Friday, September 28, 2007

New State Website Devoted to Soil, Water Conservation Programs

There's a new online tool available for farmers who want to participate in soil and water conservation programs.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is urging Iowa farmers and landowners to take advantage of the new Financial and Reports Management System (FARMS) website.

In a press release, Northey said that the new website allows farmers to sign up for and manage their participation in conservation programs offered by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. "This new web program is designed to make it easier for farmers to register and get conservation practices on the ground," said Northey. "There remains a great demand for filter strips, grass waterways and other projects that reduce runoff and improve water quality. This website will help farmers make sure those projects will happen."

The website will provide farmers and landowners plenty of information about state conservation programs, and allow them to apply online for assistance. Farmers who have participated in the past can monitor the status of their conservation project on the site.
Northey said the site is expected to speed processing of applications.

The Iowa Division of Soil Conservation, part of the state Agriculture Department, is responsible for programs that provide for the management of soil, water and mineral resources conservation.

Friday Farm News Roundup

Almost 90 years ago, Congress passed the Packers and Stockyards Act with the intent to force competition in the livestock industry. The basic idea: competition in the industry results in fair markets for farmers. At that time there were five big meat-packers who dominated the markets and were accused of manipulating prices to the detriment of farmers. The act solved many of those problems, and farmers benefited from packers bidding against one another for their livestock. Now it's 2007, and competition in livestock markets is not what it used to be.
In an article in the Des Moines Register this week, Philip Brasher reported on efforts in Congress to add new competition provisions to the 2007 Farm Bill. Independent hog producers have long fought for new laws to weaken the power of large meat-packers in the marketplace. Many want an outright ban on meat-packer ownership of livestock, and are watching closely as the U.S. Senate prepares to write its version of the 2007 Farm Bill. They hope the Senate will insert such a ban in the bill.

Chris Peterson, the hog farmer Brasher mentioned in the story above, will be busy next week raising a stink in Pleasantville. Peterson is president of the Iowa Farmers Union, which is holding a forum on Oct. 1 with Peterson as the keynote speaker. Click here to get the Coalition for Iowa's Farmers' take on the forum.

Also in the Register this week, we learned of the passing of one of Iowa's great agriculture journalists of the 20th century. Don Muhm was the farm editor at the Register for more than 30 years, and had an enormous impact on agriculture in Iowa and beyond during that time.

As harvest comes into full swing in Iowa, extra caution is urged on Iowa's roads. Farm vehicles will be hauling in what is expected to be a record corn crop. The Fort Dodge Messenger reports on the situation.

Iowa State University's Bioeconomy Conference will be held Nov. 5 and 6. Wallaces Farmer reported that the keynote speaker will be Vinod Khosla, one of the world's leading proponents of renewable biofuels. Khosla is co-founder of Sun Microsystems and has invested in many renewable fuels operations around the world.

The Washington Post has a big story today on farm subsidies.

As ethanol usage grows, another alternative to petroleum is coming closer to viability. Bio-based butanol is being studied by DuPont and BP, as reported in the Des Moines Register.

Wallaces Farmer has a story about former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack taking a position with Iowa State University's Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products.

Brownfield Network is reporting this afternoon that soybean rust has been found in Iowa. Iowa State University has confirmed that a soybean sample taken from Dallas County has the disease. Soybean rust can often cause significant losses to crop yields, but it may be too late in the season for it to have caused much damage this year.

Food-Labeling Law Likely to be Included in Farm Bill

It's still nearly impossible to guess what the 2007 Farm Bill will end up looking like. But it's now almost a certainty that a long-awaited mandatory country-of-origin labeling law for retail agricultural products will be implemented as part of the bill.

The country-of-origin labeling law -- known by the acronym "COOL" -- was passed in 2002 and signed by President Bush. It was never implemented, however, after being delayed numerous times in the last five years. Click here to read an Iowa Independent article in June that reported some of the history of the law.

As the U.S Senate Agriculture Committee prepares to write its version of the 2007 Farm Bill, likely as soon as next week, a large bipartisan group of senators are speaking out in favor of adding COOL legislation to the bill. Early this week, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., penned a letter to committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, urging the addition of the "COOL compromise." The bipartisan duo obtained the signatures of 29 other senators for the letter.

