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Northey: Iowa ag getting widespread attention

By Staff | Sep 16, 2012

“The best and brightest students in the state are in agriculture.” —Bill Northey Iowa secretary of agriculture

By KRISTY

TONDERUM

ktonderum@emmetsburgnews.com

EMMETSBURG – Although 2012 is challenging every farmer’s ability to scratch a living from soil and pastures, there are some positive aspects for Iowa agriculture that are being watched.

That assessment was delivered on Sept. 6 during Iowa Lakes Community College’s Farm Expo and Field Day by Bill Northey’s Iowa secretary of agriculture.

Northey, a graduate of Iowa State University and a fourth-generation farmer from Spirit Lake, is serving his second term as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. He is traveling the state on a mission to visit all 99 counties.

Northey said many farmers have been comparing the 2012’s hot and dry weather to the drought of 1988. He said this year was actually worse.

“The heat and the moisture’s worse than ’88,” Northey said, but added that according to last month’s Pro Farmer Tour that included Iowa, yields will be far better – 140 bushels per acre for corn, compared to 80 bpa in 1988. This year’s projected average yield is less than ideal, the 140 bpa estimate is better than farmers feared a few months ago, Northey said.

The difference now from 1988, he said, is the technological advances of the last 14 years, especially hybrid genetics. Northey spoke of a Dallas County farmer who dug down 6 feet to find corn roots soaking up moisture, allowing the corn to keep itself green amid the brown countryside.

“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. In fact, he added, if Iowa were its own country it would be the world’s fourth-largest corn producer behind the rest of the U.S., China and Brazil.

However, while Iowa raises a nation-leading 20 million pigs a year, China raised 450 million. “They depend on us for feed for their livestock,” Northey said. China buys 60 percent of all U.S. soybeans sold internationally.

Northey also addressed a number of challenges in agriculture.

One would be aspergillus flavus in corn, which produces aflatoxin, which he said is more prevalent in 2012 in southern Iowa. He urged farmers who suspect aflatoxin presence in their corn to contact insurance agents before doing any harvesting.

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 said that robotic milkers he saw in northeast Iowa reminded him of the Farm Progress Show. Little machines allowed cows to walk in when and as often as they wanted. They not only milk them, but also weigh them, take their temperature, feed them, clean their udders and calculate somatic cell count of milk produced. The cows also had sand beds, airflow fans and back scratchers.

“We can do about anything with technology,” he said, adding that Iowa Lakes students will be on the cusp of tomorrow’s ag technology. “What else is going to come in technology to help us do a better job?”

He said students will get to see and be part of numerous change over the next few years. “The best and brightest students in the state are in agriculture.”

Livestock essential

John Whitaker, Iowa state executive director of USDA’s Farm Service Agency, called for keeping Iowa livestock producers in business.

“We’re always looking forward in agriculture,” Whitaker said, acknowledging the special problems livestock producers face.

“We’ve got to keep those producers in business now. We can’t lose any more. We need livestock in Iowa.”

Whitaker said the House and Senate versions of the farm bill considered earlier this year and defeated, had retroactive provisions to continue programs for the livestock industry.

Whitaker commended Iowa in drawing 18 percent of its energy from wind. In the next 10 years the state needs to develop cellulosic ethanol and advanced biodiesel processes.

“Consumers are used to alcohol fuels now,” Whitaker said. “They’re ready for a second generation fuel.”

The Palo Alto Corn and Soybean Association and ILCC organized the Farm Expo and Field Day event.

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