Celebrating Diversity in Farming and Food Production

March 29, 2010

My wife and I spent some time in Oregon recently, traveling around and seeing the sights. While the state’s mountains and beaches are wild and beautiful, something else struck me about the state: people in Oregon really care about food and agriculture.

Oregon, the locals like to say, is the ultimate “foodie” state. It did seem that nearly everyone we bumped into—from a bustling farmers’ market in Portland to the hilly wine country in Oregon’s southwest corner—had an opinion about food and how it’s produced today.

And once the locals discovered they were talking to Iowans, fresh in from the heart of the Corn Belt, they had questions.

From a West Coast perspective, agriculture in Iowa and the Midwest must appear monolithic and old-fashioned. When they think Iowa agriculture, they think corn, pigs and overalls.

So the Oregonians were pretty surprised to hear that Iowa, along with leading the country in corn, soybean and pork production, is dotted with farmers’ markets selling an ever-expanding array of products produced by local growers. They could hardly believe that the farmers’ market in downtown Des Moines was as big and diverse as the one in Portland, or that Iowa has a vibrant and growing wine sector.

Perhaps their biggest surprise came when we outlined the advanced technology that many farmers in Iowa use today. Most were taken aback that farmers are rapidly adopting satellite-based global positioning systems, planting high-tech seeds and continually monitor markets and other news on cell phones and laptop computers. It was a long way from the traditional image.

And folks from Oregon were also surprised to find out that farmers are using that technology to produce more food to feed a growing world population while reducing their environmental footprint. That too, just didn’t jive with what they’d heard about modern ag.

It was fun to explain that in the multi-pronged approach in Iowa agriculture, where there’s room for large, medium and small farms raising food and fuel for local consumers, as well as market halfway around the world.

That diversity just makes a lot of sense to folks who think a lot about food.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Battling the elements to care for animals

March 22, 2010

Welcome to the maternity ward. It’s starting to get packed,” Tim Kaldenberg says with a smile as he guided a calf into a barn on his Albia farm last week. This spring Kaldenberg, like many cattlemen across the state, is literally knee deep in mud while trying to provide care for calves that are being born daily.

Because of a wicked chain of events that started last year with above-normal amounts of rain, spanning into record-setting snow and now a quick thaw, Kaldenberg is battling Mother Nature and the mud to take care of his animals. To do that, Kaldenberg is vigilant night and day, checking on the newborns and watching their health in the harsh spring weather.

It’s exhausting work, but that’s what livestock farmers like Kaldenberg do to make sure their animals are safe and healthy, even in the toughest conditions.

You can also find out more about Kaldenberg and his farm at www.farmersfeedus.org. He is one of five Iowa Farm Bureau members who are featured at Iowa Farmers Feed Us program which has been developed to connect the state’s consumers to the farmers who raise their food. While catching up with Tim and other farmers, you can register at the Farmers Feed Us Web site to win free groceries for a year.

Below are more photos from a photo essay documenting a day in the life of  Tim Kaldenberg as he cares for his animals.

Tim Kaldenberg of Albia uses his tractor as leverage as he makes his way across ruts at the entrance of his pasture. Front-end assist and large tractor wheels are barely enough to manage passage through the deep mud that his pastures have turned into from melting snow and rain.

Kaldenberg cares for a calf that he brought into a barn to nurse back to health. As the day went on, the barn began to fill up with calves that needed a break from the harsh, muddy environment outside.

Kaldenberg coaxes a calf to feed from its mother. It is important to help establish an early bond so the calves don’t have to be bottle fed.

Kaldenberg talks to a hired hand on the phone while getting into his truck to check on cattle at another farm. He is busy around the clock making sure that newborn calves and his other cattle are in good health while battling tough weather conditions.

Kaldenberg places a calf in a sling and encourages its mother to follow as he rescues the calf from a muddy pasture. Kaldenberg was bringing the calf to the barn, fearing the calf would get stuck in the knee high mud and not be able to eat.

