No foolin’ me, there’s plenty happening in Iowa agriculture

March 29, 2016

It’s April Fools’ week, which means I’m always leery about opening text messages and emails from my family and friends, many of them pranksters.

Welcome-To-Mason-City-WestHowever, my work inbox is a different story. Looking at recent emails reminds me of the people I’ve met, the farms I’ve visited, and just how much farmers are taking an active role not only on their farms, but in their communities.

At first glance, there’s an email regarding the addition of a pork processing plant in Mason City in 2018. The new plant is expected to lift market prices for area pig farmers. It’s expected to create nearly 1,000 jobs when it opens mid-2018, and 2,000 jobs when the plant reaches its full capacity. It will help farmers, the Mason City community and all of Iowa.

My email inbox and its corresponding calendar reminds of my recent visit to Nora Springs to visit Dean Sponheim, who is highly regarded in the Rock Creek Watershed for being proactive in his approach to water quality. He first added strip tiling and strip cropping practices to his farm to make it more efficient. Then, he started seeing the benefits from a conservation standpoint. He added cover crops to benefit from the nutrients in the soil. Now, those nutrients are being used by the cereal rye he’s planted instead of being picked up and blown away with wind erosion.

Dean,-left,-and-his-son,-Josh-Sponheim1Inside my inbox, a reminder that Iowans are providing safe food and donating it to those in need. A press release from Iowa Select Farms highlights the contributions its company has made to charities and food pantries. The company has donated 22 tons of pork to food pantries within the last year. Farmers I visit often talk about the extra care they take on their farms to produce safe food. The food they grow on their farms not only feed their families, but their employees’ families, their friends, their communities, and the food pantries in which they contribute their pork, beef or poultry products.

And there’s also a press release about the Todd and Denise Wiley family in Benton County. Todd, Denise and their four children operate a farrow-to-finish hog farm near Walker. The have nearly 1,100 sows and market between 27,000 and 28,000 pigs a year. The Wiley family is the most recent winner of the Gary Wergin Good Farm Neighbor award, which recognizes farm families who go above and beyond in care for their livestock and their communities. The glowing nomination from a local FFA advisor touts the family’s involvement in the community—serving on numerous boards and helping to coach the next generation of agriculturalists in the community’s FFA chapter. The family is active in educating the community about modern livestock production and regularly brings animals into schools and donates them to the FFA to farrow as part of an exhibit at the county fair.


Stacie feeding hogsWhile it’s easy to be fooled by activists who say that ‘big ag’ is out to destroy us, I know the people and companies who make up agriculture. I hear from them all the time. I know the people who make decisions in the family-owned farms, who work tirelessly to care for newborn animals while raising families of their own. And I know the care and commitment it takes for these farmers to not only raise animals and their children—but also care for those in their communities. I know this because I’ve not only read the press releases, but I’ve been to the farms and rural communities to see first-hand. It’s real and that’s no foolin’.

Bethany Baratta is the ag commodities writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.


The “Final 4” Reasons Iowa is “Farm Strong”

March 28, 2016

FarmStrongBracket700400Your odds of picking a perfect NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket were 1 in 9.2 quintillion.

Your chance to win “Farm Strong Merch Madness” (merchandise autographed by Iowa State Cyclone basketball coaches Steve Prohm and Bill Fennelly) is much, much better.

And if you work, eat, or drive a car in Iowa, there’s really no conceivable way you can lose (unless you’re looking for a reason to quit – right, LeBron?)

Just vote on the number one reason Iowa is “Farm Strong” – the farm fact that best symbolizes how agriculture strengthens you and your family (whether you farm or not).

The field of contenders includes 9 facts that demonstrate Iowa’s farm strength – ranging from farming’s economic contribution to its environmental impact – and a write-in option for “dark horse” facts that didn’t make the cut.

Based on the votes we’ve tallied thus far, here are the Final 4 reasons Iowa is “Farm Strong” (in no particular order):

  • Iowa agriculture and ag-related industries support 1 in 5 Iowa jobs.
  • 97.5% of Iowa farms are family farms.
  • Iowa leads the nation in producing ethanol and biodiesel, renewable fuels grown on Iowa farms that burn cleaner and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
  • Farmers are constantly adopting new methods and technology for growing safe, wholesome food and protecting the environment, including the use of GMOs – which allow farmers to use less pesticide and grow food with better nutrition.

And here’s the case for each fact, heading into the final days of voting:

Iowa agriculture and ag-related industries support 1 in 5 Iowa jobs.

Agriculture and ag-related industries account for 418,777 Iowa jobs (21 percent of the state’s total), according to the 2014 Iowa Ag Economic Contribution Study, which uses data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture. They also contribute $112.2 billion in economic output (accounting for 1/3 of Iowa’s economy). Most Iowans don’t live on a farm (fewer than 5 percent of Iowans farm), but we’re all strengthened by the economic activity that occurs on Iowa’s farms.

97.5% of Iowa farms are family farms.

This one surprises some people. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 97.5 percent of Iowa’s roughly 88,500 farms are family owned. Critics of today’s farmers like to portray farming as dominated by “corporations” with little regard for their animals, the environment and consumers. Yes, some families choose to structure their farms as LLCs (limited liability corporations) to help manage the sizable risk associated with farming today, and the equipment and barns they use don’t look like those used by farmers in past decades. But the motivation to pursue these improvements (including barns that keep animals protected from extreme weather conditions year-round and technology that allows farmers to spray and fertilizer their crops more precisely) stems from farmers’ desire to do things right (for their neighbors, their animals, and the environment) and pass a thriving farm on to future generations.

Iowa leads the nation in producing ethanol and biodiesel, renewable fuels grown on Iowa farms that burn cleaner and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The renewable energy grown right in our own backyards is also misunderstood. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), biodiesel reduces greenhouse gases (GHG) by up to 86% compared to petroleum diesel, while Yale University found that ethanol reduces GHG by up to 59% compared to gasoline.

Not only that – alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel help make our country more energy secure. According to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, as ethanol use has grown, dependence on imported petroleum has declined from 60 percent to 28 percent.

Farmers are constantly adopting new methods and technology for growing safe, wholesome food and protecting the environment, including the use of GMOs – which allow farmers to use less pesticide and grow food with better nutrition.

Did you know that farmers use GPS and other precision technology to apply fertilizer more exactly? Or that GMOs allow them to use less pesticide and grow food with better nutrition? The technology on today’s farms is creating change that we can all appreciate.

Check out all of the facts and vote for your favorite (or write in your own) by March 31 for a chance to win “Farm Strong” merchandise autographed by coaches Prohm and Fennelly.

We’ll announce the merchandise winners and the number one reason Iowa is “Farm Strong” next Monday!

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

Celebrating Ag Day year-round

March 15, 2016

FamilyHogBarnIt’s National Ag Day, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t celebrate the day.

I don’t celebrate the day specifically because I celebrate agriculture the entire year. I know it sounds corny, but there’s just not enough time in one day to celebrate the depth and breadth of agriculture, especially in Iowa.

When I think about the things to celebrate in agriculture, I think about farmers like Phil Reemtsma, a cattle farmer and veterinarian in DeWitt. Reemtsma also leads the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. I think of his commitment not only to his family, but also to the animals in his care.

I also think about the poultry growers in the state, like Mark Herrig, who was forced to depopulate 43,000 turkeys on his farm due to avian influenza last year. He’s back in the business because of his perseverance and dedication to the industry.

I think about farmers like Dave Struthers, Al Wulfkuhle and Chad Ingels. All are pig farmers and leaders in the industry. And they each have their own way of caring for and raising their pigs.

I think about sheep farmers who are using science to improve the genetics of their animals. These farmers are leaders in their industry, and are working with technology to build a stronger industry in Iowa.

When I think about agriculture in Iowa, I think about the Farm Bureau members who spend time away from their farms and families to lobby at the Iowa Capitol or even in Washington, D.C. for legislation that would help farmers not only in Iowa, but across the nation. These member-leaders also volunteer their time in their local communities, educating others about what they do on their farms.

Farmers in the state are not only often leaders in the Farm Bureau; they are also leaders when it comes to implementing conservation practices on their farms. Soon, the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman will feature some of those leaders in the state who are working with other farmers in their watersheds to protect their land and water resources. You can also learn about farmers’ conservation efforts at .

I think about the strong 4-H and FFA programs in the state, and the Benton Community FFA chapter, which I recently visited. The chapter is a mix of urban and rural students. So they’ve worked to build their program with activities that interest both its farm and non-farm students. And they’re succeeding. They’re earning awards because of the number of activities they’re involved in. In the process, they’re teaching other students in the community that the FFA is more than “the sows, cows and plows.” It’s about leadership, personal growth and development—all qualities that are important whether the students choose to pursue a career in agriculture or not.

I also think about consumers who have questions about agriculture, like my aunts and uncles—many of whom weren’t raised on farms. They have questions about their food, and wonder who they should ask. I hope I’ve talked to them enough so they have an understanding about the practices I see happening when I visit farms in the state. But I also hope they reach out to their state Farm Bureau organizations, and the farmers who make up their organizations in Ohio and Virginia. I hope they know their food is safe. I hope they have some understanding of the protocols that farmers meet on the farm to ensure that the food they put on their plate is safe. I hope I’ve conveyed to them that farmers understand their responsibilities. Farmers grow the food that not only feeds the world—but feeds their families and friends as well.

How are you celebrating National Ag Day? Do you celebrate year-round like me?

By Bethany Baratta. Bethany is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Commodities Writer.

5 fresh stats prove Iowa’s water quality progress

March 10, 2016

Wetlands in Iowa infographicIowa’s water is like a college basketball team that’s elevating its play heading into the tournament.

It’s not perfect (the “talking heads” on the sidelines can point to its flaws), but there’s no doubt that the team working to improve Iowa’s rivers and streams is gelling and each victory along the way is elevating its standing. As more farmers become familiar with Iowa’s EPA-endorsed Nutrient Reduction Strategy, new and varied conservation practices are being used to improve Iowa’s water.

Here are five reasons to believe in Iowa’s water quality progress, in March and beyond:

1) 4,625% more cover crop acres (to prevent nitrates from reaching water) than in 2009

Iowa farmers planted 472,500 acres of cover crops in 2015, a 35% increase since 2014 and a whopping 4,625% increase since 2009, according to Iowa Learning Farms and Practical Farmers of Iowa! That’s significant because cover crops (plants like oats and rye that continue to cover the ground after corn and soybeans are harvested) are seen as one of the most effective in-field practices to help protect Iowa water from nitrates!

cover crops

Cover Crops

2) 222% more grassy strips in fields (to prevent runoff) than in 2011

Iowa farms lead the nation in acres of grassy strips within and along the edges of fields (to protect our water from erosion), and the number of acres grows almost every month, according to the Farm Service Agency. In fact, the number of acres in Iowa has increased 222% since 2001!

buffer strip

Buffer Strip

3) Enough restored wetlands (to stop nitrates) to equal 313,044 football fields

Farmers voluntarily restore wetlands in strategic areas to help prevent nitrates from reaching our water. According to NRCS and FSA, Iowa farmers have restored 413,945 acres of wetlands (equal to 313,044 football fields), up 14% from 2014!


Restored Wetland

4) 515 miles of terraces (to block runoff) installed last year alone

Terraces are another in-field tool farmers use to protect water quality. According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, terraces (grassy ridges installed in fields) prevent 95% of the sediment and phosphorus from eroding. Farmers have installed 515 miles of terraces (through Iowa’s state conservation cost share program alone) in the past year, a distance stretching across Iowa – twice!



