EMMETSBURG - Under a heat-crushing sky, farmers, Iowa Lakes Community College ag program students and college faculty and staff observed the college's annual Farm Expo and Field Day Thursday. The event was organized by the Palo Alto Corn and Soybean Association and Iowa Lakes Community College.
Keynote speaker Bill Northey, a fourth-generation farmer and second-term Iowa secretary of agriculture, offered caution buoyed by optimism due to the resilience of Iowa farmers -and Iowa crops - to weather the summer's drought and feed the world.
Acknowledging that many were comparing the current year to the drought of 1988, Northey said this year was actually worse.
Iowa Lakes Community College ag students helped visitors to the annual Farm Expo and Field Day at the college farm laboratory Thursday west of Emmetsburg.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
"The heat and the moisture's worse than '88," said Northey, noting though that yields will be far better this year - 140 according to Pro Farmer - compared to 80 in 1988. Then this year's projected average yield isn't that must less than last year's of 172.
So what's the difference?
Hybrid genetics seem to mean everything.
Northey said one Dallas County farmer dug down five to six feet where he found corn roots soaking up moisture, making the corn keep its green amid the brown countryside.
If Iowa were its own country, in fact, it would be the world's fourth-largest corn producer. That would be with the U.S. overall leading followed by China then Brazil then Iowa.
"That's why a lot of people are paying attention to what's going on in Iowa," Northey said, adding that Iowa produces nearly as many soybeans as China.
However, while Iowa raised 20 million pigs a year, China raised 450 million.
"They (China) depend on us for feed for their livestock," Northey said, noting that China buys 60 percent of US soybeans sold internationally.
Northey also addressed a number of challenges in agriculture.
One would be the corn fungus aflatoxin which he said was more prevalent in southern Iowa. He urged that farmers with infestations should contact their insurance agent.
Northey also addressed the impact of the drought on the livestock industry.
It's a tough time in some of the livestock businesses," Northey said.
Northey lauded ag technology though, such as robotic milkers he saw in northeast Iowa.
"We can do about anything with technology," he said, adding that Iowa Lakes students will be on the cusp of tomorrow's ag technology. "There will be technology that will help us to a better job."
Northey also lauded the positive impact of the ethanol industry in providing not just fuel for the nation but feed for the livestock industry.
Northey concluded with an homage to Iowa's Century and Heritage farmers. He said 347 Iowa farm families were given Century Farm awards at this year's Iowa State Fair, making 18,000 since 1976. Another 67 were given Heritage Farm awards for their families remaining on the same soil for 150 years.
Preceding Northey was John Whitaker, Iowa state executive director of USDA's Farm Service Agency.
"We're always looking forward in agriculture," said Whitaker, acknowledging the special problems livestock producers now face without the same protection afforded to grain producers who can buy crop insurance.
Noting that both House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill have retroactive provisions to continue programs for the livestock industry, said Whitaker, "We've got to keep those producers in business now. We can't lose any more of those producers. We need livestock in Iowa."
Whitaker commended Iowa's drawing 18 percent of its energy from wind. He said in the next 10 years the state needs to develop cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel processes.
"Consumers are used to alcohol fuels now. They're ready for a second generation," said Whitaker, adding that the current Farm Bill under consideration looks at the critical need for bio research.
Emceeing the speakers was Tom Brotherton, executive dean of the Emmetsburg campus, who also introduced Richie Berkland of the Palo Alto Corn and Soybean Association.
Berkland awarded $50 ethanol certificates to Tom Donahue of Emmetsburg and Mason Foxhoven, son of Nichole Foxhoven of Graettinger.