen turkeys in cold storage, or refrigerated warehouses, are normal for this time of year, Irwin notes. “We’re right on track with where we have always been with supply,” she says.

So don’t feel like you have to rush out and buy a turkey before they all get gobbled up. In fact, you may end up saving a little money if you wait until grocery stores start offering Thanksgiving turkey specials, Irwin says.

Part of the reason is that the avian influenza outbreak was regionalized to the Upper Midwest, where migratory birds flying north in the spring were suspected of spreading the virus. Other major turkey-producing states in North Carolina, Arkansas and California weren’t impacted by the outbreak.

Irwin says Iowans will see the prices drop as grocery chains start offering specials to lure customers to do all their holiday shopping in their stores.

“I fully expect that we will see ‘loss leaders’ for turkey in grocery stores this year,” Irwin says. “So ‘buy a ham, get a turkey for free’ (specials). Or the turkey is under $1 a pound.”

Plus, turkey remains a great value when compared to other protein choices, Irwin adds. You can freeze the turkey leftovers to make an endless variety of meals.

Irwin says she likes to add a little taco seasoning to pre-cooked, shredded turkey to prepare turkey tacos. You can also use turkey as a pizza topping or add it to a casserole.

“Looking at having that protein available as a quick and easy meal in the month of December I think is great because we seem to be so busy with holiday activities and baking and those types of things,” Irwin says.

So when you’re buying a Thanksgiving turkey, think big. Or do what I do, and buy two turkey while they’re on sale. You can never have enough leftovers.

For more turkey recipe ideas, visit

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.







Moving beyond blah, blah, blah to show the safety and value of GMOs

October 30, 2015


Iowa corn harvestHave you heard about the safety and value of GMOs? Probably not, and that’s a big problem.

America’s food and environmental safety agencies have repeatedly vouched for the safety of foods made with crops developed using biotech, which are often called GMO foods. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and other food safety agencies – not to mention major health organizations like the American Medical Association – all assert that the scientific evidence strongly shows that GMO foods are safe. They also stress that biotech crops have helped the environment by reducing the need for pesticides and aiding farmers’ efforts to save soil.

The agencies say it makes no sense to force the labeling of foods made with GMO crops. That’s because there is really no difference in the quality or the safety, they say, and labels should be reserved for things that consumers really need to know, such as allergens.

But, as lawmakers crossly stated at a recent hearing in biotech crops, the message on GMO safety and value is just not getting out to the public. After one official cited various scientific studies his agency used to reassure the public, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp told him bluntly the efforts just weren’t working. “You say that, but what people hear is blah, blah, blah,” she said.

And she’s right.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence showing they are wrong, biotech opponents have been far more successful at spreading mistruths and fear about the technology. They wear scary costumes to frighten consumers. They trot out ill-informed movie stars to attract media buzz. And they flood social media sites with bogus information to heighten the fear factor.

But like that newly carved jack-o-lantern on your porch, this scary stuff tends to have a short shelf life.

porkI’m starting to see more and more articles highlighting real scientific evidence which points to the safety and value of GMOS like this one, or this one.  Web-based sources, like Best Food Facts and GMO Answers, are providing consumers clear and timely answers to their questions about GMOS. And maybe even food safety agencies can someday move beyond blah, blah, blah, when they assert the safety of and value of GMOs.

The evidence is clear, GMOS are safe and valuable for consumers and the environment.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is news services manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.

Take it from an Iowa farm girl: here are 10 good reasons to keep eating meat

October 28, 2015

BaconJust when I’d dealt with the whole ‘sitting is the new smoking’ study, by upping my exercise regimen,  it now appears another aspect of my daily life is casting health dispersions; red meat.  But this one, I don’t plan to give up.  Let me explain.

First, what I’m talking about is a new report by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer, which puts processed meats in the same carcinogenic category as cigarettes, diesel-engine exhaust and asbestos. Specifically, the WHO hypothesis isn’t based on new studies, but a compilation of observational studies, which concluded that eating more than a pound a week of red and processed meat increases the risk of colorectal or stomach cancers.

Despite this study, the US Department of Agriculture hasn’t changed its recommendation for keeping lean meats in the diet ( ).

So, with all that in mind, I submit my Top 10 List of Reasons Why I Still Eat Bacon:

10)   I grew up on a livestock farm.  My Grandma not only served meat three times a day, seven days a week and happily cooked pies with lard, she lived to the feisty age of 99.  We loved her, her BLT’s and her pies!

9) The World’s Oldest Woman, 116-year-old Susannah Mushatt Jones, has a sign on her kitchen that reads, “Bacon Makes Everything Better’ and eats two strips every day. She must know something.

Pig farmer with daughters8) I know hundreds of Iowa livestock farmers, hearty and strong, who eat meat every day, usually from animals they grow on their own farms.  They definitely know something!

7) Fake meat is, well, fake. Why do vegetarians go to such extremes to create fake foods that taste like meat?  Why do they need to, and who enjoys such things, especially after reading those tofu dogs not only have meat, but (ahem) human DNA?

6) As my favorite doctor, (my husband) always chirps; “Commonality doesn’t equal causality.”  So, if eating two slices of bacon a day raises the risk of getting cancer by 18-percent (according to the new WHO report), it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it.  You can apply ‘lottery logic’ here; buying a ticket every day doesn’t mean you’ll win the lottery.  Besides, scientists agree when it comes to your cancer risk, the “genetic lottery” is a more predictable, if not a guaranteed indicator of risk:

5) Humans are mortal.  Unless you’re Susannah Mushatt Jones, life is short.  Do you want to live to 100 if all you could eat is fake cheese that won’t melt, Tofurky, flax, miso paste and beans?  Well, that’s your choice.  (I’ll be sitting upwind from you, thanks).

