Teaching ag today goes way beyond corn and cows

April 26, 2016

SE-Polk-jan-16,-20131   Do you know a high schooler who’s looking for a bit of career advice as high school graduation nears? Maybe a bright young man or woman who just isn’t quite sure what direction to pursue as they prepare to head off to college?

Well, I’ve got an interesting suggestion: How about studying to become a high school agriculture teacher?

Teaching ag these days, as I’ve discovered talking with a lot of folks in the profession, is a very interesting and rewarding occupation.

Ag teachers today shepherd students through subjects that go way, way beyond learning about crops and livestock. In ag-related classes students learn about the latest in genetics and biotechnology. They immerse themselves in knowledge about water quality and other environmental subjects sure to be big in the coming years. They explore local food systems, as well as learn about food production all over the world. And they experiment with cutting edge technology, like drones and remote controlled vehicles and other high-tech machines.

Sibley-Ocheyedan-FFA-Class1And there’s something else that’s great about studying to be an ag teacher: there are jobs in this field after graduation, plenty of them.

The demand for agriculture teachers in Iowa, and around the Midwest, is very strong and getting stronger. That’s because school districts have seen a surge in high schoolers interested in ag-related fields that dovetail nicely with the emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and schools are adding classes to meet that demand.

As Joshua Remington executive director of the Iowa FFA foundation put it, “We have school districts in the state now that would like to start agriculture education programs, but they just can’t because they can’t find a teacher.”

And it’s not just rural school districts that are beefing up their ag education programs. Iowa’s urban centers are also seeing the value in offering ag classes. In the Des Moines metro area, for example, suburban districts, such as Waukee and Dowling Catholic, have already added agricultural studies programs, while the urban Des Moines district now employs two agriculture teachers at its Central Campus magnet program.  Other metro area schools have expressed interest in adding an ag teacher, Remington said, if they could find a teacher.

Boone-FFA-1APR-10,-20131Add it all up, it’s a cool career choice with a very good chance for a job at the end. I’m way too old to know the latest lingo among high schoolers in 2016, but back in my day we called that a “slam dunk.”

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

Iowa Envirothon showcases tomorrow’s innovators today

April 18, 2016

Marshalltown1Back when I was a student, I relished the opportunity for a class field trip to leave the school campus to see something new and different. Each trip was an adventure and provided a learning experience that couldn’t be replicated in the classroom.  It also meant a day without quizzes, tests and homework.

Last week, students from a dozen high schools across the state gathered at Springbrook State Park in Guthrie Center for the 20th Annual Iowa Envirothon.  The Iowa Envirothon, sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau since its start in 1996, isn’t your average field trip.  The Iowa Envirothon, put on by the Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI), is a team competition for high school students which extensively tests their knowledge of natural resources and critical environmental issues.

For the 15 high school teams that competed this year, the Envirothon wasn’t the kind of field trip I remember taking in school; this one included vigorous written tests of environmental knowledge, critical thinking, hands-on investigations, teamwork, and the always intimidating, public speaking portion, including an oral presentation in front of numerous judges. The students’ hands-on investigation and team exercises were designed to answer questions from five categories: Aquatics, Forestry, Soils, Wildlife, and Current Environmental Issues.  Volunteers with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Land Stewardship (IDALS), and several other organizations provided guidance to students during the competition.

In Iowa, we are blessed with naturally fertile soils which provide some of the best farmland in the world, yet challenges remain as farmers and other landowners continuously work to improve soil health and water quality while being stewards of the land. How to address and tackle environmental challenges in the state has been a focus of many committed stakeholders and is an important issue for many Iowans.  Having a program that provides an opportunity for high school students to gain awareness and get involved at a young age is encouraging for our future!

St. AnsgarIt was refreshing to meet dozens of solution-seeking youth, who have a shared interest in conservation and continuous improvement of the land, and gives me a great deal of optimism for the future. The dialogue at the Envirothon was civil, forwarding thinking, and focused on collaboration, unlike the finger pointing and contentious legal battles, brought by those from previous generations, who could stand to learn a thing or two from these kids!

While chatting with students passing from one station to the next, I wanted to learn more about what drives them and find the source of their passion for the environment. Several students live on a farm or in rural Iowa and have an inherent passion for the land.  Others excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum and were encouraged by a teacher to participate in the competition.

Many students have plans to study environmental science in college and envision a future working with the land in some capacity, either as a farmer, researcher, or another hands-on ag-related profession. Regardless of what career path these students choose, the future is bright with this next generation of problem solvers.

After seeing the students embrace and excel in STEM-based curriculum and point to collaboration as the driver of continued environmental improvement, I left the State Park with a firm belief in the optimism and conviction for the future generation; these kids will play an integral role finding solutions for challenges we face. The future is bright.

By Andrew Wheeler. Andrew is public relations coordinator for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Spring is time for new life on the farm

April 12, 2016


lambs1  It’s fun to walk the dog around my Des Moines neighborhood these days because there are signs of new life everywhere you look. Daffodils and tulips are blooming. Parents are taking their bundled-up newborn babies out for the first stroll of the season. And the older neighborhood kids are breaking in their new bikes, skateboards and softball mitts.

There’s also plenty of new life on Iowa farms this season. Soon, as the weather warms a bit, farmers will plant their corn, soybeans and other crops. (Watch out for the slow-moving red and green equipment when you are driving on rural roads.) But even more exciting are the spring-born animals on the farms.

Baby lambs and goats usually come first. Then there’s the new calves. It’s always fun to see the wobbly-legged newborns following their mothers through the pasture.in-dry-bedding1

Spring is also the season for baby chicks, which means it’s a very busy time for Hoover’s Hatchery in the north central Iowa town of Rudd. For more than 70 years Hoover’s has sold baby chicks to farmers and backyard chicken raisers all over Iowa, and actually all over the United States. The hatchery still delivers most of its chicks the old-fashioned way—direct to the customer through the mail. (Which is why you might be hearing a little peeping at your post office.) You can read more about Hoover’s here.


Through the rest of the spring, and into summer and fall, farm families will be feeding and caring for this spring’s newborn animals. Often that privilege goes to the youngest members of the family. Parents know that caring for lambs, calves or chicks is great way to teach kids strong lessons in responsibility, discipline and compassion.

Those lessons have been repeated from generation to generation each spring on Iowa farms, and they are still going strong today.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is News Services manager and Spokesman editor for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

The #1 reason Iowa is “Farm Strong” (in a blowout)

April 4, 2016

FamilyHogBarnIt’s settled – decisively.

Nearly 1,000 people entered our Farm Strong “Merch Madness” contest (for merchandise autographed by Iowa State Cyclone coaches Steve Prohm and Bill Fennelly) and voted for the number one reason Iowa is “Farm Strong” – the farm fact that best symbolizes how agriculture strengthens Iowans (whether they farm or not).

Nine facts were provided, along with a write-in option, but one fact soared above the rest, winning 41% of all votes and more than tripling the output of the runner-up.

The champ: 97.5% of Iowa farms are family farms.

The impact agriculture has on Iowa’s economy (with 1 in 5 Iowa jobs stemming from agriculture), the renewable energy farming supplies, and the innovative work farmers are doing to protect our land and water all received lots of votes – hundreds, in fact – but the statistic that still hits closest to home for Iowans is the 97.5% of Iowa’s roughly 88,500 farms that are family-owned .

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



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