The Daily Iowegian
---- — WEST DES MOINES — Diverse farmers from across the state gathered in Des Moines this week to celebrate the successes of 2013, while finding new ideas to keep next-generation agriculture thriving in Iowa.
“The 95th annual Iowa Farm Bureau theme, ‘Generations of Innovation,’ focused on key areas of conservation and niche farming because we know agriculture needs new ideas and 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, or advances in livestock, food safety and conservation. It will take innovation to keep farming ‘green and growing’ for the future,” said Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Hill during his address to members.
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.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey 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.”
IFBF’s Next Generation Innovation session also drew big crowds. IFBF’s Farm business Development Manager Nathan Katzer travels the state and sees a lot of “gold mine” ideas, just waiting for encouragement and the right kind of guidance. Niche farming is wide open.
“Many families in the state of Iowa can consider (specialty ag) 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.
Andrew Pittz returned to his family’s sixth-generation Missouri Valley farm to begin the nation’s first commercial aronia berry farm. Pittz 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,” Pittz said. “For us, competing in this market, we are taking on multi-national corporations ... so it really makes sense for us to be organic on the marketing side. And it really pays off in the market place.”
The 95th annual Farm Bureau meeting also featured a lively presentation from keynote speaker Dr. Jay Lehr. Lehr, a futurist, economist, author and competitive athlete, 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; the number of variables that determine what your soil needs and only those who embrace innovation and technology can keep up and know how to keep us sustainable and growing. Because of global economic growth, Iowa agriculture will become even more critical and diverse. One example is Smithfield being bought by the Chinese and in my view, it’s a good thing because we’ll be exporting more hogs. I think in five years they’re going to be buying our corn, too, which will also help our farmers here,” said Lehr.
For a more detailed look at the presentations from the 95th Iowa Farm Bureau annual meeting, visit www.iowafarmbureau.com.
About Iowa Farm Bureau
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is a grassroots, statewide organization dedicated to enhancing the People, Progress and Pride of Iowa. More than 153,000 families in Iowa are Farm Bureau members, working together to achieve farm and rural prosperity. For more information about Farm Bureau and agriculture, visit the Newsroom page on the IBF website at www.iowafarmbureau.com.