Photographs and Story by Joe Murphy
Joe is a Photographer/Writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Greener Than Your Beer

March 17, 2010

Wealth. Envy. Nausea. The term “green” is so versatile that’s it’s become the most over-used crayon in the box, so to speak. Any use of the word requires context. So in honor of National Agriculture Week (March 14-20) and our favorite Gaelic holiday (even if we’re not actually Irish), I thought it would be helpful to take a look at what it means to be “green” on the farm.

Iowa farmers devote more of their acres to grassy buffer strips (which reduce runoff, protecting our lakes and streams) than anyone else in the country, over 560,000!

Iowa farmers have voluntarily restored more than 80,000 acres of cropland to wetlands via the Wetland Reserve Program. That ranks 8th in the nation. Wetlands protect cities against storm surges and coastal areas from erosion. They also provide a habitat for wildlife.

conservation tillage

Iowa farmers devote millions of acres to no-till and conservation tillage. By leaving stalks and other crop residue on top of the ground, farmers reduce water runoff and soil erosion.

farmers in front of terrace

grassed waterway

Terraces, grassed waterways, contour farming and contour strip-cropping are just a few of the other practices farmers use to keep the soil in their fields and out of our streams.

Many livestock farmers plant vegetative buffers (trees and shrubs) around their barns to cut down on odor, aid existing soil and water protection efforts and improve the appearances of their farms. Farmers can receive technical advice to make sure they’re getting the most out of their buffers by participating in the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers’ Green Farmstead Partner program.

Not only do Iowa’s farmers protect our air, water and soil; they conserve the energy they use and produce renewable energy for the rest of us. Iowa ranks first in ethanol production and second in wind production, with over 3,000 megawatts of wind producing capacity. Iowa has enough wind power for nearly 900,000 homes, or roughly ¾ of the homes in Iowa. Now that’s green!

So DON’T pinch a farmer this week; they’re truly green, even when they’re not wearing any.

Written by Zach Bader / photos by Joe Murphy
Zach is a Communications Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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Protecting the water, protecting Iowa

March 8, 2010

With spring around the corner, Iowa is on high alert for another year of flooding. After a wet fall and the snowiest winter on record, the fields over much of the state are completely saturated. Even with only normal spring rains it’s likely that rivers and streams could swell out of their banks, threatening farms, rural residences and cities.

It’s impossible to know whether potential flooding in 2010 will match Iowa’s disaster of two years ago. But farmers, rural residents and city folks all know that conditions are right for another round and vow not to be caught off-guard. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has declared March Flood Awareness month, saying: “What happened in 2008 has made us all aware of the need to be prepared.”

It’s prudent to be prepared for spring floods after the fall and winter weather Iowa has experienced. But it’s even better to have a history of taking constructive steps to significantly improve water quality, save soil and reduce the potential for flood damage – something we can learn from Iowa’s farmers.

A study by Iowa State University found that Iowa farmers and citizens invest about $435 million each year on agricultural conservation practices. Many have added terracing, installed grass waterways and planted buffer strips, all of which help improve water quality and help slow the flow of excess surface water. That means rainfall has more time to soak into the soil instead of tumbling downstream. Many Iowa farmers have also adopted conservation tillage practices, which leave more crop residue on the surface of fields after harvest, once again slowing water flow and giving rainfall more time to percolate into the soil.

Iowa farmers have enrolled more than a half million acres in the continuous Conservation Reserve program (CRP), the most of any state in the nation. The state’s farmers have enrolled more than 80,000 acres in the federal government’s Wetland Reserve program, the eighth largest in the nation. Farmers have also embraced the state’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement (CREP) program which creates strategically-placed wetlands, to improve water quality and help minimize small-to–medium-sized rain. It’s telling that the CREP program is always oversubscribed with more farmers ready and willing to participate than the state has money for cost sharing. The popularity of these conservation programs is particularly impressive because Iowa farmers implement them on some of the most productive corn and soybean land in the world.

These efforts didn’t stop the floods of 2008 and certainly haven’t eliminated the potential for severe flooding this spring. But they do show that Iowa farmers believe in protecting soil, improving water quality and reducing the potential for serious flood damage where they can. What can we do?

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.

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