Let’s not ‘split hairs’ – whether it’s mohair or cashmere…goat fiber is great

When you think of goats and goat production, Iowa may not immediately come to mind. However, Iowa ranks third in terms of total milk goats across the United States coming in only behind Wisconsin and California. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Iowa has 38,000 head of meat and other goat uses inventory, a nine percent increase over the prior year. In our previous blog series on goats we focused on Iowa’s dairy goats, meat goats, and general goats in agriculture facts. To wrap up this series, we’ll focus on the goat fiber market.

Goat fiber breeds and types of fiber

Sheep usually come to mind when you think of wool production, but you might be surprised to learn that some of the most illustrious fibers are produced by goats. For hundreds of years, goat fiber has been used in clothing and a variety of other materials, and is typically referred to as cashmere or mohair. The benefits of using goat fibers versus synthetic materials include being biodegradable and renewable. There are two main types of goats that are used for fiber purposes in the United States: Angora Goats and Cashmere Goats.

Angora Goats

Angora goat, photo courtesy of the American Goat Federation

The Angora goat dates back to early biblical history, originating in the district of Angora in Asia Minor. This type of goat is somewhat unusual in that both sexes of this breed have horns. These are relatively small animals when compared to sheep and other goats like milk goats. Angora goats are known for their mohair. This fiber is durable, resilient, and is noted for its high luster and sheen. It’s often used in fiber blends and has excellent insulating and moisture-wicking properties. Finer, softer hair from younger animals is used in items like scarves; while thicker, coarser hair from older animals is mostly used in carpets. Goats are sheared twice a year, in the spring and fall. The hair is processed to remove natural grease, dirt, and other matter.

The average goat in the U.S. shears approximately 5.3 pounds of mohair per shearing. Mohair production in the United States during 2020 was 589,000 pounds. Goat fibers bring an agricultural economic value to the U.S. economy to the tune of $2.99 million annually. South Africa is the largest mohair producer in the world with the United States coming in second. Want to see if you can purchase an Angora goat or their fiber? You can find Angora goat breeders in Iowa here.

Cashmere Goats

Cashmere goat, photo courtesy of the American Goat Federation

You might be surprised to learn that the fine, soft fiber we think of for expensive sweaters actually comes from the down undercoat of goats. Any goat except for the Angora goat can grow cashmere, but those with the ‘cashmere’ title have been selectively bred to produce a larger amount of the fiber. The quality of the cashmere fleece is determined by three factors: length, diameter, and the degree of waviness (crimping). Cashmere goats can be multiple colors, but the parts sheared should be a single color. Cashmere goats have two kinds of hair: guard hair (majority of the hair) and cashmere (downy undercoat). The guard hair and cashmere hair must be separated to be used in cashmere products. Cashmere goat breeders and fiber producers can be found in the Cashmere Goats Association database. Both sexes of cashmere goats have horns.

Farmers take great care of their animals to produce a healthy animal and products that can be used from the animal. They take many things into consideration such as housing, predator prevention, nutrition, veterinary care, and more. If you’re interested in seeing goats up close, visit an Iowa county fair or the Iowa State Fair to see agriculture in action. Many Iowa 4-H programs include goat projects!

Closing thought

Can you think of any cashmere or mohair products that you own? If you can, think about the farmer who raised that animal for your product’s use.

~Melissa

Resources

Goat Shearing Video
Cashmere – Wikipedia 
The American Cashmere Goat Association
The American Goat Federation
Goats for Fiber
Angora goats are good, hairy business in Iowa

Unique Agriculture Commodities: Ginger

One of my favorite things about winter is the amount of time that is spent indoors. It’s not that I don’t like being outside (I have gone on numerous camping trips to show I love being outside), but there is a sense of comfort being wrapped up in a blanket or near a warm stove during the cold nights of winter. It’s also during this time of the year that my husband, Dylan, and I plan holiday meals and edible gifts. You see, we don’t normally give each other gifts. Rather, we plan to make something new together. One year we decided our gift to each other would be the creation of a gingerbread house. This was a holiday “tradition” we had only seen in movies, and never experienced ourselves. My knowledge of gingerbread was that it contained molasses. So, we purchased a bottle and gathered all the ingredients that the label suggested, and we went on our way to construct a beautiful house, that we promptly ate over a few weeks.

As I reminisce on the laughter and collaboration Dylan and I shared, it led me to this week’s unique agriculture commodity, ginger.

What is Ginger?

Ginger is a rhizome crop that is grown in warm climates with high humidity and harvested for its root. As a rhizome plant, the root structure grows horizontally and in lobes, providing the portion of the ginger plant that is harvested. The root of the plant produces spicy and aromatic characteristics that vary based on the variety of ginger. These characteristics, and the climates where ginger thrives, make it a common addition to Asian and African dishes. The rhizome is also used in teas, beer, medicine, and ground up into a fine powder to be used as a spice.

