Planting the Seeds That Feed the World

June 23, 2010

Even before winter releases its icy grip and allows the spring thaw to transition across Iowa’s fields, farmers are preparing to plant, grow and harvest another successful crop that helps feed the world.

Before planters do start to roll across Iowa’s countryside, farmers make important decisions to the types of seed to plant have already been made. They must decide the corn hybrids and soybean varieties to plants, along with the technologies they will employ. Those technologies can mean higher yields in different weather and pest situations.

As the tractors make their way through fields strewn with old corn stalks and bean stubble, the farmers know that the residue left behind from the previous year’s harvest provides a valuable cover to the rich black soil. Conservation tillage, combined with other environmentally-friendly practices, such as buffer strips along streams and strategically-place wetlands have reduced erosion and improved water quality, while enhancing wildlife habitat and recreation across the country.

As the corn and soybean plants emerge, family farmers keep a careful eye on their crops and utilize techniques to minimize weeds and control pests. If Mother Nature cooperates with the right mixture of sun and rain farmers can expect to produce safe abundant crops. The United States provides 41 percent of the world’s production of corn and 33 percent of the world’s soybean production. Those grains grown by one farmer help feed 155 people in the United States and abroad.

The above slideshow is a brief look at farmers planting their crops in Iowa and the hard work they do every year to provide food to a hungry world while caring for the environment.

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

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Summer School of Higher Learning

June 15, 2010

Now that school is out, my 13-year-old daughter is embracing her new schedule. In short, she doesn’t do anything. These last few days have found her on the couch, TV blaring, i-pod headphones in place and reading an e-book on her Nook. I can’t help but think that although my childhood on the farm was difficult, there were lessons learned by all those hot, summer days spent bean-walking at dawn, fence-painting at noon and manure-scooping at sunset – lessons she’ll never learn.

Although this is a short-term blip before her sports, church and academic summer camps begin, it still seems like those camps, wonderful as they are, can’t possibly teach the life skills I learned growing up on a farm.

I learned how to be strong by hoisting hay bales; I learned how to be tolerant walking beans – getting up before dawn, cutting weeds out of steaming, muddy fields that stretched for miles; I learned how to be fast by chasing pigs that got out of the feedlot; I learned to be gentle but firm while holding squirming baby pigs for vaccination; I learned about the circle of life when animals we raised from birth were sold to market (regardless of my tears and months of bonding). All are skills unlearned by today’s Iowans, now three or more generations removed from farming.

Not only are too many suburban-dwelling kids like my daughter removed from the character-building value of the sweaty, dirty, heavy-lifting jobs which are a part of farm life, they’re uneducated on modern food production. How can we be surprised when they are seduced or recruited by animal activists who claim food today comes from cruel practices or polluters? Many kids have never been on a farm to gain the experience to discern the truth themselves.

But, I propose we find a way to get these suburban “couch dwellers” to a type of Farm Camp, where they can spend a week or two pulling weeds, painting fences, chasing pigs, scooping manure. They just may learn that it takes more than a trip to the grocery store to put food on the table. And, who knows how that knowledge can be applied to benefit parents everywhere; I have a feeling that if nothing else, these suburban kids will come away from livestock chores thinking they have no reason to complain when Mom tells them to pick up after their dog in the back yard, you know?

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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On today’s Iowa farms, one size does NOT fit all

June 9, 2010

In a lot of ways, I’m an old school guy.

When I’m ready to cook a burger or a steak, I still light up the charcoal—I’ve never owned a gas grill. The thrill of video games is a mystery to me; I’d much rather play a board game, or better yet, a round of ping-pong in the basement. And I’m pretty much in the Stone Age when it comes to tools around my house.

Is my way better? Nope. It’s just what works for me.

It’s the same way with farming today, in Iowa and around the country. There are just a lot of farmers doing a lot of different things to produce safe and wholesome food for consumers, make a living from the land; support their families and their rural communities; while caring for the environment.

There’s no perfect farming system, marketing program, or size of operation. Instead, there’s a growing diversity. Indeed, Iowa agriculture is more diverse than it used to be, maybe more diverse than it’s been in a century.

That was clear in a pair of dairy farms we profiled for this year’s June Dairy Month in two of our Farm Bureau publications: Spokesman and Family Living.

In Family Living we caught up with Mike and Jason Bandstra of Pella, who are tapping into booming markets for local food. They are using the milk from their cow herd to make fine Gouda cheese to sell at farmers’ markets under their Frisian Farms label.

For the Bandstra brothers, Gouda cheese making has been a great vehicle to grow the farm and support their families, without adding more cows or more labor. And by making Gouda, they get to celebrate their proud Dutch heritage, to boot.

In Spokesman we profiled 25-year-old Andrew Vagts of West Union, who has struggled through a very tough wholesale milk market as he works to carry on the family dairy legacy. Despite a tough start, Vagts still brims with energy and optimism about dairying and his future in the business.

And like the Bandstras with their cheese making, Vagts is interested in finding ways to tap into the growing market for local foods.

These examples, I think, illustrate that in the dairy business—or any segment of Iowa farming—there is no right way to do things; and there is no perfect size.

It’s going to take all types of farms to sustainably produce food for a hungry world population, which is expected to grow by 3.5 billion in the next half century, as well as the wide-range of specialty foods increasingly demanded by the local food markets. And farmers have to do that while they protect the environment and care for their animals.

Tall tasks, for sure. But certainly attainable for the strong, energetic and increasingly diverse farmers we have in Iowa.

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

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