Blackout: Internet Users Aren’t the Only Ones Who Depend on Technology

January 20, 2012

My 14-year-old daughter is a quiet, serious soul who isn’t prone to hysterics or drama, so you can imagine my reaction when I heard a shriek and a ‘slam’ come from her room this week. Was it a mouse? A rabid raccoon in the backyard? No, the Internet had ‘crashed’ right as she was trying to access information while writing an English paper.

Teenagers, lawmakers and otherwise-sane-adults sounded a collective ‘gasp’ when more than 10,000 websites shut down in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act bill. Millions of signatures and petitions were gathered in a single day because Americans wanted Congress to get this point: we need technology.

Well, here’s my point: we also need to embrace technology in farming. It seems farming is the only industry that people want to remain unchanged from the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s. Maybe that’s because the last time many Americans were on a farm, it was before the Internet. Back then, weeds from soybean fields were removed by roving bands of hoe-swinging, sweaty teenagers. Back then, corn was put in the fields with six row planters (if you’re lucky) and it took three days to harvest a 100-acre field and all that work would bring a farmer less than $2 per bushel. Yields were a fraction of what they are today. There weren’t a lot of choices in production; farming was labor intensive and fewer farm kids went on to college because that’s just the way things were.

Today, tractors are bigger, yields are bigger, and corn prices are twice what they were in the 80’s. That’s not all that’s gaining ground in rural Iowa today; college education levels, which once hovered around 10 percent in the 1980’s, are now over 30 percent. There are more choices in food production; you want organic? Iowa farmers grow it. You want conventional? Iowa farmers grow it. What you want depends on what you are able and willing to pay.

Clearly, technology in farming has brought more choices to you and me. I, for one, am glad for those choices, and the progress that made them possible. It’s food for thought; as you wheel your cart down the grocery aisle, armed with your iPhone-enabled QR-code price scanners, there’s no going back. And, for that matter, who would want to?

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

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Choosing Sanity Over Snails

January 11, 2012

It’s perfectly understandable why so many folks care how farmers care for the land; it doesn’t just need to be protected because it feeds us, but because our fertile soils and watersheds always have and always will be Iowa’s most valuable asset.
But there’s a growing concern that some well-intentioned folks have taken efforts to be sustainable to a whole new level, calling for the sacrifice of property rights, food production and jobs for the sake of ‘speciesism’ (choosing plants or animals over people). ‘Speciesism’ seems to be ‘de riguer’ these days in Hollywood and national media, so that’s probably why the subject packed the house this week at the 2012 American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting.

Rob Gordon, senior advisor for strategic outreach for the Heritage Foundation (, says being environmentally-sustainable is important, but too often regulations are put in place which go beyond common sense. “Science has to be ‘good science’ which means it must follow scientific method. That means if you conduct an experiment and write down how you do it, I should be able to replicate your results. Right now species are added to endangered lists based on ‘best available data,’ which doesn’t mean rational, duplicated, sane or even scientific.”

Gordon then went on to illustrate that point by way of the Pleistocene Snail.

The Pleistocene snail ( is a tiny snail that lives on rocky outcropping areas in Iowa and was declared ‘endangered’ in 1978. So, the government took over land and created the National Wildlife Refuge near Dubuque to protect the snails. But, there were snags in maintaining the tiny creature’s population because, according to Gordon, the biggest threats remained: the lack of an Ice Age and humans. It seems well-intentioned environmentalists who went out to ‘count’ these tiny snails were killing them by accidentally stepping on them. Since these tiny snails thrived in glacial conditions, the government deemed that the next best ‘savior’ for the Pleistocene is to keep the National Wildlife Refuge near Dubuque in place, and wait for the next Ice Age.

“Clearly, this is a case of speciesism and regulation run amok. We have to remember that environmental policy can’t be good environmental policy if it doesn’t take people into account,” says Gordon.

In an age when snails are deemed more important than farming, feeding people or employing them, something is wrong. That’s why folks like Gordon are out there reading the fine print, calling for people to ask questions and demand conservation efforts be based on repeatable, scientific results that take human beings into account. Waiting for the government to realize this however, could take…until the next Ice Age.

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

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New Year’s resolution

January 3, 2012

Now that the last of the Christmas cookies are gone, the New Year ushers in our renewed focus on healthy eating.

Thankfully, eating healthier doesn’t have to mean snacking on celery sticks or enduring a cabbage-soup diet. Today, dieticians are encouraging Americans to add more variety to their meals by choosing colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as lean meats and dairy foods. Even a decadent piece of dark chocolate is now considered a health food, when eaten in moderation, of course.

Healthy eating has never been as easy as it is today. Walk through the produce aisle of your local grocery store, and you’re likely to find a bounty of good-for-you convenience foods. I especially love the pre-cut broccoli florets that you can pop in the microwave and steam in the same bag they are packaged in. Who has the time, or the knife skills, to cut up a head of broccoli? Definitely not me.

Consumers today are demanding healthier foods to serve their families. And American farmers are listening. Down in the South, farmers are reportedly planting more sweet potatoes, a nutritional “superfood” that is growing in popularity.

Here in Iowa, farmers are focused on raising healthy livestock to provide the lean proteins that consumers demand. Did you know that a pork tenderloin is just as lean as a boneless, skinless chicken breast? In addition, more than 29 cuts of beef are considered lean by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Iowa is also home to more than 200 farmers markets offering a wide assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many Iowa farmers are building “hoop houses,” or unheated greenhouses, to extend their growing season into the winter months.

At the recent Des Moines winter farmers market, vendors were offering cool-season crops such as kale, another “superfood” that has become a trendy vegetable among foodies, according to a recent NPR article (

The choices really are endless when it comes to healthy eating. It just takes a commitment to making these better choices, and a willingness to try the nutritious foods that our farmers provide.

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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