In the market ginger is considered a high value cash crop. When the crop is sold it reaps more revenue than is taken to plant, maintain, and harvest. For this reason, some countries have started to encourage farmers to grow ginger to help combat poverty. However, the economy in each location dictates the value of the crop, and one year the crop may be worth less than a previous year. In 2019, the countries that had a larger trade value in exports than imports were China ($610M), Thailand ($59.8M), Peru ($44.6M), Nigeria ($39.2M), and Brazil ($28.8M). The countries that had the largest trade value in imports were the US, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Germany.

This map shows which countries export or import more ginger. Each country is colored based on the difference in exports and imports of ginger in 2019. Click HERE for more information.

How is Ginger Cultivated?

The production and cultivation of ginger, much like many crops, varies based on the financial input. Farms that have higher economic value can utilize mechanization within their fields. In ginger production these farms use machines to dig trenches for planting, use large sprayers to reduce fungi and insects, and harvest using a machine. In contrast, farms with lower economic value do not have the funds for machinery and often complete farming tasks by hand or laborious work. Their main tools consist of back sprayers (carried like a backpack), hoes, trench irrigation, and shovels to maintain and harvest the crop. Though input can change the way the ginger field is maintained, the overall stages of cultivation are the same: planting, maintenance, harvest, preparation.

Planting

Ginger is not normally planted by a seed that we think of. It’s not a dormant drop of DNA hidden in a shell waiting for water and warmth to encourage it to germinate. Rather, ginger is planted using starter rhizomes from the previous year’s crop called seed ginger. Seed ginger is created by cutting a mature rhizome into sections that have at least one bud on them. These pieces of the rhizome are then planted in trenches with proper spacing to allow for optimal use of space, discourage plant-plant competition, and to capitalize on efficient maintenance. Choosing the right ginger seed is important. If the seed is too young or small (<1” in length and diameter), it will not produce a strong crop and will be more susceptible to disease. On smaller ginger farms intercropping is common. This is when ginger is planted with another crop such as corn (maize), banana, and pigeon peas to name a few. Intercropping allows farmers to reduce the maintenance on their fields (some crops will shield the ginger from drought and keep pests away) and increases their chance of a revenue if their ginger crop fails.

Maintenance

During the growing season, which lasts 8-12 months, farmers add fertilizers to enhance the production of the crop. These fertilizers vary depending on the farm; however, a common practice is to add organic matter such as coffee grounds and husks. These fertilizers increase the macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) in the soil as they decompose, and the ginger uses the nutrients for growth. Without fertilizer the yield of ginger per acre significantly decreases. Another maintenance item is reducing and eliminating pests, disease, and weeds. Nematodes eat away at the edible ginger rhizome, and beetles eat away at the leaves reducing plant photosynthesis and growth. To reduce the impacts of pests, pesticides are added to the crop. Similarly, fungicide is added to the crop during the most humid and warm times of the year to protect the crop.  

Mature ginger at harvest.

Harvest and Market Preparation

Ginger is harvested when it reaches maturity. Depending on the mechanization of the farm, harvest can occur by hand with a shovel or by machine. The rhizome roots are then washed and cleaned to be prepared for market as fresh whole ginger or sent to a plant to be ground up into spices, sliced, candied, etc. for stores.

Cultivating Ginger in Iowa

Though ginger is a crop that grows in warm humid climates (hardiness zone 7 or higher), it can also be grown in Iowa. But the ginger grown in Iowa doesn’t grow in the ground such as in warmer climates and other areas. Rather, ginger farmers in Iowa grow this rhizome in pots. Growing ginger in pots allows for the crop to be mobile. Having the crop mobile allows for it to be brought into greenhouses during the harsh winter and moved during hot summer days or inclement weather that Iowa often brings. However, the process of cultivating ginger works the same: planting, maintenance, harvest, market preparation. The next time you go to your farmers market or grocery store see if you can find some Iowa grown ginger!

What to do with Ginger?

There are many things you can do with ginger, but you can never go wrong with cookie dough. The versatility of cookie dough allows for the creative juices to be spent creating a house master pieces, small figures, or simple round mouthwatering cookies.  

Brer Rabbit Gingerbread

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all purpose-flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temp
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 Tbsp grated orange peel
  • ¼ cup sugar (for rolling)

Sift the first 6 ingredients into a medium bowl. Combine butter, shortening, and brown sugar into a large bowl and beat until fluffy. Add egg, molasses, and orange peel, beat until blended. Add dry ingredients. Mix just until incorporated. Cover and chill for 1 hr. Preheat oven to 350. Grease 2 baking sheets. Place sugar in small bowl. Using wet hands, form dough into 24 equal sized balls. Roll in sugar to coat. Transfer to baking sheets, spacing 2” apart. Bake 12-15 minutes until golden and cracked on top but still soft. Cool and enjoy!

