More than 1,000 farmers from across the state gathered in Des Moines last week for the 95th annual meeting of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. Theme was "Generations Of Innovation," focusing on innovation in agriculture, how it has transformed the industry in the past and how it will continue to do so in the future. Keynote speaker was Dr. Jay Lehr, a futurist, economist and author who provided a lively presentation. He told Iowa farmers that while agriculture will continue to lead the state's economy for generations to come, there will be no shortages of challenges to overcome.
"Agronomy is so much more complex because of weather changes, adaptation of pests, microbes in the soil that change the soil and a number of variables that determine what your soil needs," he noted. "Only those farmers who embrace innovation and technology can keep up and know how to keep U.S. agriculture sustainable and growing. Because of global economic growth, Iowa agriculture will become even more important. One example is Smithfield recently being bought by the Chinese. In my view, that's a good thing because we'll be exporting more hogs. I think in five years the Chinese are going to be buying more of our corn, too, which will also help farmers here in the U.S."
Agriculture will continue to face challenges, as a growing number of Iowa's residents don't fully support modern farming methods
Lehr pointed out that one of the challenges Iowa agriculture is facing today is that an increasing number of the state's residents don't fully support the farming industry. Lehr, a senior fellow of the Heartland Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, said "Your biggest, most important industry is agriculture, but you and I know that there are many people in this state who don't support agriculture and have accepted the negative attitudes of anti-ag environmental zealots who say agriculture is bad for the land, bad for the environment, and not sustainable. We know that is wrong."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Lehr said critics may not have a good understanding of modern farming, including biotechnology, used to make plants resistant to pests, disease and adverse weather conditions, and technology, used to increase yields and reduce the amount of fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs used. Lehr said he is traveling the country, challenging farmers and others to commit two hours a month talking with non-farm friends, family and acquaintances about how modern agriculture works.
Other speakers and topics at this year's IFBF meeting focused on key areas of soil and water conservation and niche farming. "We chose that theme this year because we know agriculture needs new ideas—creative approaches to bring the next generation of renewable energy to the world; it will bring advances in seed genetics which help us grow food despite turbulent weather, and help bring advances in livestock, food safety and conservation. It will take innovation to keep farming 'green and growing' for the future," said IFBF president Craig Hill during his address to members.
Educational seminars featured topics on conservation, niche farming and generational succession of farms
The IFBF meeting featured several educational seminars for Farm Bureau members. "Innovations in Conservation" showed farmers options to help them implement Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Jeff Pape, a farmer and chairman of the Hewitt Creek Watershed Council, says he's seen a lot of progress in conservation in northeast Iowa and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing has encouraged success.
"Farmers have learned from each other and participation among farmers in the watershed has nearly doubled over seven years. A lot of knowledge is passed back and forth over the fencerow. When we first started this project, some people said there was nothing in it for them. Now they're participating in it because they've learned there's a measureable benefit to their land, their crops and their watershed," said Pape.
Innovations in soil and water conservation will be needed, as will innovations to provide the next generation of farmers
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey also addressed the conservation session. He encouraged farmers to put one new conservation practice in place on their farms next year, and share with neighbors and non-farmers the importance of persistence. Pape agreed. "Soil and water metrics have improved because of the nutrient reduction efforts. We have fish back in the stream. But you don't fix a stream for a water quality issue in three years. This is a forever project. It won't end."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Northey said farmers are constantly working to improve their operations, and that includes conservation and reducing nutrient losses such as nitrogen and phosphorus from leaving fields and degrading waterways. Iowa farmers are under pressure to reduce nutrients contributing to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
IFBF president Craig Hill said farmers are taking a "serious, scientifically based approach to growing crops and making decisions, but critics use terms like factory farming and industrial agriculture to try to label us as villains. We're not bad because we're using new tools or bigger tractors. We're doing the best we can to do our job and we are vilified for it by some people."
A "Next Generation Innovation" session also drew a crowd of attendees, eager to learn how innovation can help provide a future in agriculture
The "Next Generation Innovation" session heard from IFBF's farm business development manager Nathan Katzer. He travels the state and sees a lot of 'gold mine' ideas, waiting for encouragement and the right kind of guidance. Niche farming is wide open with opportunities. "Many families in the state of Iowa can consider specialty ag enterprises as a way to get the next generation involved, as a way to add a business to give the younger generation the time and the challenges to grow themselves as a leader, as a manager, as a financial planner—to be the active farming producer that the family needs to have a successful farm transition," Katzer said.
