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Northey: Iowans need to promote farming

By Staff | Mar 26, 2010

WEBSTER CITY – Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey visited Webster City Tuesday morning and told the Main Street USA Kiwanis Club that Iowans need to spread the story of the state’s contribution to agriculture.

“We have great agriculture here in Iowa and sometimes we underappreciate it and take it for granted. It’s very familiar and something we all grew up with,” he said.

Northey told the club Iowa’s agriculture is unique from all the other states. Even in 2008 with the flooding issues, Northey said Iowa ended up No. 1 in corn, soybean and pork production. Iowa also has an impressive egg production industry, according to the ag secretary.

“We have 60 million layers in the state of Iowa. Ohio is the No. 2 state with 27 million layers,” he said. “We produce 14 billion eggs a year in this state. That’s enough for two eggs for every person on the globe.”

Northey said many people are unaware of the state’s egg production numbers. The industry continues to grow and will likely reach 65 million laying hens by the end of 2010, according to the secretary.

“There is a farm not too far from here that produces eggs for McDonald’s. They have 2.5 million layers that produce a million eggs a day for whole egg sandwiches like Egg McMuffins,” he said. The other million eggs a day from the farm are produced to be used for liquid egg products, according to Northey.

“That one farm feeds all the McDonald’s west of the Mississippi, including Hawaii and Guam. One farm,” he said. “So imagine how many people around the world are waiting for their Iowa eggs today.”

Northey said Iowa pork represents 30 percent of the United States pork production. Last year, $4 million in Iowa pork was exported to Japan.

“Sometimes we don’t make that connection between being an ag state and a food state,” he said. “But we are a food state. We’re going to have to talk about that so people understand what we produce here. If we didn’t produce this stuff, people would miss it.”

Economically, Iowa farms produced $20 billion in sales in 2007, with that amount divided equally between crop and livestock production, he said. In comparison, he said, the state budget is $6 billion.

“From 2002 to 2007, agriculture sales increased by $5 billion – about as much as what the entire state budget is,” he said.

“We spend a lot of time talking about what we’re doing with millions of dollars here and there. But then there’s agriculture quietly sitting over here, making a huge economic impact.”

“We’re No. 2 in total sale of products off the farm. We’re bigger than Texas, Nebraska, Pennsylvania,” he said, adding that only California outsells Iowa.

Northey said much of the increase from 2002 to 2007 was due to ethanol production. The ethanol plants have also brought many jobs to the state, he said.

He said a new ethanol plant would be opening in Cedar Rapids before the end of the year.

“That will make Cedar Rapids the No. 1 corn processing city in the world, with 1.1 million bushels processed per day,” he said. “They’ll process $1.5 billion worth of corn per year.”

“They probably don’t think of themselves as an ag city – but they should when you look at all the jobs Cedar Rapids has completely dependent upon agriculture,” Northey said.

Northey said Iowa’s legacy of agriculture was also evident in the number of Century Farms and Heritage Farms in the state. Century Farms are farms that have been in the same family for 100 years; Heritage Farms have been in the same family for 150 years.

“There were great reasons to sell those farms over the years if they were just numbers on a balance sheet. But it’s much more than that. It’s something about who we are and our connection to the past,” he said.

Northey said his department has awarded 400 Heritage Farm designations in the past five years, and 16,500 Century Farm awards since 1976.

“That’s a lot of farms and a lot of families. We need to talk about this, tell these stories,” he said. “When they come across the stage to get their awards, there is a sense of pride and historical importance and the connection they have,” he said.

Contact Anne Blankenship at editor@freemanjounal.net

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