Like Des Moines Water Works, I’m prematurely giving up on my two-year-old

August 27, 2015

Zach's daughterIt’s time to radically alter the course of my daughter’s education.

Yes, she’s meeting and exceeding many milestones people associate with two-year-olds, she’s a good big sister to her five-month-old brother, and our family physician is happy with her development.

But I need to see some real results right now!

Identifying letters and colors isn’t going to get her into college (much less a full-ride scholarship), kisses for the baby aren’t going to win points in job interviews, and no one’s going to hire an aerospace engineer who can’t consistently make it to the potty on time.

Instead, I’m in favor of the mentality Des Moines Water Works is taking toward another two-year-old, Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The strategy, first funded by the Iowa legislature in 2013, is a science- and technology-based plan to conserve Iowa’s soils and protect water quality. It was developed by Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and scientists at Iowa State University. It’s being hailed by many local, state and national leaders (including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) as a plan that’s making great progress in protecting water quality, and it’s helping forge many rural/urban conservation partnerships around the state, like a partnership between the city of Cedar Rapids (Iowa’s second-largest city) and area farmers and landowners.

And yet, Iowa still faces water quality challenges.

It’s clear proof, according to Des Moines Water Works, that the Nutrient Reduction Strategy hasn’t cleaned up Iowa’s water and never will.

Instead, Water Works advocates for strict farming rules and regulations.

That sounds like a sensible approach to me. There must be some way to force my daughter to learn – to mandate a schedule and specific activities that will carve out her superfluous exploration and put her on a straight and accelerated path to learning and achievement excellence.

I mean, mandates are working well for the farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, right?

Please tell me the Chesapeake Bay regulatory approach is showing significant, linear improvements in water quality! Those guys have been on a “pollution diet” for five whole years. I really hope my daughter has cured at least one terminal disease by then.

Or maybe, I’m not giving my daughter (and Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy) a fair shake. Maybe it’s okay to admit that learning and improving water quality is hard work, and it takes time and cooperation.

Perhaps it’s okay to work together – to take into account science, weather, and different topography and soil types, and other variables to find the right water quality solutions for different situations – as opposed to mandating the same practice, permit or regulation in every instance.

I suppose I don’t need to defy doctors, teachers, scientists, and national, state, and local leaders.

Yeah. I think I’ll stop pooh-poohing solutions that don’t result in a desired long-term effect immediately and start laying the groundwork for future success.

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

Harvest safety tips for farmers and city folks alike

August 26, 2015

safety1It’s that time of year when students are back in the classroom and Iowa farmers are gearing up to harvest a record-large corn crop this fall.

Yet in the rush to get the kids to football games and marching band practice, and to get the crops out of the fields and into the bins, the fall is also a dangerous time on Iowa roads.

Recently, I attended a farm safety workshop for the media hosted by Iowa’s Center for Agriculture Safety (I-CASH), based at the University of Iowa. Farm safety experts, a county sheriff and an emergency-room physician at the workshop gave tips that they wanted journalists to share when writing stories about farm safety.

A few of the biggest farm-safety takeaways, for both farmers and their fellow drivers, include the following:

  • Always wear your seat belt. Especially in rural areas, and on county roads, many Iowans don’t buckle up when they’re either a driver or passenger in a vehicle. And the same advice goes for farmers too. Wear seat belts in your tractor or combine. Today’s farm equipment is safer today, but it’s also designed to protect you when wearing a seat belt. If you’re not wearing a seat belt, you could get thrown from or pinned under a vehicle, or you could hit your head inside the tractor compartment.
  • Drive without distractions. We hear it all the time: Don’t text or check your smartphone while driving. But distracted driving continues to be a leading cause of vehicular accidents. Please take the time to watch this heart-wrenching video ( from the Minnesota DOT about how distracted driving not only cost the life of a farm mom, but also ruined the life of the driver.
  • Taking a new medication? Know that medications can make you drowsy or slow down your response time on the road. Also, farmers should remember to take frequent breaks to eat. Many medications are only effective when taken with food.
  • Don’t let children under 6 near farm equipment. No exceptions. While overall farm accidents involving children are on the decline, the number of farm-related fatalities among children under the age of 6 is going up, the farm safety experts said. Yes, it may be fun to get that Facebook photo of baby on his or her first tractor ride. But it’s safer to keep young children away from farm equipment and teach them at an early age that tractors and combines aren’t toys to play on.
  • ATVs aren’t made for two riders. Again, resist the urge to give kids a ride on ATVs. Even though ATVs have larger seats, the ATV-Safety1vehicles aren’t designed to distribute the weight of two riders. If kids are riding a child-size ATV, make sure they wear helmets. And if you’re riding or driving a side-by-side UTV, make sure to wear your seatbelt.

For more farm safety tips, visit I-CASH’s website ( or check out the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health Safety (

By Teresa Bjork. Teresa is a senior features writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Back-to-School: 6 Great Ways to Make Learning Real with Agriculture!

August 24, 2015

Students learning about agricultureIt’s that time of year again. Kids and teachers are heading back to school. Some may be dreading it, but the majority of them are excited to be back with their friends and may even like the normalcy of a routine. For me, the secret to great education (whether I’m a learner or a teacher) is making it real and relevant. And agriculture is the perfect way to make learning relevant.

Why is Agriculture Important?

I believe that everyone has the right to healthy, affordable food that is raised by passionate agriculturists who are supported by a purpose-driven agriculture industry. I believe that agriculture drives our society and that if you eat, you are involved in agriculture. Agriculture produces so many products that we use daily, from clothes to plastics and from paper to fuel. I believe that because agriculture affects everyone, everyone has the right and the responsibility to know about how food is produced.

Why Teach Agriculture?

Agriculture is the perfect vehicle to teach core concepts like science, social studies, language arts and math because it can make learning real for students. Agriculture surrounds us in Iowa (it’s our state’s #1 industry) and using agriculture examples in the classroom can pique student interest. Students can see easy application of the concepts they are learning in the classroom which will inspire their curiosity and propel them to learn more.Students using agriculture to learn math

Agriculture can be incorporated at any level, from kindergarten to high school and beyond. Here are six great ways that agriculture can be incorporated into learning that you can do at home or in a classroom lesson. And it’s fun too!

1. Science is a great way for students to explore the world around them. Energy is at the intersection of science and agriculture. How do we turn corn into ethanol fuel to power our cars? This Tassel to Tank lesson walks students through the process!

2. Have you ever played around with augmented reality? Make learning literally come to life with this great lesson. Tech savvy students will love creating and editing their own videos to explain where their food comes from. Then they can showcase their project to parents, grandparents and friends.

3. Do you know how strong a soybean is? Those little seeds are really powerful! Try planting one in plaster and watch it crack and break the plaster. Full details and lesson plan here . Pop quiz for engineering students: How many pounds of pressure does that little soybean create to break the plaster? I bet it is more than you think!

Will Fett illustrates the strength of soybeans with a fun lesson.

Will Fett illustrates the strength of soybeans with a fun lesson.

4. Weights, volumes, bushels, cups, and ounces. How we measure fruits, vegetables, grain and meat are important skills to learn. Test out your math abilities and teach students how measure our food in this great activity and lesson. Students can also get a sense of what risk factors are associated with raising livestock and the financial math involved by playing Risk Ranch.

5. Today’s beef cows are a little different from the wild aurochs that roamed Europe thousands of years ago. Students can learn all about the history and social studies that made today’s modern breeds like Angus and Herefords.

6. Reading is a great way for students to strengthen their grasp of vocabulary, comprehension, and at the same time introduce new ideas. Check out our student publication Iowa Ag Today for great nonfiction text. You can also have them try out some of our recommended language arts strategies on the centerfold pork article and see how they do!

Start including agriculture into your classroom or home activities and watch as students become truly engaged learners when they understand why something like agriculture is so relevant to them. Make this back-to-school season the best one ever!

By Will Fett. Will is the Executive Director of the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation.

A century or more of caring for land and livestock

August 20, 2015

CENTURYFARM OLThis week, 366 families from around the state are being recognized as recipients of the Century Farm designation at the Iowa State Fair. The designation recognizes families who have had a farm in the same family for 100 years or longer.

