Iowa Agriculture’s Greatest Hits of 2014

December 30, 2014

agriculture economic impact, IowaPrediction: January 1, 2015 will look a lot like December 31, 2014.

Isn’t that great news?!

While some may want to wipe the slate clean this New Year, the foundation we’ve built here in Iowa, supported by agriculture’s long-standing contributions to our economy and our communities, isn’t something to throw away with our old calendars.

That’s not to say Iowa has “arrived,” economically, environmentally, or otherwise. Nor is it meant to be cold water for anyone who’s hoping to make constructive changes. It’s an acknowledgment that we are who we are, and (fortunately) that’s something we can embrace!

Here’s a short list of Iowa agriculture’s greatest hits of 2014. Let’s hope some things stay the same in 2015:

1 in 5 Iowans work because of agriculture

According to the 2014 Iowa Ag Economic Contribution Study, one in five Iowans go to work because of agriculture (up from one in six in 2007), and ag-related industry is responsible for 33 percent of Iowa’s economic output (up from 27 percent in 2007). Livestock farming, alone, is responsible for $31.6 billion in Iowa’s economy and 122,764 jobs.

Even if agriculture isn’t your thing, the diverse opportunities created by agriculture will almost certainly intersect with and/or facilitate a field that touches you, whether it’s science, precision technology, manufacturing or anything related to food and renewable energy, just to name a few.

Record enrollment of and demand for ag students

It’s no secret that Iowa’s farm population and rural communities are aging. But you may not realize that Iowa’s students are taking a renewed interest in agriculture.

For the third consecutive year, Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences set an enrollment record. And nearly half (49 percent) of the undergraduate students in the college are women, up nine percent from 2004. As a result of its booming enrollment in a high demand field, the college’s career day attracted a record number of businesses and organizations this year.

In the past, I’ve spoken with peers who believe Iowa needs to downplay its “stale” farm image when marketing itself to young workers and their families. To the contrary; it appears the state has an opportunity to invite more young Iowans to participate in the rapidly-developing opportunities that modern farming and agriculture offer.

Growing enthusiasm for conservation

Farmers understand the urgent need to protect our soil and water quality. And while they have been working to protect the environment for years, Iowa’s new Nutrient Reduction Strategy (a science and technology-based plan to conserve the state’s soil and protect its water quality) has challenged them to take their efforts to a new level.

Farmers responded loud and clear in 2014.

Iowa farmers used at least $13 million of their own money and leveraged $9.5 million in state soil and water conservation cost-share funding to implement more than $22 million in conservation structures and practices in 2014. The $22 million figure is a recent (and likely an all-time) record.

State and federal officials (including the EPA) agree that Iowa’s water quality initiative is off to a great start and that we’ll need more of the same gusto to keep the ball rolling in 2015.

Renewable Energy Use Grows

Iowa has led the nation in biofuel production for years, reducing America’s need for imported oil and saving drivers money at the tank.

Earlier this year, we also learned that Iowa receives about 27 percent of its energy from wind, more than any other state.

Like Iowa’s ethanol industry, the state’s wind-generating capacity didn’t pop up out of nowhere. Yes, it began with a vision, but unwavering resolve in the countryside has helped get the job done.

In fact, that same dogged determination helps explain the other hits on this list as well. So, while you’re busy thinking up new resolutions for the New Year, resolve to continue doing and supporting the things that make Iowa great.

By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.


The death of the ‘follow-up question’

December 12, 2014

reporter questioning farmerWorking for a general farm organization, we get a lot of media requests from reporters around the state and country who are often under extreme deadline pressure.  Having been in broadcast news for 25 years, I understand what they need, and our team works hard to accommodate them.  But, I’m also seeing that the business has changed so much; I feel like I should hold a ‘wake’ for tools of the trade that are central to the profession I used to know; let’s bow our heads for the death of the Follow-Up Question.

The Follow-Up Question was central to the success of many journalism greats, including the late, great White House reporter, Helen Thomas (whom I interviewed many years ago).  Thomas told me that a great reporter is only as good as her questions and her curiosity to always learn more.  I took her advice to heart.

If the ‘Follow-Up Question’ is dead, then the curiosity to learn the whole story can’t be far behind.  I understand that today’s reporters are faced with new challenges, competing with social media ‘citizen journalists’ to be the first to break news. But, that’s even more of a reason to take a stand for the whole story.

We’ve all been guilty at one point, believing charismatic people in the spotlight, even if we’ve never met them.  It’s backfired for millions who believed Jenny McCarthy’s views on childhood vaccinations or Dr. Oz’s pitches for ‘instant weight loss’ supplements.  Consumers were ‘duped’ not only because they mistook popularity for credibility; reporters did, too.