5) Trout streams increase 9-fold since 1980

Water quality improvement requires commitment over time. Iowa is starting to see the early fruits of that commitment. For example, according to the Iowa DNR, the number of Iowa streams with self-sustaining trout populations has grown 9-fold since 1980, and according to an Iowa Soybean Association study, nitrates in the Raccoon River (which feeds Des Moines’ drinking water) have trended lower by nearly 25 percent in the past 15 years. Additionally, a 2014 U.S. Geological Survey study of several decades of nitrate concentration and flow data from 10 major Iowa rivers indicates that concentrations of nitrates decreased from 2000-2010 in all basins.

Other reasons to believe that Iowa’s water is trending in the right direction:

“My perception is Iowa’s been a real leader in the whole nutrient reduction effort. They’ve had a good, aggressive nutrient reduction strategy. We’ve been supportive of that moving forward, and want to be a partner with them and other federal agencies, academic institutions, state partners, and state stakeholders.”
Mark Hague
EPA Region 7 Administrator

Iowa still faces water quality challenges, but farmers are taking them on. It’s healthy to look at this issue with a critical eye and challenge ourselves to continuously improve. Just don’t sleep on a team that’s peaking at the right time.

For more information about Iowa’s water quality progress, visit

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

Our focus on supporting Iowa’s young people

March 9, 2016

2016 Girls State Basketball2The Iowa Farm Bureau has always believed that one of the most important things we raise in Iowa isn’t planted in the ground, it’s Iowa’s young people. They are the lifeblood of our communities and a promise for our state’s bright future. Over the years, Farm Bureau has strongly supported student achievement in academics, the arts and athletics while encouraging the leaders of tomorrow through our title sponsorship of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union and the Iowa Hall of Pride.

One of the best places to see the leaders of tomorrow is at the state’s high school basketball tournaments, held each March in Des Moines. Check out these shots from the 2016 girl’s state tournaments from Iowa Farm Bureau’s award-winning photographer, Gary Fandel.

For more information on how the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation supports our state’s youth, click here.


Iowa farms spring to life with newborn calves

March 7, 2016

Luke-and-orphaned-calf1Spring may officially start on Mar. 20, but some farmers have already started their spring season, spring calving season, that is. It’s Luke Schuldt’s favorite time of the year, hands down.

“This is really the beginning of the year for us,” said Schuldt who farms near Tripoli with his wife, Linsey, a pharmacist, and son, Levi and daughter Lara. “Driving a combine can be fun, but nothing compares to calving,” said Schuldt, a fifth-generation farmer on the farm established by his great-great grandfather in 1878.

The miracle of birth on Schuldt’s farm, is being repeated all over Iowa as the spring calving season gets off to a good start. The Schuldts, this year, are keeping watch over 23 cows. They started building the herd, a Hereford-Angus mix, about 10 years ago when they started farming.

As the newborn calves get going, Schuldt devotes a lot of time and energy providing dry bedding. This is especially important given that Iowa just experienced the wettest winter on record set over 100 years ago. “The cows have a tendency to get away from the others when they’re in labor,” said Schuldt. “So dry bedding and a wind break are crucial. If a calf is born in the mud, I’ll pick up the calf and carry it to a dry location.”

There’s also a bit of cow-calf match making for the young farmer. He was bottle feeding an orphan calf in the family basement, and came upon a solution. “We matched her with another cow that lost a calf,” said Schuldt. “It’s working out great.”

4-calving-photos1Building a herd is one of the goals for the Schuldt family, and they’d like to put up a structure to keep the animals out of the elements. “It would be nice to put up a hoop barn,” said Schuldt. “That would provide a dry place for the animals and help me watch the newborns more closely.” Here’s more on the advantages of calving under roof.

But even with the cold weather and mud, Schuldt wouldn’t be anywhere else during the calving season. “Even though it’s a tough job, calving brings a smile to my face. I do love it,” he said with a smile.

Photos and content by Gary Fandel. Gary is photographer/writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

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