At the same time, 101 families are being recognized with the Heritage Farm designation, recognizing families who have had a farm in the family for 150 years or longer.

I’ve had to chance over the past few years to visit with several families that have received Century and Heritage Farm awards and reading through the history of these farms. I’m always amazed. Families have encountered numerous challenges in the weather, shifting grain and livestock markets, government regulations, not to mention the transitions that all families go through. Yet, through it all, the families managed to keep their farms going for 100 or even 150 years.

And they haven’t just survived. The families I’ve visited with have made significant progress when it comes to caring for their land and livestock.

Christensen familyThis year I had the opportunity to meet with the Christensen family near Scranton in Greene County. They received the Century Farm designation this year.

The family has been raising livestock on the farm since Tinus Christensen started farming there in 1914. Things have changed on the Christensen farm over the decades. The farm uses high-tech equipment and raises their pigs indoors. But the commitment to caring for the land and animals remains as strong as ever.

Pigs have been the center of the Christensen family farm since 1914. In just 40 years, the farm has raised their pigs in a variety of environments and with various feed rations. Today, the Christensens raise pigs in climate-controlled livestock barns on the farm. This keeps the pigs out of hot summer sun and humidity, as well as Iowa’s cold, snowy winters. It also protects the pigs from disease and predators. And it all benefits consumers by producing healthy and affordable pork.

The Christensen family is just one example of farmers in the state of Iowa who have made progress on their farm when it comes to caring for their land and livestock. Each of this year’s recipients of the Century Farm and Heritage Farm designation have their own stories they can tell of the progress they have made on their own farms.

It’s a legacy of generations of caring for the land and livestock that all of Iowa can be proud of.

By Bethany Baratta. Bethany is commodities writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Des Moines “city girl” experiences farm, dispels myths

August 11, 2015
Me (Cassidy) standing in front of the new cow barn recently opened in Amana Farms. The cows seemed very interested in me taking photos of them that day.

Me (Cassidy) standing in front of the new cow barn recently opened in Amana Farms. The cows seemed very interested in me taking photos of them that day.

Most of my life I didn’t know the first thing about agriculture. I’ve lived on the east side of Des Moines since I was seven years old. I am not afraid to admit it; I’m a “city girl!” It’s no wonder my internship with the marketing and communications department at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation has taught me more than what was written in any job description.

Understand, this ‘city girl’ was required to watch King Corn for two different college courses at the University of Iowa, and to read multiple books that disparage the treatment of livestock. So, when I started at Farm Bureau in early June I came with a million questions. There were so many scary claims I had heard at school and on the Internet about agriculture and even the Farm Bureau; the state’s largest farm organization.

Books and articles I’d read said that Farm Bureau doesn’t actually represent the interests of real farmers, corn is making animals sick, and animals are loaded up with antibiotics because they can’t function without them. And being from Des Moines I couldn’t escape the claim that farmers are unashamedly polluting our water supply. I’m proud to say my research and my first-hand experiences this summer disproved those claims, and taught me why simply doing a ‘Google’ search won’t give you the whole truth.

On my first day, one of my co-workers, Andrew Wheeler, explained the grassroots structure of Farm Bureau to me. The policies IFBF champions come directly from the Farm Bureau members in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. IFBF President Craig Hill and the Board of Directors are all farmers. Suddenly every angry article I’d read online about Farm Bureau ignoring the opinions of farmers seemed foolish.

When it comes to livestock farming, I also had my eyes opened by visiting farms, and talking to farmers. I didn’t know it is illegal to send an animal to market if there is any trace of antibiotics left in its system. And after use, animals go through a withdrawal period before going to market to ensure all residue has left the animal. Furthermore, farmers only use antibiotics to treat or prevent illness.

Chasen Stevenson, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Advisory Committee, directs his livestock in on his farm in Marion County. I visited his farm with a Spokesman reporter who was working on a story about him. He was nice enough to talk to me as well about some of my questions about livestock care.

Chasen Stevenson, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Advisory Committee, directs his livestock in on his farm in Marion County. I visited his farm with a Spokesman reporter who was working on a story about him. He was nice enough to talk to me as well about some of my questions about livestock care.

