Iowa Central hosts Naig, students on ag day
By KRISS NELSON
FORT DODGE – Iowa Central Community College hosted more than 80 area high school students on Tuesday for an Agriculture Discovery Day that included a keynote address by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.
Students from South Hamilton, East Sac, Webster City, Southeast Valley, Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, Fort Dodge Senior High and St. Edmond School participated in four sessions covering DNA genetic technology, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) drones, a sprayer simulator and rainfall simulator.
The college also awarded four seniors with $300 scholarships.
Mike Robertson, agricultural technology program professor, said by hosting the agriculture discovery day, it assists the college in recruiting. But it goes beyond that.
“It also exposes those students to what opportunities and careers that are out there,” he said. “We tried to pick some different areas of topics; to get them thinking, get them down a path. When they hear some of the speakers, they will start finding out that maybe that math class or science class important.”
During lunch, Naig provided an overview of the issues that are prevalent at the Iowa Department of Agriculture. It included an update on the flooding that hit areas of southwest Iowa.
Naig visited Fremont and Mills counties the previous week.
“This certainly is the worst flooding that I have ever seen with my own eyes in that area and I think the folks we talked with last agreed with that,” he said. “We have complete devastation.”
The area runs roughly 65 miles, from Omaha, Nebraska, to the Missouri border; in some places flood waters span four to five miles.
“One hundred thousand acres is just an initial estimate in just Fremont and Mills counties that have been inundated with flooding,” he said. “This is not a small issue. This is not something that will be fixed next week, next month. This could take years.”
One of the major issues brought on by the floods has been damage to grain and grain bins in the flood plain.
“Folks couldn’t get to the grain,” Naig said. “Bins have broken open, collapsed, and that grain is a complete loss.”
He added there isn’t a final estimate on how many bushels have been impacted.
“One of the things that is additionally heartbreaking about the loss is that it is your 2018 crop,” he said. “You have probably borrowed against it. It’s under contract. Crop insurance doesn’t cover that grain once it is in the bin. You probably don’t have insurance on that corn because it’s in the flood plain and there is no USDA program to help.”
“This is a complete loss to our farmers.”
But he also struck a hopeful tone when discussing potential funding from available through disaster assistance.
“I asked Bill Northey (former state agriculture secretary) to come back to Iowa to see the damage so we could look at it and understand all of the USDA programs that can help our producers, help restore the land and provide some assistance,” Naig said. “But there are gaps and this grain damage is one of those things that is in a gap.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, accompanied Naig on the tour of the flood damage.
“One of the things we will have to try to do is to accommodate, or fill those gaps, is with a congressionally-passed disaster package and that is something we are watching very closely,” he said. “Sen. Grassley is working hard. He is trying to get that grain coverage in a disaster bill that is moving through Congress right now.”
In the meantime, Naig encouraged the students and their instructors to think of ways they can lend a hand.
“Be thinking about our farmers, our friends, our ag businesses, who are struggling and suffering right now,” he said. “There is a lot of need for hay and corn stalks down there. We encourage you all, either in your schools, organizations, families, communities, to be thinking about what you could potentially do to help our friends down in southwest Iowa. Don’t forget about those folks.”
The threats of floods are far from over.
“The other thing is, it’s April 2 and we get most of our rain in the state of Iowa in the next couple of months, so we are also very mindful that we could still see some flooding,” Naig said. “We would want folks to stay vigilant about what’s happening with river levels locally.”
Looking at the big picture, Naig said the state is working closely with federal officials on coming to an agreement to end the trade war with China.
“We have a tremendous amount of uncertainty right now in the ag economy related to exports and trade,” he said. “Iowa is No. 2 to California in terms of value of the ag products we export, It is very logical we export a lot of pork, a lot of corn and a lot of soybeans and, increasingly, ethanol. Those are important export markets for us.”
Naig feels there is still reason to be hopeful a trade agreement will be made with the Chinese, but it needs to be done soon.
“We need to do so with some urgency,” he said. “We had a high level trade delegation in Beijing last week. We got the Chinese in Washington this week. But make no mistake; we need to get a trade deal done.”
The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) recently replaced the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“Canada and Mexico are No. 1 and No. 2 trading partners for the state of Iowa, so USMCA is critically important to us,” Naig said. “Getting this approved through Congress is very, very important to the state of Iowa.”
He believes it’s time to go on the offense on trade.
“We are going to keep producing more in the state of Iowa,” he said. “We need to make sure we can use as much as we can of these products domestically, but we have got to have export markets for our products and that’s where we are encouraging the Trump administration to aggressively try to open and expand new markets.”
An area of focus for exports needs to be Japan, according to Naig. As of April 2, he said many export competitors entered into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But the United States did not.
“Their reduced tariff schedules started yesterday (April 1),” he said. “What that means is, we export a lot of pork and beef into Japan and as of yesterday, our products have a higher tariff than our competitors. Australian beef, European pork have an advantage going into Japan over the United States. We have to do something about this or we are going to lose market shares.”
Finding value to domestic commodities is also critically important.
“Fort Dodge is one of the crown jewels of value-added agriculture,” he said. “You go west of town and they are grinding a heck of a lot of corn. And that’s important. It adds value to that corn bushel. It is all about what we can do to step up the value of that commodity. This is an area that knows this very, very well.”
Renewable Fuels Standard
Naig said the Iowa Department of Agriculture is also busy trying to help push through the Renewable Fuels Standard. It’s specifically working towards the acceptance of year-round E15 ethanol.
“If you see E15 at the gas station, use it,” he said. “Fifteen percent ethanol is a good thing. We have to get the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to do the right thing from a regulatory standpoint so we can have year-round access to E15, so we are working hard on that.”
Water quality continues to be on the forefront of the department’s priorities.
“We are making sure we are doing all of the right things,” he said. “If our economy in Iowa is built in agriculture, which it is, what’s our agriculture built on? Our natural resources. Soil and water are critically important to our success as a state and that’s why we got to make sure we are doing the right things here.”
Careers in agriculture
Naig said the issue of labor is commonly brought to his attention on his visits throughout Iowa.
“If it’s not the first, it’s the second issue we talk about,” he said.
Having the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at 2.4 percent, is a sign of a growing economy, Naig said.
But it also brings a challenge for employers to find the workforce they need.
This, Naig said, will require not only keeping those that grew up on a farm interested in the agricultural field, but also attract people who did not grow up with a traditional ag background or those who may not be from an ag state into an agricultural career.
“Remember this; regardless of what subject you are interested in, or what career path you are interested in, whether it is working in agronomy, animal science or production with animals, engineering, computer science, accounting, H.R. – you name it,” he said. “We need you in agriculture.”
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