Another thing to be thankful for: affordable food

November 21, 2012

As we all sit down for our Thanksgiving dinner this week, here’s an extra thing to be thankful for: the affordability of the turkey dinner.

A recent survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation projected the cost of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner will be a little less than $50 for a family of 10. That means we Americans get to enjoy the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings for about 1 percent more than a year ago.

Five bucks a person for a great meal is really remarkable, considering that farmers in Iowa and over most of the country have struggled through the worst drought in decades.

The modest price increase for this year’s turkey feast clearly demonstrates the resilience of American farmers in Iowa and over much of the country. Not long ago a drought like the one in 2012, which reduced the harvests from many Iowa farms by 30 percent or more, would have made turkey and other traditional Thanksgiving foods very expensive, or even unavailable, for the majority of Americans.

In time, the drought could eventually affect the price of turkey, and some other Thanksgiving foods, as high grain prices force farmers to adjust the size of their flocks and herds. But economists don’t expect any big food price shocks in years to come. 

So rest assured, supermarkets and specialty stores are stuffed with everything that Americans need for Thanksgiving dinner, as well as all of the other upcoming holiday celebrations. And the food choices farmers provide today continue to grow. In turkeys alone, consumers will be able to choose everything from the traditional Butterball to free-range birds fed only organically-raised grains.

How are farmers pulling off this feat? They are adopting technology, such as improved seeds and global positioning. They are learning to produce more food while using less fertilizer and other resources. And like their ancestors before them, they are putting in the hard work it takes to produce food for a hungry planet.

So pull up a chair, say your blessings and dig in to the best meal of the year. And be thankful it won’t cost an arm and a turkey leg.

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


Internationally -Known Animal Welfare Expert Temple Grandin to Speak at Iowa Farm Bureau Annual Meeting

November 14, 2012

Story County Farm Bureau member Bill Couser may be a long-time cattleman and Iowa Farm Bureau member who’s been recognized for the innovative methods he uses on his farm and feedlot, but he’s quick to point out the mentors in his life.

Temple Grandin, an internationally-known animal welfare expert, is at the top of his list.

Grandin is recognized for her role in many aspects of today’s culture; ranging from her work with animal handling systems and livestock welfare to being featured in the HBO Emmy Award-winning movie about her life and experience with autism. TIME Magazine even named her as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2010.

Couser can’t wait to hear her speak on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) 94th annual meeting at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center (formerly known as Veteran’s Auditorium). Grandin will talk about the need for greater transparency in the livestock industry and how to reach out to a growing non-farming audience.

“When I first met her 25 years ago, I was absolutely connected to her messages about low-stress handling of livestock and I took that information to my farm,” said Couser. “On my farm, we incorporated her approaches such as quiet areas, avoiding corners when moving animals and not using pain-inducing tools such as shock-inducing sticks called hot shots. It’s all about embracing methods that secure the health, comfort and safety of our livestock.”

Grandin disagrees with animal rights activists who want to abolish the use of animals for food. Today, her low-stress animal welfare guidelines and systems, which include curved chutes and strict protocol regarding animal stunning and slaughter, are standard among many U.S. meat-packing plants. She works with a number of international retailers including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and is active with the Center for Food Integrity’s Animal Care Review Panel.

“All of us cattlemen and livestock farmers are her students. I’m excited to have someone who’s had such a profound impact on our industry come and share her knowledge with us and appreciate Farm Bureau bringing her here,” said Couser. “When you hear her speak for the first time, you take a step back. She is very frank in her opinions. She tells it like it is. Her delivery is unconventional, refreshing and her message is important for all farmers to hear.”

To see the agenda for the IFBF two-day annual meeting, visit www.iowafarmbureau.com and click on the rotating link regarding the event. Farm Bureau members can register through their local county Farm Bureau offices.

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


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Randy Dreher gets around

November 9, 2012

Hundreds of newspapers and websites have carried a story (just before the election) by Sharon Cohen, of the Associated Press, asking a handful of people around the country if they are better off than they were four years later, the line Ronald Reagan made famous in a 1980 presidential debate.

Randy Dreher, Iowa Farm Bureau member who farms just outside of Audubon, was one of seven subjects profiled. Dreher noted his finances are not measured in four-year election cycles and said in the profile, “If you can’t make it in farming now, you’ll never make it in farming.” According to the article, Dreher “sees clouds in the larger economic picture,” mentioning his concern about debt, Social Security and Medicare.

Dreher and his wife, Crystal, and 2-year-old daughter, Katelyn, were included in a photo gallery with the stories. I’m not sure how to compare Dreher’s print exposure to “15 minutes of fame,” but after the article appeared in newspapers around the world, from the Washington Post to The Times of India, Dreher had his say.

Check out some of Randy’s harvest photos below.

Written by Gary Fandel
Gary is the photographer for Iowa Farm Bureau.


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Conservation is gaining in Iowa fields, on and below the surface

November 1, 2012

Many of the conversations I’ve had with farmers over the past few months seem come around to earth worms. You know; the wriggly creatures that also work pretty well on a fish hook. I haven’t done a worm census, but farmers say they are seeing a lot more of them.

That’s a good thing. Worms do good things for the soil. But perhaps even more important, they are a clear indication that the soil is healthy and full of the organic matter that worms thrive on. And that’s good for Iowa’s environment.

The worms aren’t thriving by accident. Iowa soils are improving, and worms are thriving, because of the wide variety of conservation methods that farmers in Iowa and around the country have voluntarily adopted over the years.

Conservation tillage, which not long ago was looked upon as exotic in Iowa, has become the norm in much of the state and around the United States. The most recent survey, conducted in 2008, shows Iowa farmers used conservation tillage on almost 60 percent of their acres, up from only 30 percent in the late 1980s.

By adopting conservation tillage, farmers are significantly trimming soil erosion. Iowa’s soil erosion rate has declined some 33 percent from the early 1980s. The new tillage methods also keep more nutrients in the soil, where they can be used by crops and are far less likely to end up in our lakes, streams and rivers.

In 2011 alone, more than 20,000 tons of soil stayed put on the land and out of Iowa streams, rivers and lakes, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. That amount of soil would fill a line of dump trucks six miles long.

Conservation tillage is really just the start of what Iowa farmers are doing today to protect the environment. More wetlands are being installed to reduce nutrient loss and provide habitat for ducks, geese and other wildlife. More grassy buffer strips are being planted along streams. And there has been a real surge in planting cover crops, which help protect the soil during the winter months.

Iowa is also developing a state nutrient strategy to help coordinate voluntary conservation activities and protect Iowa surface waters and address federal regulatory initiatives, such as controlling hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. This strategy will outline steps that cities, towns and farmers plan to take in priority pilot watersheds to further protect state surface waters from nutrients and sediment.

In short, most of the farmers I know are pumped up about conservation, and are looking for ways to do more. It’s a good story that often doesn’t get publicized, but it’s very real.

If you don’t believe me, just ask some happy earthworms.

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


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