Like he did in 2007, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will hold a town hall meeting in all every county in Iowa again this year. "I'll be visiting each of Iowa's 99 counties to hear from folks who are on the ground and making things happen in Iowa agriculture," he says. "I will be trying to share this exciting story of agriculture fueling the dynamic growth that is occurring in our state."
Northey wants to hear about the good things that are going on, and also hear about the things that people think need improvement in the state. "I want to hear people's concerns and ideas so we can help keep agriculture improving and moving ahead," he says.
2008 great opportunities in agriculture
Agriculture in 2007 experienced nearly unprecedented success. Large corn and soybean yields in conjunction with good prices resulted in strong farm incomes across the state. Good prices were also available for much of the year to dairy farmers and egg producers and those who raised beef, pork, turkey and other livestock. And, the outlook for 2008 remains bright - especially for corn and soybean prices. Demand for our agricultural products remains strong.
"A new federal energy bill was recently signed into law that will ensure continued increasing demand for ethanol and biodiesel," says Northey. "This will help keep the price for our corn and beans strong by giving Iowa farmers markets for their crops. In addition to domestic markets in the U.S. that use our crops for fuel and livestock feeding, the international markets continue to buy our ag products as well. That is helping to keep grain prices up even as production grows."
At the same time, "Buy Local" campaigns are driving demand for other food products too, he adds. For example vegetables, fruits and livestock products that are grown close to where they are consumed.
Young people excited about agriculture
As a result, young people are excited about agriculture again. "Agriculture programs at Iowa State University and at our community colleges have seen significant growth," notes Northey. "There is a newfound optimism around agriculture that we haven't experienced in decades."
Challenges remain, though. "With profitability returning to agriculture, there have been dramatic increases in land prices and in the amount of rent farmers are paying," he points out. "There are questions about how young people can break into farming with the high startup costs they now face. People worry that this is a repeat of the boom times in the 1970s that led to the farm crisis in the 1980s."
"However, the opportunities I see in agriculture are real," he says. "The ethanol plants that have been built are not going to disappear over night, especially in this era of $100 per barrel oil. The emerging international markets that have helped drive demand for our agriculture exports are not going away."
Northey thinks it's important that people recognize the opportunities available on farms and in small rural communities today and appreciate the role agriculture is playing in this revitalization of some rural areas. "As Iowa Secretary of Agriculture I'm trying to do what I can to encourage Iowans to make sure we take full advantage of these opportunities," he says. "My wish is that we all continue to work together to make sure 2008 is even more successful for Iowans than 2007."