For example, Andrew Pittz returned to his family's sixth-generation Missouri Valley farm in western Iowa, to begin the nation's first commercial aronia berry farm. Pittz, who also was a presenter at this session, says the encouragement he received from Farm Bureau may surprise some folks, because they don't realize how diverse Iowa Farm Bureau farmers and members really are. Pittz likes sharing his story and exceeding people's expectations of agriculture.
"Sometimes it makes sense to be conventional in agriculture and sometimes it makes sense for your farm to be organic," he said. "For us competing in this market with our aronia berry enterprise, we are taking on multi-national corporations. It really makes sense for us to be organic on the marketing side. And it pays off in the market place."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
For a more detailed look at the presentations from the 95th Iowa Farm Bureau annual meeting, visit the Iowa Farm Bureau website.
Craig Hill is re-elected Iowa Farm Bureau president at annual meeting
Craig Hill of Milo was re-elected president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation at the organization's 95th annual meeting in Des Moines. Delegates also re-elected three district directors to the board. They include Doug Gronau of Vail, Nick Podhajsky of Traer and Calvin Rozenboom of Oskaloosa.
Hill's service to the Iowa Farm Bureau started at the county level. He was involved in various positions with Warren County Farm Bureau board of directors. In 1989, he was elected as the District 8 representative on the state board of directors. He then served as the organization's vice president from 2001-2011 before being elected president. As president, Hill serves as chairman of the board of FBL Financial Group, Inc., and serves on the American Farm Bureau board of directors. In addition, he serves on the Rain & Hail LLC board of directors.
Throughout his years on the IFBF board, Hill has been involved in a variety of projects. He was instrumental in the development of Revenue Assurance, a revenue-based crop insurance for corn and soybean farmers. He also served as the first chairman of the Iowa Ag State Group, which consists of representatives from all sectors of Iowa's agriculture, and on the U.S. Grains Council. Hill was also appointed to Governor Vilsack's Strategic Planning Council in 1999 to help Iowa prepare for the future of our state in 2010. In 2003, the AFBF named Hill to a 23-member national committee, Making Agriculture Productive and Profitable (MAPP). The committee develops policy options for Farm Bureau to consider.
He and his wife, Patti, have two children. Their son, Adam, is involved on the family grain and livestock operation. Their daughter, Abbie, is an associate attorney with Gross & Welch in Omaha, Neb.
Gronau, Podhajsky and Rozenboom re-elected as district directors to IFBF board
Doug Gronau represents District 4, which consists of 11 counties in west central Iowa. He was elected to the position in 2001. Prior to his election to the board, he was vice chairman of the internal study committee. Gronau has served in numerous Crawford County Farm Bureau leadership capacities. He has served on several statewide environmental committees representing IFBF and was also a member of the IFBF Speaker Corps. He has also been appointed to the Farm Bureau Life Insurance Board of Directors. He currently serves on the Leopold advisory board.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Nick Podhajsky represents District 6, which consists of 11 counties in eastern Iowa. He was elected to the position in 2011. Podhajsky was a 2010 Iowa delegate representative for the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting and has served in many other elected positions in his county Farm Bureau office, including president and county voting delegate.
Rozenboom represents District 8, which consists of 10 counties in south central Iowa. He was elected to the position in 2001. Before that, he was very active in the Mahaska County Farm Bureau where he served as president and vice president. He has also served as chairman of the IFBF swine advisory committee and as a member of the IFBF resolutions committee. He was also a member of the AFBF swine advisory committee. He has spent six years on the board of directors of CRWRC, an international relief agency which currently serves in 28 countries, primarily providing community development, health education, literacy services and disaster relief.
Nine delegates were elected to represent Iowa at the AFBF annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 12-15, 2014. They include: IFBF President Craig Hill, Vice President Joe Heinrich of Maquoketa, Doug Boland of Williamsburg, Cal Rozenboom of Oskaloosa, Dallas Johnston of Kent, Dave Kronlage of Dyersville, Gary Rayhons of Garner, Paul Gieselman of Morning Sun, and Dan Chism of Emmetsburg.
Dave Seil of Gowrie (Webster County) was elected to a three-year term on the IFBF internal study committee. The internal study committee serves as a liaison between the county Farm Bureau voting delegates and the state board of directors.