4) Sun exposure, genetics, obesity, radon, hair dyes, cell phones, lead, antiperspirants, eye shadow, Teflon and exposure to talcum powder and fluoridated water are also accused of increasing our risk to cancer.  Maybe the question should be; what doesn’t? Or, even better, who wants to deal every day with the stick-thin, smelly, off-the-grid, flax-eating, toothless, chaffed and desperate-for-a-make-over Nervous Nelly who lives her life to avoid all risks?

3) Steak with red wine shallot sauce? Testify!

2) Red meat just goes with red wine.  Which I happily drink … for medicinal purposes.

citrus-marinated beef and fruit kabobs1). Red meat is the tie that binds us all at so many family and social gatherings; it’s the hushed reverence we feel as Moms bring out the Thanksgiving turkey; it’s the steaks Dads brag about grilling to perfection on for the Fourth of July; it’s kids, enjoying a brat at the World Series; it’s football fans noshing on hamburger-hearty chili at Superbowl tailgates. In short; it’s just plain, unapologetically American, and I, like many, proudly raise a fork and salute the men and women, the farmers, who help make it all happen!

By Laurie Johns. Laurie is the public relations manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Food, and having enough, creates a universal language

October 15, 2015

St1 Food, and having enough of it, creates a universal language. That was underscored for me recently when I attended the annual Iowa Hunger Summit, and during the luncheon, I found myself sitting between a graduate student from Ghana and a public health dietitian from northern Iowa, and both talked about food security.

That’s why I couldn’t stop myself from peppering them both with questions about what they do and what brought them to the Iowa Hunger Summit. The annual event, sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau and FBL Financial, highlights the efforts of Iowans to fight hunger both close to home at abroad.

The dietitian told me that she is working with local farmers on an “agricultural urbanism” project in Cerro Gordo County. The group hopes to secure grant funding to plant community gardens and supply fresh produce to local food pantries.

The grad student from Ghana told me that he came to Iowa State University to study “maize,” or corn as we call it here in the United States.

He said one of the biggest differences between corn farming in Ghana and Iowa is the mechanization. Here in Iowa, we’re planting and harvesting corn with large farm equipment. In Ghana, almost all the work is done by hand, so farms are very limited in size. Farmers there struggle to grow large enough crops not only to feed their neighbors, but also to feed their own families.

Mac-&-Cheese----Meals-from-the-Heartland1I attend a lot meetings and luncheons for my job, but I can’t think of another time when I’ve sat down at a table with such a diverse group from around the world. But we all share a common goal – to fight hunger, whether that’s in our neighborhoods or in a country half a globe away.mmm1

And it’s all happening in Iowa, where farmers raise the crops and livestock that feed our families and a growing world population.

As we learned at the Iowa Hunger Summit, it will take collaboration from everyone – individuals, communities, government leaders, private organizations – to solve food insecurity.

I could tell from the energy and optimism of all the “hunger fighters” at the table that we can all work together, across borders and oceans, to end hunger.

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.



8 early takeaways from the World Food Prize

October 14, 2015

World Food PrizeThe World Food Prize is a mixture of old and new.

Every year the Des Moines-based conference poses an age-old question (how should we feed a growing world population?) and gathers global leaders for renewed discussion, with fresh data and perspectives.

The conversation kicked off Tuesday, with the Iowa Hunger Summit, and continues through Friday.

Here are a few early takeaways from the conference:

1. Hunger is closer than you think. One in eight Iowans and one in five Iowa children are food insecure. If that isn’t startling enough, Feeding America has county-level data on overall hunger and hunger amongst children, so you can see just how real the problem is in your own community.

2. The world’s population, middle class, and food demand are growing. According to the just-released 2015 GAP Report from Global Harvest Initiative (GHI), the world population will grow from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050, and the global middle class will increase from 50 percent to 70 percent. We’ll need to nearly double global agricultural production by 2050 to meet growing demand.

3. Improved efficiency and productivity are musts. GHI estimates that we need to grow global agricultural efficiency (more output from existing resources) by 1.75 percent annually to double agricultural output by 2050. Globally, we’re a bit behind, averaging only 1.72 percent in annual efficiency growth.

4. So is reducing waste. Did you know that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations says one-third of food produced is lost or wasted along the pathway from production to human consumption?

5. U.S. farmers are delivering. From 1948 to 2011, USDA data shows that total U.S. farm output grew by 156 percent, while total inputs (e.g. land, fertilizer) remained nearly unchanged!

U.S. farm productivity, efficiency

6. And you’re reaping the benefits! The average U.S. consumer spends the lowest percentage of household income on food consumed at home among 86 selected countries in the GAP Report.

7. Families are making it happen. More than 97 percent of U.S. farms are family farms, according to GHI.

8. And they’re doing it with technology. According to Dr. Channapatna Prakash (Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tuskegee University and winner of the 2015 Borlaug CAST Communications Award at the World Food Prize), biotechnology is making food more plentiful and affordable than ever before. It’s also helping make food healthier and safer (especially for those with food allergies), giving it a longer shelf life (to reduce waste), allowing farmers to use less pesticide, etc.

The challenge and opportunities for each of us are clear. Take a little time to tune into the remainder of the World Food Prize discussion this week, and ask yourself how you fit into local and global food solutions.

By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s online community manager.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 125 other followers

%d bloggers like this: