A first-ever event to celebrate Iowa agriculture and to gather together the state's ag leaders and thank them for all they do to help Iowa agriculture move forward was held the evening of March 5, hosted by the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship. An estimated 350 to 375 people attended the dinner and a speakers program, held at the FFA Enrichment Center on the campus of Des Moines Area Community College at Ankeny, just north of Des Moines.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey came up with the idea to hold this celebration of agriculture, which he hopes will become an annual event. "We did this because agriculture is special in Iowa," he said. "It's filled with special people, hardworking farmers and leaders at the state and local levels. They make agriculture work across the state and we wanted to get as many of these leaders together as we could to celebrate what agriculture is all about."
Those attending the event had the opportunity to meet informally and discuss issues, exchange ideas and get to know each other better. "We also want to recognize and emphasize the importance of agriculture to our state's economy and to the U.S. and the world," said Northey. "Another important thing this event does is give us a chance to talk about the good things going on in Iowa agriculture today, the progress being made."
Inaugural event brought together all parts of Iowa agriculture
After the informal reception, which lasted for an hour, the dinner and formal program were held. Speaking as part of the formal program were Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Steven Brockshus, Iowa FFA president. Keynote speaker was Orion Samuelson, the long-time farm broadcaster from WGN radio in Chicago and host of U.S. Farm Report.
Northey started the program by having members of the Iowa Legislature who were in attendance stand and be recognized as a group. There were about 50 state lawmakers present. Northey then recognized the 21 companies who sponsored the event and thanked them for footing the bill for the dinner. Northey asked all FFA and 4-H members in attendance to stand as a group, then he had all the farm organization leaders stand.
Likewise, all of the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award winners for 2012 were asked to stand and were given a round of applause. Northey also asked winners of the 2012 Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award who were in attendance to stand and be recognized.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Iowa farm organizations and commodity groups hold a number of meetings throughout the year. "But this event our department is holding tonight is a chance to bring together all parts of Iowa agriculture," Northey said. "Livestock organizations, crop organizations, conservation groups, government agency representatives and people from the private sector are here attending. Folks from various parts of the state are here."
Future of Iowa is bright in many ways, thanks to agriculture
Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds in their speeches said the future of Iowa agriculture is bright. "Our state is fortunate to have the kind of top-notch leadership in agriculture that we have today at the state and local levels," said Branstad. "Also, look at the sponsors we have on this program tonight -- these are great Iowa companies. They are making a real difference in our state."
The farmers of Iowa are hardworking, caring, quality people who are also making Iowa great, Branstad added. "We want to say thank you to all of you who make Iowa a fine place to work, live and raise families. Believe me, I know from experience. I was governor in the 1980s during the farm financial crisis and I'm governor again now. It's a lot more fun being governor now."
Agriculture remains as strongest part of the Iowa economy
Today, agriculture continues to be the strongest wheel that is driving the Iowa economy. "The only state that has us beat is North Dakota and they have agriculture and oil," noted Branstad, whose comment brought a chuckle from the audience.
Branstad noted that he, Reynolds and Northey have traveled the world to promote Iowa's quality products and to build partnerships to try to bring more business and jobs to the state. Reynolds last week returned from leading a group of Iowans on a trade mission to Vietnam. "Everywhere we went, people recognized Iowa for its quality agricultural commodities and safe food products," said Reynolds.
"We are making significant progress in developing more markets for Iowa agricultural products in international trade," Branstad said. "For example, just a year ago we hosted the vice president of China, Xi Jinping, who will soon become president of China. There is a lot of potential for marketing more Iowa corn, soybeans, meat and other ag products in China."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
That February 2012 visit wasn't the first time this high-ranking Chinese official was in Iowa. Xi Jinping was not a high-ranking official when he visited Iowa in 1985 as part of a Chinese delegation visiting here through the Iowa Sister States program. But Xi Jinping remembered fondly his first visit and how well he was treated by Iowans. "Xi Jinping wanted to come back here and visit again and he did that last year, at our invitation," said Branstad. "And he and this trade delegation signed an agreement for China to buy a large amount of Iowa soybeans."
Iowa must keep cultivating next generation of future ag leaders
FFA and 4-H members and leaders of those organizations were well-represented at the March 5 Iowa Ag Leadership event. Steven Brockshus, current Iowa FFA president, was one of the speakers. He talked about the importance of education, the state of Iowa's STEM initiative (science, technology, engineering and math) and the CASE program (curriculum for agri-science, education and stem). "We are fortunate to have these programs in Iowa," said Brockshus. "Students can work hands-on, and relate to the science projects in ag classes, and see actual results and how knowledge and information they are learning will work in the real world."
Brockshus, 19-years-old, is from a fifth generation dairy farm in northwest Iowa. "When I walk through the doors here today and listen to everyone talking, I know there is a positive future for agriculture. I'm definitely excited to be part of this important endeavor, producing food," he said. "Last October I was fortunate to get to attend the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines and met farmers from Africa and India and elsewhere. They don't have all the technology we have here in Iowa.
"The farmer from India is still sending me emails," said Brockshus. "He was impressed how agriculture and FFA are part of our public school system in America. He's trying to figure out how they can put such a system in place in his country. He's interested in how ag education and FFA got into the school system in the U.S. and how he can grow that in India."
Why farmers need to talk to the public about what they do
One thing Orion Samuelson talked about in his keynote address is farmers need to talk about how they produce food and why they do it the way they do. "There's a lot of misinformation floating around today. It's important for the general consumer to understand what happens in agriculture," said Samuelson.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Samuelson talked about how he grew up on a farm. His kids had an opportunity to visit farms, but his grandkids don't. They don't have a relatives with farms in the family anymore to visit. Samuelson said there are many other consumers out there in that same situation. "Farmers need to communicate what's really happening in agriculture today to those folks who care about agriculture, who care about where their food comes from and how it is produced, but don't have the knowledge about farming that previous generations had," he said.
Recognition for award winners in programs sponsored by IDALS
Northey, during his talk at the March 5 ag leadership event, encouraged Iowans to nominate neighbors or other farmers for the various awards and recognition programs sponsored by the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship each year. "These programs help provide the good news in agriculture that needs to be told today," he notes. "The public is very interested in food, the environment and related issues affecting agriculture."
Information about these awards and the nomination procedure or each program is available on the state ag department's website.
* Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award—This is a new program the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship, Governor's Office and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources began last year. "We had 67 farm families in 2012 who received this award," Northey explained. "It was presented at the Iowa State Fair. The award recognizes the exemplary voluntary efforts of Iowa's farmers as environmental leaders committed to healthy soils and improved water quality."
The purpose of this award is to encourage other farmers and Iowa citizens to follow the example set by the award winners and do what's right for the environment. "When a farmer wins this honor others will notice and be prompted to take charge of the environmental responsibility on their farms too," said Northey. "We have some great stories to tell across the state about farm families who are voluntarily saving soil, protecting water quality and using practices to protect our natural resources."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Northey added, "We want to make sure those good stories get told on a statewide basis and back in the local communities. We encourage you to think of neighbors and other farmers who should be nominated for this award. We had 67 folks last year who were chosen to receive this award. We hope to have at least that many for 2013. The winners will be introduced at the 2013 Iowa State Fair. We encourage people to send us nominations."
* Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award—This award is presented 10 times per year, given to farm families who are nominated by neighbors and selected by a panel of judges. It's a chance to honor farmers who are good livestock producers and who are recognized as good farm neighbors by those who live nearby. "This is a chance to tell the good stories about what's happening in agriculture and livestock production in the state," said Northey.
This award was started with WHO radio in Des Moines and the last farm broadcaster Gary Wergin. The Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers is the main sponsor of the award, in cooperation with IDALS. "We encourage people to nominate good livestock producers who are doing an outstanding job of taking care of their animals and the environment," said Northey. "We need to continue to tell these good stories, to deliver the message, inform the public."
* Iowa Agricultural Art Contest—People attending the Iowa Ag Leaders Dinner noticed photos, paintings and other works of art with an agricultural theme on display in the large room. "Last year at IDALS we started an Iowa Agricultural Art Contest, in partnership with the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs," explained Northey, "with sponsorship from Iowa Farm Bureau."
Northey said IDALS intends to have the art contest in 2013, too. He encourages people to enter. "We had 75 art entries last year, all on some type of agriculture theme. Some were paintings, some were sculptures, some were photography. A total of 45 different communities were represented in those 75 different entries. We encourage people to enter this year and we will recognize the winners at the 2013 Iowa State Fair."
Around the state you see great agricultural art or photos and paintings of rural Iowa, small towns and farm scenes. "We want to encourage art with an agricultural theme," Northey noted. "We want to make sure today's agriculture is captured in some of today's art and photos and paintings so it is preserved for future generations."
* Heritage and Century Farm Awards. "Also at the State Fair each year we honor Iowa families who've kept ownership of their farm in the same family for either 150 or 100 years," noted Northey. "If you think your farm may qualify for either of these awards, we encourage you to go to the IDALS website and get an application form or contact us for more information."