"This compromise, reached during consideration of the House-passed farm bill, may not be perfect," said Grassley in a conference call with ag reporters. "But we feel it is a workable and common-sense rule." He said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had failed for five years to get the law implemented, but noted Congress was also to blame for not providing adequate funding for the law. "Because of the inability for five years to get this under way, it's time for Congressional intervention to ensure the long-awaited implementation of mandatory COOL legislation."

The "compromise" on COOL was reached in the House Agriculture Committee and added to the House version of the Farm Bill passed in July.
"This consensus represents a reasonable compromise and finally clears the way to timely and reasonable implementation," said Grassley. "The problems and concerns created by USDA among producers, packers and retailers are alleviated in this compromise House language." Grassley explained that the compromise would establish three labeling options for meat. It would also allow ground meat to be labeled with a narrative list of countries of origin, but doesn't require percentages.

The National Farmers Union, which has been the leading organization pushing for implementation of mandatory COOL on agricultural products, has a comparison chart here, listing the differences between the compromise COOL language and the existing 2002 law. Under the compromise language, the law will mandate that all retail agricultural products -- everything from cherries and peanuts to hamburger and goat meat -- must be clearly labeled with country of origin.

Harkin, who has long supported mandatory COOL, told Iowa Independent in June that he would focus on keeping the law intact in the new farm bill. He was quoted this week by Brownfield Network as saying that he might tinker a bit with the House compromise COOL language in his bill, but said, "I want to make it very clear -- country-of-origin labeling will go into effect next year."
Any scenario that doesn't include COOL in the new farm bill is unlikely. Grassley and Johnson brought together some heavy-hitters as co-signers to their COOL letter, including all of the Democratic senators running for president. There weren't any Republican presidential candidates on the list, but counting Grassley, there were six Republican names. That's no small feat, considering the vehement opposition to mandatory COOL by many Republicans in the past five years.

"The usual opposition has been -- but no longer is -- everything outside the farm gate, between the farm gate and your mouth," said Grassley when asked who opposes mandatory COOL. "Processors, retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, slaughterhouses, the American Meat Institute, all of those things."

In a press release, Grassley notes that consumer polls have consistently shown widespread support for COOL. A poll conducted by the Consumers Union in July found 92 percent of respondents believed imported food products should be labeled with their country of origin. A Zogby poll in August found 95 percent believe consumers have a right to know the country of origin of the foods they purchase.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hillary and That Uncomfortable Cackle

Each of the presidential candidates have their own little idiosyncrasies. These personal peculiarities are magnified to us here in Iowa, as we see the candidates so often we get to the point where we can almost recite their stump speeches from memory.

Chris Dodd inserts the word "here" in the strangest places as he talks.

Joe Biden, when he wants to add emphasis to a certain point, often repeats the last few words of a sentence.

Bill Richardson doesn't always speak in complete sentences. He'll start talking about one subject only to go off on a tangent.

John Edwards does weird things with his tongue when he talks. And that drawl is a bit much, even for me, a guy from the sticks in southern Iowa.

These are all behaviors that have endearing qualities to them. It's just the way they are, and it's fine. We feel like we know them personally when we hear them talk.

But Hillary Clinton's phony cackle is different.

It's obvious that these laughing fits are not just part of the way she is. It's coached behavior, and she's not fooling very many of us. It's not endearing. It's actually sorta creepy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

FFA on the Rebound, but 'It's Not Your Father's Ag-Ed Program Anymore'

Agricultural education is becoming a key factor in the success of Iowa students getting prepared to enter the work force.

The skills sought by employers in Iowa are changing rapidly as new job opportunities sprout up with the growing renewable fuels industry. And as those new opportunities arise, students in Iowa's schools are showing a growing interest in the study of agriculture.
One time-honored agricultural education program, Future Farmers of America, had seen its membership in Iowa drop to nearly 10,000 in the year 2000. But FFA has enjoyed somewhat of a rebirth around the state with more than 12,300 members this fall.

Iowa FFA Advisor Dale Gruis told Iowa Independent that it's a myth that kids aren't interested in agriculture. "The common belief among a lot of people is that these programs are kind of drying up. Which is not true," said Gruis. "While we may lose a chapter now and then because of school mergers, we also will see every now and then a new school that adds a program."
Gruis said that in order for FFA to remain a vital part of agricultural education, it must adapt to teach kids the skills they need in today's agriculture. "It's not your father's ag-ed program anymore," said Gruis. "The programs have changed over time. Programs may not be exactly how parents remember them from years ago. There's a lot more emphasis now on horticulture, biotechnology, science, all those things that are growing areas in agriculture today."

Gruis said kids are interested in the high-tech skills needed by agribusiness, but they're also very interested in learning about growing and marketing foods on a small-scale, local level. "And we know that there's probably a pretty significant number of FFA students that currently sell produce through farmers markets as an FFA project. There's a growing interest with students in the trend of trying to sell through farmers' markets. That's been an exciting trend, because I think most of us support the local foods initiatives."
While agricultural education programs are mostly located in small-town high schools, Gruis said that students in urban schools are now showing a lot of interest in horticulture and local food projects.

But it's large-scale production agriculture that has created the most demand for highly skilled young adults. Preparing kids to enter into agronomy or biology programs in college is going to be a key focus of agricultural education programs in Iowa high schools.
"Agriculture education is more important now than it ever has been," said Gruis. "The growing biofuels industry in Iowa, the whole desire to see Iowa grow in producing more biofuels -- it's definitely an area that makes sense to try and get more students involved in understanding agriculture. Especially the aspects of biology and the marketing of agricultural products."

"I spend a fair amount of my time talking to business and industry people, and they continually talk about the need for students that are interested in agriculture," said Gruis. "Iowa probably has a shrinking student population, especially the number of students that grow up on farms. But the demand for those students is growing."

A recent article in Iowa Farmer Today reported that there is an incredible demand for highly educated agronomists in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest. The article states that some agronomists with advanced degrees from Iowa State University are getting paid $80,000 or more as a starting salary.

Iowa FFA Foundation President Steve DeWitt told Iowa Independent that the jobs are here for students willing to learn the skills that are required.
"Production agriculture is of paramount importance to the economy of Iowa. And agriculture has huge demands right now for employees," said DeWitt. "Agribusiness represents more than 25 percent of all employment in the state of Iowa, so it's a significant contributor to our overall workforce. The needs of agribusiness are greater than they've ever been."
"Renewable fuels and all of the manufacturing facilities that are being built, they have great needs for employees with special training. A lot of the schools, Iowa community colleges, have started new programs to help educate new potential employees for those facilities."

One planned project that is on the drawing board may soon help educate Iowa's youth about agriculture. The Iowa FFA Enrichment Center is a multimillion-dollar learning institution that will be constructed near the Des Moines Area Community College campus in Ankeny.
The project, funded by the FFA Foundation, will be more than 75,000 square feet in size and will serve students and teachers in Iowa's agricultural education programs.

"The enrichment center is really devoted to helping students involved in FFA throughout Iowa take advantage of some new educational opportunities," said DeWitt. "It will be devoted to helping students and teachers become more proficient in the skills and opportunities in agribusiness today." Once completed, the Enrichment Center will feature greenhouses, computer and science labs and classrooms for special educational programs.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Iowa's Deer: Beautiful, Destructive and a Target of Growing Concern

What is Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey most often asked about as he travels the state?
New opportunities in the renewable fuels industry? Iowa's water quality and how to improve it? The evils of factory farms? Nope, nope and nope.

Deer. It's all about those beautiful antlered critters that roam every nook and cranny of our state. Northey said that everywhere he goes, people are talking about the deer population, and more specifically, what can be done to control the damage caused by deer.

"It's the number-one subject I've been asked about in my town hall meetings all year so far," said Northey in an interview with Iowa Independent. Northey said he has visited more than 80 communities since taking office in January.

"We always get a lot of discussion about deer population," he said. "We're seeing a lot of private ground now where folks are not allowing hunting. There is a concern about that. Really, the biggest conversations at my town hall meetings are always about the number of deer. And it's certainly about crop damage from farmers, but it's also about accidents and the non-farm stuff too."

Northey said that deer have always caused a lot of damage to Iowa's traditional top crop -- corn. That's nothing new. But as many small farms operations experiment with new specialty fruits and vegetables, farmers raising those crops are finding a main concern is making sure their crops aren't munched by unwanted guests.
"In horticulture production, where two acres is their whole summer's work, it can get all destroyed in just a short while by some deer," said Northey. "Grape folks, orchard folks, if they're trying to plant an apple orchard or a vineyard, the number-one thing they've got to worry about is how to keep the deer out so that you can get your plants big enough so that they'll survive."

Throughout the last three decades, the whitetail deer population rose as the human population in rural Iowa declined. That growing population has caused problems throughout the state.
Crop damage is only a minor concern when compared to the danger posed by deer on Iowa's highways. There are regularly more than 7,000 animal-vehicle crashes on Iowa's roads each year. The Iowa Department of Transportation provided this link for statistics from 2001 to 2005. In addition to those statistics, the website has compiled data on Iowa traffic accidents involving deer, with a page of statistics for years 1993-2004.
An article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette recently reported that 2007 is already the deadliest year ever for motorcycle/deer accidents.

The overpopulation of deer in Iowa makes for some dangerous driving conditions, and it's obviously not good for deer that end up smashed on the roads.
Deer hunting, which is a big tourism draw for Iowa, is the most effective way to keep the deer population under control, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Willie Suchy.

Over the past two years the Iowa Legislature and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have been trying to enact policies to bring the deer population in Iowa back to levels of the mid-1990s.

"The important thing is to try to increase hunting pressure and to kill enough antlerless deer," said Suchy. Antlerless deer are not prized by most hunters, who generally go out to the field seeking a trophy buck. "What we're doing is trying to increase the number of antlerless deer licenses in counties that have too many deer. We've increased that by about 13,000 last year to about 113,000 total. So we are focusing pressure on those counties that we have good data that says that deer numbers are higher than we'd like to see them."

Suchy said areas of the state where the deer population is too high are mostly in southern and eastern Iowa. "Deer numbers in northwest and north-central Iowa don't seem to be in too bad of shape. They're consistent with where they were 10 years ago, and that's about what we'd like to get things back to."

Getting a reliable estimate on the number of deer is not easy, and the DNR uses varying methods for conducting a deer census. "We don't have firm numbers. We are saying we have some 380,000 after last year's hunt. We'd like to see that get down to around 270,000."

For farmers who would like to get the deer population reduced in their neighborhoods, the DNR has a program to help connect them with hunters. "For individual farmers, we have depredation biologists who can work with them to get hunting pressure on their land," said Suchy. "And those biologists have lists of hunters who are willing to shoot antlerless deer."

These efforts appear to be working, said Suchy. "In southern Iowa, seeing what's happened over the last two years with the increased doe harvest, our survey numbers are leveling off and in some cases coming down. We are having successes."

For Northey, he's thinking outside the box. He has considered working with the DNR to organize a "big doe" contest in an effort to encourage even more hunters to harvest the less sought-after female deer.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Harkin Steak Fry: Photo Blog 2

Former state representative and gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon watches his favorite candidate, John Edwards,

This Edwards staffer dutifully wore a hot costume all afternoon.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy enjoy the day at the steak fry. Miller has endorsed Obama, and McCarthy has endorsed Biden.
Hillary Clinton gives her stump speech at the steak fry.
Chris Dodd discussed the finer foods available on a stick at the Iowa State Fair during his speech at the steak fry.

Head getting sunburned? A fashionable hat can be crafted out of an Obama sign and a few stickers.
John Edwards discusses his health care plan during his speech at the steak fry.
Joe Biden's "Ears of Experience" display.
Biden gives a sobering address on the realities of the situation in Iraq to close out the presidential candidate speeches.
An Uncle Sam costumed steak fry attendee supporting Edwards.

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie.

Harkin and guests give a final bow for the crowd to close out the 2007 Harkin Steak Fry.

Harkin Steak Fry: Photo Blog

Iowa Independent's John Deeth (wearing his trademark raspberry beret) gets the spin from Obama advisor David Axelrod.
The Obama crew marches to the Harkin Steak Fry, led by the drum corps the Isiserettes.
Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge welcomes the crowd early in the program at the steak fry.
Grandma Nancy and Aidan enjoy the beautiful weather at Aidan's first Harkin Steak Fry.
The catering crew worked over hot grills preparing the meals for over 12,000.
Iowa vocal talent Effie Burt passionately sings the Star Spangled Banner.

