Monday, January 18, 2016

I-Lead Class 7 Alex Edgington

Alex Edgington
I-LEAD Class 7, Session 5

I-Lead Class 7 gathered for two days in mid-November to discuss, tour and gain insights about renewable fuels and the impact consumer demands have on today’s agriculture. I’m currently a member of Class 7 of the I-LEAD or the Iowa Corn Leadership Enhancement and Development program.  I-LEAD is a two-year program to provide men and women who are farmers or in agribusiness professions with the tools they need to succeed as leaders and spokespeople for the agriculture industry.

Session 5 started off by traveling to the Monsanto Learning Center, where we learned about the company’s precision agriculture technology and what the company hopes this will provide farmers.  We discussed how technology is changing the way we farm and how we have become even more efficient to meet the food production needs of an ever growing global population.

We then spent the rest of the day in Ames, the first stop was Iowa State University.  On campus, we heard from Dr. Ruth MacDonald and Dr. Paul Lasey.  During their presentations, we had plenty of time to discuss the culture of rural Iowa and consumer food trends. Both speakers pointed out how the public’s perception of agriculture has changed since they were young and what we can do to bring knowledge of farming back into urban households.

We ended the first day talking about renewable fuels.  We had the opportunity to tour the Iowa State Bio Century Farm where the topic of cellulosic renewable fuels and research was brought up.  At this research facility, we learned how they process the leftover corn plant after the ear has been harvested. This is called corn stover. The stover is baled and shipped to a plant which creates a clean-burning, renewable fuel called ethanol which is produced right here in the U.S.

The second day started with grocery store tours to learn more about what consumers want and food marketing trends.  The class split up into three groups and toured local grocery stores to see what consumers were buying.  We all had quite the learning experience. For me personally, it was an eye opening encounter to see how much many individuals love to have their food and nutrition labeled.

To wrap the second-day, Kevin Murphy spoke to us about the Food Morality Movement.  We discussed how agriculture has been attacked concerning what some call factory farming and the desire for those of us in agriculture to position ourselves as morally and ethnically sound.

I learned a tremendous amount from this tour. I have a new understanding of the technology that could one day be adopted on our farm. I know more about the new and innovative ways for processing renewable fuels such as ethanol.  Lastly, and most importantly, I have a better grasp of consumers’ perceptions of agriculture, their food buying decisions and how we as farmers can do a better job providing them information on how their food is grown and raised.

Applications for I-LEAD Class 8 are now being accepted, click here for more information or contact Alyssa Smola or 515-525-9242 for application and program details.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Diversifying the Farm

Mark Heckman knows how to hedge his bets. The West Liberty farmer and Vice President of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) is painstakingly meticulous in his planning in order to minimize risk and give his farming operation the best chance for success.

For instance, his 1,100 acres of corn and soybeans are planted with a perfectly sound 66/33 split. He uses a trustworthy CORN-CORN-BEANS crop rotation. The first year is Non-GMO corn, which goes to a grain processor in Muscatine, while year two is GMO corn that’s marketed to maximize profit per acre. Then after a year of soybeans, it’s rinse and repeat.

Heckman experiments with different hybrids, looking for eco-friendly varieties with high yield potential. At the same time, he is continually trying new conservation practices in order to make his farm more sustainable.

Perhaps it’s this quest for perfection that led him to enroll in the Soil Health Partnership, a National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) initiative that aims to measure and communicate the economic and environmental benefits of different soil management strategies.

“Our operation is proud to be involved with the Soil Health Partnership. It’s a good program that provides actual data points that enable us to verify what we think is happening as a result of our conservation practices,” said Heckman, who farms with his mother, siblings and son, Joe. “After a five year period, we’ll be able to look at the data collected and determine the actual impact of our methods. Then we’ll be able to refine our approach.”

Heckman said it was his son, Joe, who joined the operation full-time two and a half years ago after graduating from The University of Iowa, who introduced some of their newest conservation practices, such as cover crops.

It was also Joe who convinced Heckman to bring a cow-calf operation to the 300 acres of pastureland they own, despite the fact neither had any previous experience raising cattle. Of course, first Heckman had to crunch the numbers to make sure it was a safe bet.

“Joe said he was interested in raising cow-calves and growing the herd, so we sought advice from friends who know the industry. Then we ran projections three different ways, using calculators and spreadsheets from Iowa State University. The numbers matched the ones on the back of our napkin, so that was good enough for us,” said Heckman. “It’s nothing to get rich over, but it adds diversity and value to the farm. Plus, it gets us our own good beef that we can eat. That’s a good reward.”

Joe, who studied marketing and sustainable farming practices in college, said he chose farming over a potentially higher-paying career in a big city because there’s only one sure thing in life.

“Family. It was the opportunity to farm with my dad and grandpa and uncles that brought me back to the farm,” said Joe. “Moving forward, I’m excited about the challenges and opportunities we have, not just with the livestock operation, but bringing new conservation practices to the row crop side of things as well.”

Friday, November 27, 2015

Conserving a Family Tradition

Conserving a Family Tradition

Mark Recker, the Iowa Corn Growers Association Director for District 3, joined his family farming operation full-time in 1994, and it was around that time that he and his father began implementing variable rate application. Applying higher rates of nitrogen on hills and lower rates in valleys, they found, increased yields and reduced costs. It was the start of something good.

“We recognized the value in it right away, and now with precision ag there’s a much better way to do it. We can actually map the ground topographically by elevation and apply exact amounts of nitrogen,” said Recker, who farms about 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans. “This saves us dollars by not applying to areas that don’t need it, and we’re being more sustainable because excess nitrogen doesn’t find its way into the ground water.”

Water quality is a hot topic of conversation right now, and Recker believes that there are some public misconceptions about what Iowa corn farmers are doing to address the issue.

“Water quality is absolutely a huge issue for us as farmers. For starters, our families drink water from the well. We wouldn’t allow this if we weren’t absolutely confident in the quality of the water,” Recker said. “At the same time, managing fertilizer judiciously is good from a profitability standpoint and from a conservation standpoint.”

Conservation has been a major focus on the Recker farm for decades, dating back to the early practices implemented by Recker’s father. The Recker’s were early adopters of biotechnology, which enables them to produce a higher quality crop while using fewer pesticides. In recent years, the Recker’s have installed terraces, waterways, filter strips and other conservation practices that minimize the impact their farm has on the environment.

“Anything that can help maintain the soil on the land is worth considering. The conservation practices used by my dad impacted the land that I inherited, and if my son chooses to farm, I want to make sure the ground is in as good a condition or better than when I found it,” Recker said. “Conservation is beneficial to us as farmers and consumers today, but it’s even more important to the next generation. That’s why we do it.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

Meet an Iowa Corn Farmer: Andy and Abbie Johnson

The Iowa Corn Growers Association is proud to serve our more than 8,000 farmer members across the state. These members are the backbone of our organization and we like to introduce you to those that continue to make this organization great. This month, meet Andy and Abbie Johnson, Iowa Corn members from Northern Iowa who seized an opportunity to educate young professionals by helping to found the North Iowa Professionals in Agriculture group. 

Tell us about yourself, your family, background and farm operation:

Both my husband and I are agriculture educators by trade. I taught four years at the high school level and five years at a community college. My husband taught high school 10 years. We both loved being in the classroom and educating the younger generations about agriculture. It is awesome to see a room full of students who are passionate about agriculture! Once we had our son it became harder to be a good educator, farmer and most importantly a parent. We have both decided to leave the classroom for the last couple of years and focus on our family and farming. My husband and I operate Cedar River Ag Solutions, a seed business near the Osage area. We also farm around Osage with my husband’s parents, brother and other family. We also have a commercial flock consisting of about 50 ewes and finish feeder lambs.


Why did you decide to be a farmer/become involved with farming?

Farming has been in my husband’s family for many generations. He is the 7th generation to farm in the family. I guess you could say “it’s in his blood!” Luckily, I grew up on a livestock farm and have it in my blood as well. We believe it is the best job in the world. We get to do what we love and help feed the world in the process. It is truly a blessing to get to be a part of the family farm!


Why did you decide to start the North Iowa Professionals in Agriculture group?

We decided to start this group because we were looking for people like ourselves, who want to network, meet new people, and share the same passion for agriculture. The group gives us a chance to learn new things, advocate for agriculture and make new friends along the way.


Why do you think it’s important to be a member of the Iowa Corn Growers Association? Why is it important to be involved with an organization such as North Iowa Professionals in Agriculture?

It is important to be involved in organizations for many reasons. For one, it is great way to network and get to know people. By doing this, we learn new ideas. Also, it gives the organization more power when we all stand together as producers and work on important issues.


Any farming advice or life lessons you’d share with new farmers?

Start small, don’t be afraid to try something different, make educated financial decisions, and work hard.

North Iowa Professionals in Agriculture
The group will meet monthly blending social events with more serious topics. By moving the location around north Iowa, they hope draw more members. For more information join the Facebook group or email
Iowa Corn Grower Association Membership
The Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) is the country’s oldest and largest state corn grower organization. ICGA members are heard and respected in the corridors of political power and the boardrooms of business and industry - in Iowa, throughout the nation and around the world. Membership in the ICGA strengthens the collective voice of Iowa’s corn farmers on everyday issues that directly impact growers’ livelihood and the rural agriculture economy. To become a member of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, click here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why I-LEAD has been an invaluable experience

Being accepted into the I-LEAD class 7 program has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my 24 years. From the people I’ve met, to the lessons I’ve learned. Every day I reap the rewards of being an I-LEAD member. In the first year as a class we’ve taken part in leadership building activities, personal leadership assessments, met with numerous agriculture leaders throughout Iowa, and traveled to Louisiana to gain a better understanding of agriculture in a different part of the country.