In the last 10 years working at Iowa Farm Bureau, I know reporters aren’t shying away from asking farmers or us the tough questions, and that’s okay; farming innovation and practices have changed so much and so few folks farm these days, they need those questions answered. But, it seems some of our critics aren’t always held to the same standards.

I know Bill Stowe, the general manager of the Des Moines Water Works, has always had a way with a sound bite; I interviewed him dozens of times when he was head of Des Moines’ snow removal department.   But, even if reporters have grown as comfortable with him as the old armchair in their living room, it doesn’t mean their story is done.  Telling reporters, “Science proves weather, and other natural conditions do not create excessive nitrate concentrations,” should be an opportunity for a Follow-Up Question: ‘What science?’

Indeed, there is science which shows weather’s impact on water quality, and there are record amounts of conservation practices being added every year.  Des Moines Water Works’ own website has several graphs that show an overall decline in nitrates.  Curious, as are the quick-trigger-finger claims that the Nutrient Reduction Strategy isn’t working.  A Follow-Up Question to experts who actually work with farmers will tell you while progress is happening and needs to continue, reaching targets will take more than the 18 months the Nutrient Reduction Strategy has been in effect.

There are other stories that continue to be pushed onto the media and covered, without hesitation or even basic Follow-Up Questions, which could speak to the credibility or motives of those pointing the fingers at farmers.  There are many families out there, leading the way, trying new things, bringing the next generation back on the farm, keeping rural Iowa sustainable.  In the New Year, let’s resolve to all doing our part to get their story told.  I know that’s our motivation.  What’s yours?  Hey, now there’s a Follow-Up Question for you!

By Laurie Johns. Laurie is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Public Relations Manager.


Farm Bureau: It’s good for all of Iowa

December 9, 2014

We’ve just completed the 2014 annual meeting of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. It was the organization’s 96th annual meeting, if you are keeping count.

As always, there was a lot of important business accomplished at this year’s gathering. It was also a great time to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

I nearly lost my voice from visiting with friendly folks from all over the state. We talked about the 2014 harvest and a range of livestock issues.

But mostly we talked about families. We discussed kids in college and caring for older parents. I listened to grandparents beam about the joy of having grandkids toddling around the house. One member even announced he was looking for a young farmer to entice his daughter back home to Iowa from the East Coast.

The cozy, inclusive atmosphere at last week’s IFBF annual meeting was a stark contrast to how darkly the organization was portrayed in an opinion piece in the Dec. 1 Des Moines Register. The warmth and openness of the annual meeting really showed how little the writer, the head of a group called Citizens for a Healthy Iowa, knows about Farm Bureau and how far off base his article really was.

The writer ticked through the dusty litany of old complaints about Farm Bureau. He claimed that the organization supports only big farms, that its members don’t care about the environment, and that Farm Bureau tries to influence the political process.

The first claim about big farms couldn’t be further from the truth. More than 60 percent of Farm Bureau members operate less than 500 acres. And just check out this letter to the editor from aronia berry farmer Andrew Pittz about the support Farm Bureau has given his non-traditional farm.

The second charge is laughable. I can’t tell you the number of members that I have visited who continually work to stem soil erosion and improve water quality, and Farm Bureau is serious about helping them do that. In fact, the $9.5 million in state conservation cost-share funding Farm Bureau lobbied for in 2014 resulted in 2,382 Iowa farmers investing in $13 million of their own money in conservation, creating $22.5 million in practices to protect our soil and water. That’s just a recent example. (For more information, visit www.conservationcountsiowa.com)

grassroots organization, Iowa Farm Bureau

Members from Iowa’s 100 county Farm Bureaus meet in Des Moines annually to create Iowa Farm Bureau’s policies.

OK, the third charge is true. Through a grassroots approach, Farm Bureau does develop state and national policies to influence legislation that member families believe will be good for agriculture, the environment and our state. Lawmakers listen because they know Farm Bureau’s policies start with their constituents out in the country – the farmer members of Iowa’s 100 county Farm Bureaus. It’s what Farm Bureau has done for nearly a century.

I don’t know much about Citizens for a Healthy Iowa (the web site says they are a 501c4, but little else about who they are or what they’ve done for Iowa. Turns out, the IRS revoked their non-profit status because they failed to file.) But I can tell you from first-hand experience that Farm Bureau is a deep-rooted organization of 156,000 Iowa families working to build a better Iowa for themselves, their children and for generations to come. And it’s great to be a member. (Learn more at www.iowariseup.com)

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau’s news services manager.


