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!  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gary Edwards

This guest post was written by Mikayla Edwards, granddaughter of former Iowa Corn Grower's Association president Gary Edwards, who passed away in March, 2015.

        Most, if not all, people have an inspirational person that they look up to for guidance, knowledge, or both. I am no exception. My inspiration was my grandpa, though many of you corn growers knew him as Gary Edwards.

       My Grandpa Gary was one of a kind and such an amazing grandpa for the short 18 years I knew him. I loved riding in the combine with him every day during harvest when I would get home from school. In fact, as soon as the corn crop started turning brown I would ask how much longer until harvest started because I was so excited to ride in the combine which conveniently had a buddy seat. Occasionally, I would help plant in the spring which was really just putting all the empty bags on the spike but as a young girl, that was all I could do so it was still appreciated nonetheless. And luckily the tractor we used for planting had a buddy seat as well! About six years ago, he actually taught me how to drive the tractors. It is not that big of a deal, but to a thirteen year old girl, it was the biggest deal!

       Over the years, I started paying attention to other farm aspects as well. I remember a year when Sudden Death Syndrome was an issue and I learned all about it. After a bad storm, I would always go inspect the crops with him and learn what problems there would be from the wind, hail, flooding, etc. and how to cope with them, such as goosenecked corn. I learned about various insects such as the Japanese beetle munching on the silks, which was a big problem just three or four years ago. Along with that, I learned what the silks’ actual purpose was. Learning the ropes of the farm was something I absolutely loved and my grandpa was always patient enough to teach me things here and there and answer any ridiculous questions I had. It was the accumulation of these educational lessons that made me realize I want to be a farmer when I grow up.

Just as my grandpa planted his corn and soybeans every spring, he planted a passion within me that I would have never imagined. Water quality and other environmental issues were the big thing always going on in my grandpa’s mind, though I never knew it until just a few years ago. I discovered that he was on an action team regarding the Dead Zone down in the Gulf, on several committees with ICGA and NCGA regarding water quality, and I’m sure there was more involvement that I am still unaware of. I took several college courses while still in high school. One of those many courses was called Environmental Science which I took my junior year. That class along with the ecology unit of biology really sparked an interest and lit a light bulb in my mind. I had found my passion which coincidentally was my grandpa’s as well. That’s the part I find astonishing. My grandpa never pressured me to do anything, never told me things about Iowa Corn or the things he was doing regarding water quality. He let me find my passion all on my own and then fed that passion with more of his knowledge once I came to the realization. Even then, I had no idea that it was such a big deal to him; that it was his passion as well. All those years, I had no idea. But when everything clicked together and I realized it, I could not help but pick his brain about various issues whenever I got the chance. I always knew he was involved with Iowa Corn but I never really knew what that meant. I distinctly remember seeing the ICGA and NCGA stickers that were on the door windows at my grandparents’ house and how busy my grandpa was during the winter and summer on trips across the nation for various meetings. Looking back and forward, I hope that I get to travel all over the nation as well, because it means I get to meet and converse with people with the same passions in order to make a difference. Not only did my grandpa build my love for agriculture and environmental issues but he introduced me to Iowa Corn.

I went to Washington D.C. twice with my grandparents while my grandpa had meetings. My grandpa always got my parents and I tickets to the Iowa Corn Indy race as well. Then, as my interest grew I decided that I would try out a meeting so I went to the annual policy meeting in 2013 even though it was on my birthday. More and more involvement has only followed. I went to the Commodity Classic in 2014 but regrettably had to miss the roundtables and annual meeting that summer. I went to the Day on the Hill in March of this year and a roundtable meeting just last week, my first Iowa Corn activities without my grandpa to show me the ropes. Luckily, I have met many of the members that my grandpa worked with so they all came to know me and everyone is always so welcoming and helpful. My involvement will only increase and I look forward to the many opportunities Iowa Corn will offer me in the coming years, beginning with the annual meeting in just a few weeks. I had no idea that I would have become so involved but I am very glad my grandpa let me tag along for the various things to spark that interest.

       I will never forget the last time I rode in the combine with him just last fall because I was telling him about my future career plans. I want to work for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and work with farmers to implement and improve soil conservation and water quality management practices. His eyes lit up and I could tell that he was very proud of the path I’ve chosen for my life to follow. I had no idea that it would be the last time I would ever ride in the combine with him. I had no idea that it would be the last time I would ever have an educational lesson and conversation with him. My grandpa passed away on March 7th, 2015 after a tough battle with cancer. Life is too short but I will always remember the things he taught me. Because of my Grandpa Gary, I have learned so much and been exposed to an amazing organization filled with amazing people. Because of him, I am going to continue the family farm with my dad, Brad Edwards. I could not imagine doing anything else.

Mikayla Edwards is from rural Anamosa, where she grew up on the family farm, raising corn, soybeans and beef cattle. She will be a junior this fall at Iowa State, majoring in ecology with a focus on natural resources and a minor in agronomy. She enjoys farming with her parents and plans to return to the farm after graduation, in addition to remaining active with Iowa Corn.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Iowa State University Researchers Visit the Real “Field”

One of the large problems in modern agriculture is attempting to feed a growing world population. Everybody agrees that we will need more food to feed more people in the future. As such, many branches of agricultural research need to be grounded in reality, working to increase yields in sustainable ways.

On Saturday, July 11, a group of researchers at Iowa State University labs ran by Pat Schnable, agronomy, and Lie Tang, agricultural engineering, toured the farm of Larry and Bonnie Buss in Logan, Iowa. The group discussed a wide range of topics, with the broad goal of increasing awareness of agriculture’s needs, and strengthening relationships between the University and the Iowa Corn Growers Association, who organized the event. The group learned about farming practices, commodity markets, agricultural equipment, and ways in which these aspects of agriculture have changed through the years.

Farm size, yield per acre, and ability to farm sloping fields have all increased in recent decades. Farmers are able to accurately plant rows with partly-automated location-optimized spacing, gather large quantities of relevant data, and numerous other feats which were previously impossible.
Part of the progress can be attributed to the technology seen on this tour. Modern agriculture includes GPS-guided planters, behemoth combines, massive silos, highly-efficient harvesters, and numerous other technological marvels. Seeing the puzzle completely assembled and running smoothly was a welcomed sight and an enriching experience to the visitors, who regularly come together, from diverse intellectual backgrounds, to collaborate on projects intended to improve various aspects of agriculture.

With so many recently advances in agriculture, Larry Buss informed the group of several challenges he still sees emerging. Issues such as water quality, affected by pesticide and herbicide use, need to be addressed. Additionally, many types of weeds are growing resistant to herbicides. Solutions to both include more environmentally-friendly pesticides, mechanical weeders, or improved strains of crops which require fewer chemicals and fertilizers. Most researchers present were working toward at least one of these solutions. As I just learned from, “From 1980 to 2010, U.S. farmers increased corn production by 87.5% while using 4% less fertilizer inputs. (source).” I am proud of those who made this happen, and am sure that together we can go further.

As you can see in the pictures below, the group of roughly 30 people, spanning all ages, came well prepared for the pleasant Iowa morning, and a good time was had by all.

I send thanks to the Iowa Corn Growers Association for helping with this event and the Buss’s for sharing their farm. As usual, Go Cyclones!

-Guest post by Dylan Shah from Iowa State University

Dylan Shah works with Dr. Lie Tang at Iowa State University, focusing on robotics, automation, and image processing. He enjoys helping the world achieve efficiency, so society can focus on improving life in other areas. Since graduating in May 2015 in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State, he has been working on the multidisciplinary Enviratron project through ISU. While not programming, reading journal papers, and studying, he enjoys biking, nature, lively discussions, and reading books on religion and 19th and early 20th century science and economics.

Friday, July 24, 2015

I-LEAD Explores Agriculture in the Bayou State

Cane, crawfish, and some of the most delicious Cajun cooking… just a few things that come to mind when looking back at our I-LEAD Class’ recent visit to Louisiana.

In late June our class spent four days learning first-hand about the diverse agricultural production systems throughout the Bayou State. We kicked off our visit by sitting down with representatives of the Louisiana Farm Bureau and the LSU Ag Center. We learned that while they do plant some corn and soybeans, Louisiana’s four major crops consist of sugarcane, wheat, sweet potatoes, and rice. The group also learned about their Master Farmer Program, which has helped provide education and incentives for farmers to implement conservation practices on their farms. In true Cajun fashion, we ended the day with a delicious home-cooked meal of Etouffee at the home of a local sugarcane farmer.

Our second day was spent in the deep of Cajun country. First stop was an alligator farm, where we learned how they collect the eggs from nests in the marshes, hatch them in large incubators, and sell the young alligators to other farms where they are raised and ultimately sold to tanneries based on their hide quality.  During our next farm visit we learned about how they are able to double crop their fields by harvesting rice in the fall and then harvesting crawfish from the same field later that year.  The class was able to get a first-hand look at the production of sugar cane during our next farm visist, which is harvested just one row at a time, much of it with custom made equipment.  The day ended at Avery Island, where we enjoyed a VIP tour of the Tabasco factory.

Day three began with a tour of the Port of New Orleans, which is almost 300 years old, and the New Orleans Cold Storage & Warehouse Co. This particular cold storage facility handles approximately three million pounds of fresh chicken each day, which is flash frozen and loaded into refrigerated containers to be shipped overseas, with Africa being one of our largest growing markets.  Next stop was Zen-Noh Grain, a facility with a grain holding capacity of 4 million bushels and daily drying capacity of 100,000 bushels.  This facility receives most of its grain by barge, which is unloaded, tested, dried (if needed), and then loaded onto container ships for export. Most barges hold 60,000 bushels, which takes about 45 minutes to unload, whereas a Panamax container ship holds about 2.2 million bushels of grain and takes about 24 hours to load.  It was amazing to see the grain loading/unloading, some of which could have come from an Iowa farm field!

