The new faces of farming

August 28, 2012

In the United States, farmers make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population and the average age of American farmers today is 57 years old. So as the generation of farm Baby Boomers inches closer to retirement, who will be in the next crop of young farmers?

Let me introduce you to one: Ben Johnson.

Ben, 29, is a fifth-generation farmer from Ireton in far northwest Iowa and newly-elected chair of the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Committee. He and his wife, Janelle, both grew up on hog farms and are excited to carry on the tradition.

Ben started farming early. When he was still an ag student at South Dakota State University, he decided to start raising hogs on his own and built two finishing barns.

Like a lot of young farmers, Ben is doing things a bit differently than his parents. He custom feeds hogs for a Minnesota-based company. Ben says custom-feeding is a good way for young farmers like himself to get a foothold into farming.

“My dad had always owned hogs, but there was a lot of (price) volatility with that …,” Ben says. “That’s why I decided to do the custom-farming route. It’s a steady paycheck that comes every month, and you don’t have to worry about what the market does as much. And it’s easier to get financing from a bank because I have a contract signed for so many years.”

Ben also raises hogs indoors because it’s better for the animals and the environment. The modern barns that Ben raises hogs in today help protect the animals from the elements and allow Ben to monitor their health and feed intake better.

When Ben was growing up, his dad raised hogs in outdoor lots. Ben remembers having to do chores and check on the hogs through the cold northwest Iowa winters.

As chair of the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Committee, Ben says he hopes to help other young people who dream of getting into farming.

“My dad was really able to help me get up and going, but not everybody has that same opportunity,” Ben says. “I want to help other young farmers get started a live a good lifestyle on the farm and be able to raise a family in a good environment.”

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

Farm Strong: Taking a whack at learning about agriculture

August 23, 2012

Did you make it to Farm Bureau Park during the Iowa State Fair? Thousands of folks did and they had a great time learning about today’s agriculture and meeting with real farmers. But perhaps the most popular attraction at the park was the high-striker game…and maybe it was a little too popular for its own good.

Visitors to Farm Bureau Park lined up to answer a quick quiz about just how Farm Strong they were. Those who passed the test got a chance to take a whack at the high-striker game and win prizes. Nearly every visitor to the park—young and old, big and small—got into the swing of the game, testing their actual muscles with the mallet after showing their Farm Strong chops in the quiz.

In fact, the high-striker game took so many whacks during its stint at Farm Bureau Park that it started to come apart. Springs snapped, bolts broke, and welds withered under the happy pounding.

Luckily for us, we had real farmers around. You know, folks who can fix nearly anything as well as answering consumers’ questions about agriculture.  Farmers today are adept at repairing everything from a busted fence post to high-tech machines that pull down GPS coordinates. A wobbly high-striker game was a piece of cake to these guys and gals. Thanks to them, the game held together all 10 days of the Iowa State Fair and visitors to Farm Bureau Park got to see just how farm strong they actually were.

Sadly the 2012 Iowa State Fair is history. But Farm Bureau Park will be open again next year with more fun and games and more farmers to answer consumers’ questions. And of anything needs to be fixed, they’ll be able to handle that, too.

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

Farm Kids Infect Millions

August 16, 2012

It happened.

Yep, I contracted the same virus that ‘infected’ over 6 million people this summer from all walks of life – and it was started by farm kids!
Honestly though, I was only “infected” for about three and a half minutes, and after, I actually felt great! So you ask “how did you get it and what is it?”

Well, it came from a couple mouse clicks and as for what it is, just check out the video below and you’ll find out!

I’m sure you’ve figured out after watching it, I was talking about a “viral video” (a cool way for saying a whole bunch of people watched it). It was created by three Kansas farm kids who also star in the video.

The trio wanted to show non-farmers about their love for farm life, the work they do and how important it is to put Wheaties in our bowls or a sizzling steak on our plates.