Exposing the Real Iowa Farm Bureau

December 2, 2014

Iowa Farm BureauIt was only a matter of time.

When you’ve been around since 1918 (with an active presence in all 99 Iowa counties), sooner or later people are going to talk about what you’ve been up to.

December 1-7 is Iowa Farm Bureau Week, and it’s time for me to spill our beans.

Sure, you’ve heard Farm Bureau characterized as a powerful lobbying organization (not a new claim).

But did you know that Iowa Farm Bureau represents farmers of all sizes and is making huge investments in Iowa’s rural communities, students, and health care?

 

Shocking, right?

We’re told large and small farms are as polar opposite as Red Sox and Yankees, so how can any organization claim to work on behalf of all farmers? And what do those farmers want with our communities and schools, anyway?

Working for Iowa Farmers
A group of farmers, along with other community leaders, formed county Farm Bureaus (and eventually the Iowa Farm Bureau) in the early 1900s, to better their farms and the state.

Today, the organization consists of 156,000-plus families (including farmers and non-farmers), but the end goal remains the same.

And that’s because Iowa Farm Bureau is a Federation – meaning county Farm Bureaus and their members steer the ship.

So when Iowa farmers (of all sizes and types) say they need help managing their financial risk or planning for their sons or daughters to farm in the future, the Iowa Farm Bureau hosts meetings in every corner of the state to help them make the decisions that work best for their personal situations.

When farmers support a science and technology-based plan to protect Iowa’s soil and improve water quality, Iowa Farm Bureau works to fund it.

And when farmers aspire to raise livestock in ways that better protect the environment and their neighbors, Iowa Farm Bureau helps spearhead an organization to help them do that.

Farm Bureau has been in every Iowa neighborhood (100 county Farm Bureaus in 99 counties) since the early 1900s, and, in many cases, the farm families in those neighborhoods have been there just as long. When you understand your neighbors’ needs, it’s possible to serve them in a personal and meaningful way, whether they’re aronia berry farmers in Missouri Valley, fruit and vegetable growers in Boone, or cattlemen in Essex.

Investing in Iowa’s Future

Quick, name another Iowa organization that awards nearly $500,000 in scholarships each year.

Still waiting…

Yes, everyone believes in supporting our youth, but it takes on new meaning when you put your money where your mouth is, with scholarships, grants for teachers, and sponsorships (like Iowa Farm Bureau’s sole title sponsorship of the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Girls High School Athletic Union).

Farm Bureau has also actively lobbied state lawmakers to get small, cash-strapped school districts the state funds they need to protect local property taxpayers and keep their doors open.

Yes, Farm Bureau is blessed with resources and is committed to Iowa. Coming from a small town, I’m glad about that; aren’t you?

Strengthening Iowa’s Rural Communities

According to a new economic study, agriculture helps employ one in five Iowans and accounts for 33 percent of Iowa’s economic output.

Iowa’s rural communities depend on agriculture and vice versa, which is why Iowa Farm Bureau launched Renew Rural Iowa in 2006. Through the program, Iowa Farm Bureau has helped more than 2,500 Iowa entrepreneurs successfully own and grow their rural businesses. In total, Iowa Farm Bureau has invested more than $80 million in rural Iowa over the past decade.

And while creating good jobs in rural Iowa is critical, it’s just as important to take care of your neighbors who’ve fallen on hard times, which is why Iowa Farm Bureau and the University of Iowa have teamed up (through the America Needs Farmers initiative) to donate $95,000 to Iowa’s food banks.

And that doesn’t include all of the work Iowa’s 100 county Farm Bureaus do on behalf of their local communities (the inspiration for Iowa Farm Bureau’s new “Share” program).

You get the idea. Farm Bureau has its fingerprints all over rural Iowa, in a good way!

Promoting Quality Healthcare for Iowans 

What do you need to keep your family healthy? Close proximity to healthy food and somewhere to exercise?

Of course.

How about access to a physician?

Those of us who live in or around a big city probably don’t give it a second thought, but 73 of Iowa’s 99 counties have a doctor shortage.

That’s why Iowa Farm Bureau has invested more than $200,000 in scholarships for medical residents who plan to practice in rural Iowa.

Whether it’s offering our members health insurance to meet their needs, supporting the Iowa farm families who grow wholesome food, or encouraging rural doctors to practice in rural Iowa, Iowa Farm Bureau has demonstrated a long haul commitment to the building blocks of a healthy Iowa.

 

There you have it! The “top secret” work of Iowa Farm Bureau, exposed for the world to see.

I feel so much better.

Don’t you?

 

By Zach Bader. Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.

For more information about Iowa Farm Bureau’s work for Iowans visit IowaRiseUp.com!


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