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.