Ruth and Tom Harkin say hello to the record crowd at the Harkin Steak Fry.
Barack Obama takes to the mic to deliver the first speech of the six special guests.
Hillary Clinton and Ruth Harkin have a chat up on the stage.
Bill Richardson gives the second presidential candidate speech at the steak fry.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Albia Capitol for a Day

Gov. Chet Culver proclaimed Albia as the state's Capitol for a Day today, with a big gathering of local local folks at the historic Monroe County Courthouse. Pictured above are myself and Aidan with the governor.

The event was a good chance for people to ask questions and visit with both the governor and my mom. I think some good ideas were presented, which will be taken back to Des Moines.

One of the main topics of discussion was the new Honey Creek resort lodge being built at Rathbun Lake.

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for taking the photo with my camera.

Power Fund Board Aims for Energy Independence

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver announced the members of the Iowa Power Fund Board of Directors Tuesday in Des Moines. Culver also introduced Roya Stanley, Iowa's new director of the Office of Energy Independence.

The Power Fund and the Office of Energy Independence were created by the Iowa Legislature earlier this year to spur development of new energy technologies in Iowa and to develop and implement a plan for Iowa's independence from foreign sources of energy by 2025.

Stanley has been active for 25 years in the field of renewable energy and energy efficiency. For the past seven years she has been employed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Co., as a liaison working with officials and agricultural leaders across the country. Before going to the NREL she spent 18 years in Des Moines, working for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and as the state Energy Bureau chief. During that time she led the development of state energy efficiency initiatives. She also worked to lay the groundwork for the development of a switchgrass research project.

In her new job Stanley's duties will be to coordinate administration of the $100 million Iowa Power Fund, coordinate existing state and federal energy policy programs, pursue new research investment funding from public and private sources and develop the plan for energy independence.

Stanley will work directly with the Iowa Power Fund Board of Directors. Public board members include chairman Fred S. Hubbell, of Des Moines; Lucy Norton, of Clive; Glenn Cannon, of Waverly; Peter Hemken, of Des Moines; Carrie LaSeur, of Mt. Vernon; Patricia Higby, of Cedar Falls; and Thomas Wind, of Fairfield. Also on the board will be Iowa Department of Economic Development director Mike Tramontina, Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Rich Leopold, and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.

Ex-officio non-voting members of the board include Sen. Roger Stewart, D-Preston; Sen. Hubert Houser, R-Carson; Rep. Nathan Reichert, D-Muscatine; Rep. Chuck Soderburg, R-LeMars; and representing Iowa's colleges and universities, Gregory Geoffroy, Kent Henning and Mary Jo Dolan.

Hubbell and Higby will also serve on a separate due-diligence committee that will monitor and review the projects. Other members of the due-diligence committee will be Franklin Codell, of West Des Moines; Vern Gebhart, of Marion; Floyd Barwig, of Ames; Ted Crosbie, of Ames; and William C. Hunter, of Coralville.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Albia to be Capitol for a Day on Wednesday

Gov. Chet Culver will proclaim the Monroe County Courthouse as Iowa's "Capitol for a Day" tomorrow.
The governor and my mom (Albia is her hometown) will be at the courthouse from 1-2:30 p.m. to hold open office hours to visit with local folks.

I've heard that we'll have a special music presentation by local favorites, The Aloes.

Attended the Edwards Event in Chariton

I drove over to Chariton yesterday for the John Edwards event. It was a beautiful evening, so they had the event out on the courthouse lawn instead of inside Bizzy's Ice Cream.

There was a bigger crowd there than I expected, and I saw a lot of familiar faces. I asked a few of the local people who I know, and they said this visit was the first of any of the top candidates to Chariton. It's kinda like Albia, where we've only been visited by Tommy Thompson and John Cox.

Edwards continues to show that he's running strong in these small towns in my neighborhood. After the event, I had the opportunity to ask Edwards about how he would change federal agriculture policies. Here's his answer:

"Lower payment limitations. Lower limits on subsidies. What I've proposed is $250,000. More money put into moving toward clean, renewable sources of energy. More effort, although there's been some good effort under Tom Harkin, more effort made to conserve the land...more conservation funding. And a lot of the programs for low income families are in the Farm Bill. And I would want to bolster those also."

Edwards' proposed Rural Recovery Act is the only one of its kind so far among the presidential candidates.

For all of the national pundits who are still surprised at how well Edwards is doing in Iowa -- that's part of it. He seems to grasp these rural issues and concepts better than the other Democrats, with the possible exception of Iowa's neighbor from Illinois, Barack Obama.