I-LEAD has given me an opportunity to meet classmates and advisors from across the state, and I can now can say are all good friends. Class 7 has meshed like a true team does. Everyone in our group has their own individual leadership skills that we bring to the table. The I-LEAD program has helped us all to figure out how our individual skills and personalities can contributes to the team and the bigger picture.  As a business owner, learning more about my personality type, and leadership style has been an invaluable experience.

My travel experience outside of the Midwest has been limited so far in life. In the spring of 2016 our group will be going on an international trade mission to the Philippines and Malaysia. Words cannot describe how much I, and the rest of the ILEAD class 7, is looking forward to this once in a lifetime experience. I speak for the class in saying THANK YOU to all who have sponsored us as we become ambassadors for United States agriculture.


Brandon Maier was born, raised and educated in Iowa. He graduated from Iowa State University in 2013 with a degree in Agricultural Studies.
His passion for agriculture began at a young age growing up on a 1,200 acre family farm outside of Eagle Grove, Iowa. During his junior year at Iowa State, Brandon began his own trenching and excavating business as a way of entering into the family farming operation. Overtime his business has grown tremendously; making him a dirt mover by day, farmer by night.
Outside of work, Brandon is a die-hard cyclone fan, sports enthusiast and has a passion for aviation.

Monday, August 24, 2015

CommonGround Iowa Tackles the Tough Questions

“Do organic livestock farmers use antibiotics if their animals are sick?”
“Do grain-fed cattle get sick more often than grass fed?”
“Where can I find trustworthy information on GMOs?”
“Do you buy organic apples?”

These are just a few of the questions that visitors to the Downtown Des Moines Farmer’s Market asked CommonGround volunteers Jan Stillman, Nicole Yoder and Julie Van Manen in July.

CommonGround is a grassroots organization funded by the corn and soybean checkoffs. More than 160 farm women across the country, representing all types of agriculture, volunteer to answer questions and provide information about food and farming.

CommonGround volunteers use their experience on the farm, as well as credible 3rd party data, to answer questions like the ones asked by farmer’s market shoppers. Volunteers also answer questions and share info online, through the CommonGround website and their own personal blogs.

Many of the shoppers who stopped at the CommonGround booth on the corner of 2nd and Court also signed up for the monthly email newsletter. The newsletter covers hot topics in food and farming from a farm woman’s perspective, and includes recipes from the farm-women volunteers.

Visit the CommonGround website to learn more about the program and click “Stay Connected” to sign up for your Fearless Food updates.

CommonGround Iowa will be back at the Downtown Des Moines Farmer's Market on Saturday, August 29!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Members of the Iowa Corn Collegiate Advisory Team Attend 2015 Corn Congress

Collegiate Advisory Team touring Delmarva Farms
This summer, a group of young leaders from the Iowa Corn Collegiate Advisory Team embarked on a four day trip to Washington, D.C. to listen and learn about key issues in the nation’s agriculture industry as attendants of the 2015 Corn Congress.
Participants on the trip included Whitley Frieden, a sophomore at Muscatine Community College, Kaitlin Ihns, junior at Iowa State University, Haley Banwart, senior at Iowa State University, and Tessa Otto, a May graduate of Graceland University.
After arriving in the nation’s capital late Monday evening, the Iowa Corn Collegiate members had the opportunity to meet with other students from the Ohio, Nebraska and Missouri groups. 
The following day, the group headed out of the city to the Delmarva region where they learned about the diversity of East Coast agriculture. The first stop was at Bell Nursery. Farm manager, Billy Murdoch, gave a tour of the facility which is responsible for supplying all of Home Depots’ flowers. It was amazing to see so many potted plants in one concentrated location!

The second farm tour of the day was at Clovelly Farms and Vineyard. The Midwesterners felt right at home when they were given a tour of the farm riding on a hay rack. Clovelly Farms is a diversified farm that grows several hundred acres of trees, row crops and grapes which are harvested and sent off location to be made into wine. 
CAT Members attend the National Corn Congress
The final stop of the day was at Councell Farms. Chip Councell explained his family’s decision to start an agri-tourism business that attracts many visitors each year. The Councell’s also grow row crops as well as fresh fruit and vegetable produce. 
Back in D.C., the day was concluded with a night tour of the National Mall. Although a few members of the collegiate team had previously been to D.C., the casual stroll to see the monuments was enjoyed by all. 
On Wednesday, the collegiate members woke up early and dressed in their best to attend National Corn Congress. During the morning sessions, votes were cast to elect the newest members of the National Corn Board. An update on NCGA policy was also presented.
After the morning sessions wrapped up, the Iowa Corn Collegiate members attended a “Rally for Rural America” in support of the Renewable Fuel Standard and had the opportunity to meet with Iowa representatives as well as other political leaders on Capitol Hill. The day was concluded with a rooftop reception at the National Corn Growers Association headquarters.
On the final morning of the trip, the group resumed visits at Capitol Hill with Iowa’s congressmen. It was inspiring to hear Iowa farmers address their representatives on issues they face as corn growers.
Overall, the trip to Washington, D.C. was very educational and a rewarding experience to all who attended!