So using the hit song “Sexy and I Know It” from LMFAO, Kansas State University Student, Greg Peterson rewrote the lyrics, recruited his brothers Kendal and Nathan and with some camera work from their little sister, uploaded it to YouTube as the Parody “I’m Farming and I Grow It” in late June.
Over 6.5 million views later…you have a video virus my friends.

Since that time, they’ve been all over the internet and the country talking about their hit video.

Check out their interview on Fox News.
Is it fun? Yep! Original? You Bet!

But what I like most about it is that three young men decided to show their true and honest passion and pride for what they do.

And what they do is farm.

Feeling feverish?

Oh and don’t forget the outtakes!

Written by Jeremy Coyle
Jeremy is a Senior Producer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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A better gift for a birthday party

August 13, 2012

My kids love birthday parties. In their eyes, nothing beats getting together with a group of friends to go swimming, ice skating or just jump on a trampoline and scream at the top of their lungs (although I don’t know how the rest of the neighborhood feels about that last one).

As a parent, though, I dread the whole gift-giving part – whether my kids are on the giving or receiving end. My kids don’t really need any more toys – that’s apparent each year when we weed through the pile of things they don’t play with any more. I’m guessing most of their friends’ parents feel the same way, evidenced by the fact that many of the gifts exchanged at these parties are in the form of cash or gift cards to a favorite store.

I’ve toyed with the idea of putting “no gifts” on the invitations for my kids’ parties, but that seems like something you do for a 50th wedding anniversary, not an 8-year-old’s birthday party. And, quite honestly, it wouldn’t feel right sending my kids to another party without some type of gift or offering in hand.

So, a recent party invitation from one of my son’s baseball teammates and his brother offered what I saw as a nearly perfect solution.

“This year, instead of presents, the boys have asked that their friends bring a non-perishable food item – something that kids would like – which will be donated to a local food pantry,” their mom wrote in the invitation.


Instead of Matchbox cars or Nerf footballs that will be collecting dust in a week, they’ll be collecting boxes of macaroni-and-cheese and jars of peanut butter that will end up on a hungry family’s table.

So, how did this idea come about?

“With drought fears growing, the boys want to make sure others kids have enough to eat,” their mom said. “They’ve obviously been paying attention to the news reports of rising food prices as a consequence of the drought.”

The things children notice on TV is a little scary, she added.

That’s true, but it’s also impressive that these boys not only noticed what’s going on in the world around them, but were resourceful and motivated enough to become part of the solution.

The sad fact is, even before this year’s drought, 1 in 5 Iowa children did not have enough to eat, according to the Food Bank of Iowa. The struggling economy and high unemployment have put a strain on Iowa food banks, which are having trouble keeping their shelves stocked, according to Food Bank of Iowa Executive Director Carey Miller.

“We are distributing every pound of food that comes into the facility,” Miller said earlier this year. “Almost as fast as it gets here, it goes right back out the door.”

Maybe a few more birthday parties could help.

For more information about Iowa food banks, go to or the Iowa Food Bank Association at

Written by Tom Block

Tom is Spokesman News Ccoordinator for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

Gobbling it up: Putting water bills in perspective

August 9, 2012

Unrelenting heat and little rain has been the theme of this summer. Like many Iowans I gave up on a green lawn weeks ago. When I did water the lawn back in July, I realized the water bill would also be unrelenting.

After meeting turkey grower Nick Hermanson last week, I have a different perspective on my water bill. Hermanson, vice president of Woodland Farms, raises turkeys in Story County (chances are your next turkey Subway sandwich is an Iowa product). Keeping the birds cool requires a lot of water delivered through a system of misters. The mister system alone requires up to 1,600 gallons of water per hour.

So when I start to dread my water bill, compared to Nick’s, it’s a drop in the bucket.

Gary is the photographer/writer for Iowa Farm Bureau

Not your father’s, or grandfather’s, drought

August 7, 2012

The drought of 2012 has launched a bumper crop of comparisons to droughts of the past.  First, we compared this year to 1988, the worst drought in most Iowans’ memories. Eventually, we all started linking the 2012 drought to the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, the devastating era we all learned about in our history books.

