Caring for livestock on a snowy day

January 30, 2013

Much of Iowa was slowed down or shut down Wednesday after a blizzard blew through the state. Schools were closed, community events were postponed and many business parking lots were nearly empty.

But livestock farmers were out there, busy caring for their animals. They kept their cattle, pigs and sheep fed and watered. And they checked for sick ones that needed to be nursed back to health.

It’s all in a day’s work for livestock farmers. It doesn’t matter if snow is blowing and temperatures are diving, there’s no snow days when it comes to caring for livestock.

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

No sick days on the farm

January 28, 2013

I suppose it was inevitable. When my husband came home sick with a nasty cold, I hoped that I wouldn’t catch it. But alas, three days later, I woke up with a sore throat and a head full of gunk.

I tried to camouflage my red nose and puffy eyes with make-up because I didn’t want to miss work. Even though I know you should stay home when you’re sick with a cold or the flu, I have a hard time taking sick days.

When I was a kid on the farm, my dad never took a sick day. He always had cattle to feed, sows to check on and, in the wintertime, bookwork to finish before the tax deadlines approached.

I remember mornings when my dad’s eyes were red and puffy, he couldn’t take a breath without coughing, and he struggled to put on layer after layer of clothing to fight the winter chill so he could start his morning chores.

For many Iowa farmers, there isn’t such a thing as a sick day. They have dairy cows to milk, a truckload of baby pigs on the way to the barn, or a nearby ethanol plant that needs a corn delivery immediately.

Farmers are also the care-givers when a cow brings a new calf into the world, or when a hog gets sick and needs medicine or a few days quarantined away from the rest of its barn mates.

And farmers don’t just take care of their livestock. They’re usually the ones to stay home with a sick child, especially if their spouse works full-time in town.

I still remember the time when my dad made a run to the dime store (or what city folks call the pharmacy) when I was sick as a kid. He came back home with a new picture puzzle to keep my spirits up. We worked on that puzzle together over the noon hour, listening to the farm markets on the radio, until he had to go back outside and finish his chores for the day.

Now don’t get me wrong. If you’re sick and contagious, then don’t hesitate to stay home from work. My dad certainly should have stayed in bed instead of working through illness.

But his motivation was a little different than mine. I’m trying to keep up with emails; he was putting food on people’s tables. It’s hard to take a sick day when so many families, here at home and around the world, depend on a farmer’s work.

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

Lift Off

January 24, 2013

kelly3_ “Deny the acceptance of failure.” Those are the ‘fighting’ words Mark Kelly hears every day from his wife, former Tucson Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D) AZ. Giffords, who struggles to recover from a 2011 assassination attempt, is a motivating force in Kelly’s life. He shared his story as keynote speaker at the 94th American Farm Bureau annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.

What struck many farmers in the audience is not just Kelly’s commitment to his wife’s rehabilitation, but his ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ life story. Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, has commanded a space shuttle, circled the globe and flown 39 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. He claims he wasn’t a top-of-the class scholar, outstanding athlete or ‘Top Gun’ pilot. Instead, Kelly says it was hard work that got him where he is today. He’s neither spoiled, nor bitter; he’s motivating. That’s the same quality I see in so many Iowa farmers today.

When I was a reporter, I found that half the farmers I met would rather go out and dig post holes, than go on-camera and do an interview. The other half wanted to throw reporters into postholes. I’m glad to see that mindset changing. We have more than 100 Iowa farmers in our Iowa Farm Bureau ‘Speaker Corps’ who are ready to share their perspectives, do interviews and engage the public and their communities. There are many examples of this: Justin and Jennifer Dammann, who have not only shared their perspective and their family time with Iowa radio, newspaper and TV reporters, they even hosted a German TV crew on their Essex cattle farm during the height of the drought in August. Another great ‘ag-vocate’ is longtime cattle farmer Bill Couser from Nevada, who shares his story with Iowa, national and international media as well as leaders from around the globe. Larry Sailer, a Franklin County hog farmer, engages thousands of consumers through Facebook and Twitter, and has even welcomed strangers to his farm for a ‘blogger tour.’

The days are long in farming, but these farmers and so many others always make time to share their story, do a media interview, host a farm tour; these activities are the ‘rocket fuel’ of motivation that keeps them going and keeps the positive stories of farming and food production circling the globe.

These farmers aren’t just preaching to the choir and doing the ‘easy’ interviews with ag reporters who understand them and will always work to put them in the best light. They are talking to national reporters, young men and women who’ve never been on a farm, whose stories will shape opinions on food production for millions. Do some of these reporters have agendas? You bet. But, as Mark Kelly would tell us, there is nothing to be gained by always doing what is safe; what is expected; what is easy.

We shouldn’t be afraid of the hard interviews. And we certainly shouldn’t start digging postholes and ignoring the requests, either. Consumer choices and lifestyles have evolved with the times and so have farmers and food production. Getting out ahead of the message, understanding the factors that bring change, reading the trends, embracing innovation, is always something farmers have done.

There is a huge hunger for our perspective. People love farmers, not just for what they raise or what they grow, but for who they are. We will not give up telling our story. Failure to communicate, in this day and age, is not an option.

 Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau

American farmers making a global difference

January 22, 2013

imagesThe world today is a lot less hungry than it was in our parents and grandparents generations, and maybe less hungry than at any time in human history, according to Kenneth Quinn, who heads of the Iowa-based World Food Prize organization. And the amazing productivity gains by American farmers are a big reason for that progress, he says.

“The past 50 or 60 years is the single most significant period in all human history of food production and hunger reduction, and American farmers have played a dramatic and central role in that,” said Quinn, who was recently awarded the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Distinguished Service Award at the organization’s 94th annual meeting in Nashville.

America agriculture is in indeed in an unrivaled era. Using cutting edge technology, knowledge that has been passed down from generation and a lot of hard work, farmers are harvesting significantly more food with fewer resources than their forefathers.

But it’s the farmers’ commitment that impresses Quinn, who worked all over the globe for decades serving as a diplomat before joining the World Food Prize.

Farmers today understand that they are producing food that helps nourish people in their hometowns, across the country and around the globe, Quinn said. And it’s a mission they are glad to accept, he said.

“I think there is deeply ingrained in American farmers the sense that what we do in Iowa and around the country isn’t just taking care of you own family or those around you, but what farmers do has so much impact in the entire world.”

For Quinn himself, the story of American agriculture’s progress in feeding the world has become even clearer as he helped design an exhibit on the history of farming for the new World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in downtown Des Moines.

“I’m working on an exhibit that is a timeline of agriculture’s progress going back to the first time a human being dug in the ground and planted a seed, and I’m trying to come up with about 25 of the key events in all that history,” he said. “And one of those main events has been the American 20th century agriculture experience.”

It’s a combination of research from the land grant colleges, agribusiness and infrastructure that has made American agriculture so successful, Quinn said. “But at the heart of it all are the farmers who have increased yields so much.”

It’s a great achievement, but with the world population continuing to rise, farm productivity has to keep rising, Quinn said. “Farmers should pat themselves on the back, and then we need them to do it all again.”

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

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