I didn’t know that much like myself, cows are most likely to get sick from changes in the weather — not from eating corn. I met a livestock farmer a few weeks ago who told me he’s never had any problems with his animals as a result of eating corn but when the weather changes overnight, he’ll have more respiratory problems then he knows what to do with.

While some people champion the “grass-fed beef” movement, the reality is corn is a type of grass. And many producers work with nutritionists and other experts to ensure corn is integrated safely into the cows’ diets.

Conservation was another area with a steep learning curve for me. It’s been easy for me in the past few years to find information about how agriculture negatively impacts the environment. Even my doctor was telling me just the other day about how ‘horrible’ modern agriculture is for the environment.

Jeff Frank, a farmer from Sac County, launches one of his drones on a crop scouting mission. I got to meet him while working with my boss, Laurie Johns, on an Iowa Minute shoot.

Jeff Frank, a farmer from Sac County, launches one of his drones on a crop scouting mission. I got to meet him while working with my boss, Laurie Johns, on an Iowa Minute shoot.

But much like me at the beginning of the summer, she didn’t know about all the work farmers are doing to protect water and land quality. I’ve visited farms practicing no-till and strip-till planting. I’ve seen a saturated buffer and two restored wetlands. I got to see firsthand how farmers are using drones to scout their crops and apply chemicals only where needed. I’ve even learned the GMO crops that many question (despite numerous studies testifying to their safety) also improve conservation. GMO crops can resist diseases and pests, so they need less chemical treatment to thrive.

While traveling across the state all summer, I learned from farmers how to identify different practices, like terraces and grassy waterways. I see these practices so often I even turned my new-found ag knowledge into a travel game on road trips, pointing out and quizzing family and friends about conservation practices (thereby cementing my proud “geek” status)!

My experiences this summer have shown me there is much to learn about modern agriculture. It’s too easy for myths to spread among people like me. We hit ‘Google’ or read one-sided class assignments, and never question whether it’s true.

But the men and women I’ve met out in Iowa’s fields this summer are open to the conversation about their practices — what farmers are doing well and where there is room for improvement. No one I’ve worked with at Farm Bureau has ever told me all farmers do everything right. But what I’ve learned is the majority are doing what they can to preserve Iowa’s environment, properly care for their animals, and make a sustainable living. And to me, that is worth sharing.

By Cassidy Riley. Cassidy is a marketing and communications intern with the Iowa Farm Bureau.

Sorry Gwyneth, but I’ll leave nutritional advice to the experts

August 6, 2015

Photo by AP.

My Twitter feed lit up this week with breathless news that actress Gwyneth Paltrow was speaking out against genetically modified foods (GMOs) and for a campaign to force food companies to label all food made with GMOs.

Sure, the actress in Iron Man and the Avengers added star power to the anti-GMO event in Washington. But on the facts, Paltrow was actually really pretty weak. Especially when she stated that “the science is still out on GMOs.”

Sorry Gwyneth, that’s just plain wrong. The science is in and it shows that foods made with GMOs are safe. Indeed, are the most researched and tested agricultural products in history. Leading scientific groups, such as American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have verified the safety of genetically modified crops. And billions of meals around the world have been consumed over the years without a single incident of a person getting sick from a GMO.

The labeling campaign Paltrow shills for—called Just Label It—is just as wrong on the facts. It seeks to force food companies to label foods made with GMOs, even though there is no nutritional difference in them, and endorses a state-by-state labeling which would cause a nightmare of confusion and raise food prices by $500 per family per year, according to a Cornell University study. (For stars like Paltrow, who make millions on each movie, an added $500 may not be a big deal. But it’s real money to the rest of us.)

What really has Paltrow and her pals riled up is a bill which just passed the House in a bipartisan vote and is making progress in the Senate. Called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, it would create a uniform, science-based standard overseen by the FDA and prevent a confusing and costly patchwork of state food labeling laws. It would also establish a new certification program similar to the highly successful USDA Certified Organic initiative. And it would provide those consumers, like Paltrow, who are seeking a GMO-free option a reliable, consistent and verified means of doing so.

It just makes a lot of sense, except maybe if you live in the unreal world of Hollywood.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is the News Services Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.


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