The 2012 drought is certainly a tough one and it’s clear that scorching heat and lack of rain will reduce corn and soybean harvests in Iowa and other Midwestern states. But farmers in Iowa and around the Midwest are much better prepared for drought and other weather disasters than their fathers and grandfathers.  And that’s good news for consumers.

Here are some facts:

  • Some 15 million acres of Iowa land is farmed using conservation tillage that helps conserve moisture and nutrients, even in a tough year like 2012.
  • Farmers have adopted the latest seed genetics, which are able to withstand drought, insects and disease (crop killers that often accompany droughts) much better than only a few years ago.
  • High-tech precision agriculture, like GPS and computer generated field grids, help farmers conserve nutrients. The new equipment also reduces the number of times a farmer needs to drive his equipment in the field, which helps the soil conserve moisture.
  • Livestock and dairy farmers have also become far more efficient, which is helping them conserve feed and offset some of the dramatic rise in feed prices caused by the drought.

Consumers are likely to feel some impact from the drought of 2012 in higher food prices. But farmers’ continual adoption of technology and productivity means that the drought will have less of a negative impact on food availability and costs than historic droughts, like 1988 or those in the 1930s. And it’s important to remember that, drought or no drought, Americans continue to have a wide array of affordable food choices; choices that are ancestors could only dream about.

Yes, the drought of 2012 has been one for the history books. But without continual investments and adaptions by farmers, it could have been a lot worse for consumers.

Here’s a quick look at how much better U.S. agriculture is positioned than in previous droughts.

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

It’s water conservation crunch time

August 3, 2012

Our lawn had already been beginning to crunch…actually making a crunching sound when we walked on it…before my family left for vacation last week. We asked our neighbor to help salvage the tomatoes that were beginning to take shape, but, for the first time, we didn’t arrange for the yard to be mowed or watered.

Now the lawn is a bit crunchier, but its copper-tinged color looks like everyone else’s yard on the block.

It’s a summer when water is in high demand and conservation is encouraged.  Just last week, the Des Moines Water Works reported that water usage in the area had topped a record 96.6 million gallons ( ) prompting the business to call for across-the-board conservation measures to decrease usage by 10 percent. Businesses and golf courses have been asked to cut back on irrigation. Homeowners are urged to use water for laundry and lawns in the early mornings or late evenings. They’re also asked to embrace the “crunch” and simply let lawns go dormant.

Farmers in Nebraska were recently asked to cut back on field irrigation, something that Iowa farmers don’t use much due to our state’s soil. Our soil usually remains fairly moist and improved seeds have helped crops be more drought resistant. But the dry weather has taken a toll and many farmers are seeing entire cornfields wither and wilt and pastures for grazing cattle burn up. IFBF President Craig Hill forecasts that one-third of Iowa’s crops may be lost.

Water is something that we usually take for granted. For the most part, it’s available at the nearest faucet or hose. Iowa farmers don’t have that luxury. They just have a pray for rain and hope for the best. Livestock farmers are scrambling to find enough forage, even mowing ditches for hay to feed to their livestock because of dried-up pastures. After years of above-normal rain, the conservation mode is unsettling. But it’s vital to take voluntary measures to save water now so everyone has enough down the road.

Iowa State University Extension offers some water conservation tips ( for various areas of your home and life:

Kitchen: Running a full dishwasher actually uses less water than doing the same number of dishes by hand.

Laundry: Wash only full loads. Using cold water also will save energy.

Bathroom (my favorite tip): Reduce the number of flushes. Some families choose this motto: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

Outside: As much as you hate the “crunch,” let that lawn go dormant. ISU says it will perk back up once it has sufficient moisture.

 Written by Heather Lilienthal
Heather is a communications specialist with the Iowa Farm Bureau.

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