Last stop of the day was a Perque (specialty tobacco known for its strong, fruity armona) tobacco farm. The farmer explained how his family had been raising this tobacco for many generations, and while he has updated his drying barn many of the same labor intensive practices historically used to produce it (handling it at least 18 times from planting to curing) are still used today.

Our last day began with a presentation from the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.  The representative shared that their industry provides 200,000 jobs in the state and helps to provide 9.2 million barrels of oil per day throughout the U.S. The group had an engaging discussing about the role of renewable fuels in our nationwide energy policy following the presentation. The final stop of our Louisiana tour was the Bollinger Shipyards.  The group was able to see the construction of U.S. Coast Guard ships from start to finish.  This stop was extra special to our group due to Michael Fritch’s family connection to ship #19, which is still in construction but will be named after a member of his family that died in the line of duty.

The food was delicious, the people were fantastic, the tours were informative, and the experience over all was amazing. On behalf of the entire I-LEAD class, thank you to everyone who had a hand in making this experience possible!

Elizabeth Burns-Thompson is currently the Government Relations Manager at Iowa Corn. Elizabeth was born and raised on a diversified family farm in eastern Iowa, where her parents still farm today. Elizabeth’s passion for agriculture led her to Iowa State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Business and International Agriculture. Elizabeth also holds a Juris Doctorate degree from Drake Law School, specializing in agricultural law and policy. While Iowa has always been home, one of her favorite past-times is traveling, and over the years she has had the privilege of observing agricultural production in variety of countries around the world.

Monday, June 8, 2015

What Happens to Iowa's Corn Crop?

In 2014, Iowa farmers produced nearly 2.37 billion bushels of corn!  But what happens to all of that corn?  Who will use it? Where does it go?

Typically, Iowa has three primary markets for its corn: ethanol, exports and livestock. This year, our main markets are ethanol and livestock.

Ethanol is Iowa’s largest user of corn; producing high octane fuel for drivers and high-protein feed for livestock and poultry industries here in Iowa and around the world. This year, Iowa’s 42 ethanol plants are expected to use approximately 1.3 billion bushels of corn, which will produce well over 3.9 billion gallons of renewable ethanol fuel and 9.37 million U.S. tons of the livestock feed, distillers dried grains (DDGs).

The other primary market for Iowa’s corn crop is livestock. Feed and residual use will consume 455 million bushels of this year’s crop. Actual feed use in state will total approximately 296 million bushels. Below is an estimated corn consumption breakdown for 2014/2015 crop from the state’s different livestock sectors:

  1. Hogs – 163 million bushels
  2. Beef Cattle – 61 million bushels
  3. Poultry – 52 million bushels
  4. Dairy – 18 million bushels
  5. Other – 2 million bushels    

Another major livestock-related market for corn is distillers dried grains (DDGs). This often forgotten ethanol co-product has become extremely popular among cattle feeders, hog producers and poultry feeders due to its high protein content compared to whole corn and soybean meal.  2.315 million short tons will be fed to livestock and poultry in the state of Iowa, and another 7.054 million short tons will be exported. The 2.315 million short tons that will be fed in Iowa will displace the need for an additional 118 million bushels of corn. This stat clearly debunks the “food vs. fuel” myth–ethanol produces “FOOD and FUEL.”  

Being able to provide food, feed, clean fuel and fiber to the world’s growing population is something that all Iowans should take great pride in.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Get to Know Natalie Te Grootenhuis, Market Development Intern at Iowa Corn

Hello everyone, my name is Natalie Te Grootenhuis and I am the new Marketing Development Intern here at Iowa Corn.

I grew up on a farm outside of Hospers, Iowa, my dad is a farmer and my mom is a fifth grade teacher at MOC-Floyd Valley. I have one younger brother who will be a sophomore in high school. At a young age I learned to love agriculture, when I was younger we raised baby calves and bottle fed about five hundred of them. This meant while other kids were at the pool swimming I was hanging out with my four legged best friends. My family now raises cattle and pigs along with crop farming corn and soybeans.

I graduated from MOC- Floyd Valley in 2013 where I was involved in FFA, 4H, softball, student council and served on the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Team. Following that I enrolled at Northwestern College (NWC) in Orange City Iowa, where I have an Ag-business and Marketing major. At NWC I serve as the women’s basketball manager as well as work with our local NRCS office doing surveying work. I am a member of the 2014-2015 Collegiate Advisory Team here at Iowa Corn as well. Though this experience I became more aware of what Iowa Corn is allowing me to step into my position here as the marketing intern well. Next spring I will enter “the real world” where I hope to be employed at an agriculture based business doing marketing work.

This summer I will be working a lot with the Iowa Corn 300 race as well as promoting other Iowa Corn events.  I am really excited for my summer at Iowa Corn; I look forward to getting to know my co-workers better and learning a lot from the organization.