My Takeaways:

  • Ginger is a high valued crop that can help to combat poverty.
  • Ginger is a lot like farming potatoes, where you use part of a plant to grow another plant.
  • There are many ways to farm ginger and mechanization is starting to make its way into ginger farming.
  • Despite its climate and unpredictable weather, you can still grow ginger in Iowa.
  • There are many forms and uses for ginger.

~Cathryn

Want to learn more about ginger in other countries? Check out these other resources:

Food From the Farm

During regular classroom programing in the last month, I have had three students tell me, “Mrs. Bruck, my food doesn’t come from the farm. My parents buy it at the grocery store.” I have to admit, this is the part about teaching Agriculture in the Classroom I really look forward to. Helping students realize there is a “before the store.” Then walking them through the many steps it takes to get from the farm to the table is a lesson I feel will serve them well their entire lives.

Students learns about agriculture and colors the handout “From Farm to You”. see link above

Did you know that less than two percent of the people in this world are farmers? That means that most children will not have the first-hand experiences of growing their food. I tell my students that every one of your parents, and one day, every one of you, will get to work at whatever job you want because you will have trusted a farmer to feed your families.

I begin lessons by asking the question, “what is agriculture.” I tell them not to worry if they’re not sure, some adults have a hard time defining agriculture as well. I get answers like farming, something you plant, animals, a type of culture, and my favorite, something you do outside. All good answers, but I ask the students to think specifically about the three F’s. I write the letter F on the whiteboard three times vertically and tell them agriculture is something you eat – food. Something you put in your vehicle – fuel. And something you write on, build with or wear – fibers. And lastly, I remind the students that agriculture is everything it takes to get the food, fuel, and fibers from the producers  to the consumers. This process includes many people like field workers, truck drivers, packagers, veterinarians, bankers, grocers, agronomists, seed dealers and many more.

Teaching students about the supply chain, can be an overwhelming job, but there is a multitude of lesson plans and resources available that make it easier. Some of the lessons include:

  • Agriculture Pays In this lesson, kindergarten through second grade students discover that agricultural careers are interconnected, and that agriculture influences many parts of their daily lives.
  • A Day Without Agriculture teaches students grades 3-5 to explore the wide scope of agriculture, identify the variety of agricultural products they use in their daily lives, and discuss the difference between needs and wants.
  • Digging Into Nutrients will help middle school students  gain background knowledge of the nutrient requirements of plants, how those nutrients are obtained by the plant, what farmers must do if the nutrients are not available in soils, and current issues related to agricultural production.

This seventh grade student is demonstrating how plants “drink” nutrients. The soil will need to be replenished if the farmer wants to continue to increase his or her yield.
  • Helping students understand how packing plants work and materials are processed can be accomplished with these lessons:
  • Corn to Cereal  Students will sequence photographs to tell the story of Seed to Cereal, while learning about corn production, beef production, ethanol production, and food production in general.
  • Cotton to Blue Jeans Students will learn about goods and services and how different goods get from the farm to the consumer.  
  • Farm Economics and Food Processing  Students will learn about the steps involved in producing food and other goods from farm to our homes, including how farmers use natural resources to grow plants and animals, how they are sold, and how companies turn them into the good we purchase at the store.

It’s never too early (or too late) to start learning about where your food comes from. Having grown up in the city, I never even considered where my own food, fuels, or fibers came from. As far as I was concerned, they all came from the store. Marrying a farmer sure changed that by giving me a firsthand knowledge regarding what really goes on in agriculture, and how much work it takes to live on a farm. Volunteering in schools has allowed me to bring my experiences local classrooms. Be sure to reach out to your county’s Agriculture in the Classroom coordinator today!

Melanie

How do farmers sell their products?

It’s fall, which means it’s harvest time for many row crops. That might have you thinking, how do farmers sell their products? There are lots of ways! Here we will discuss a few different options – although this list is not all-encompassing!

Direct to Consumer

If you’ve ever been to a farmer’s market, you are familiar with the direct-to-consumer method. Some farms may choose to do their own marketing in this way to garner trust with their community or to market some more niche products that don’t have the same infrastructure as commodities (think aronia berry farms or lavender farms with on-farm shops).

Small’s Fruit Farm, where direct-to-consumer sales look like an on-farm store.

Cooperative

Many grain farmers will bring their grain to a local cooperative to sell. Cooperatives, or co-ops, will check up-to-date prices and offer them to farmers accordingly. Then, the co-ops will work to sell all the grain they have stored to larger buyers. This collective helps farmers get the best price for their grain and saves them time with marketing.

Local Sale Barn

For livestock farmers, the local sale barn has been a mainstay for many years. Farmers can bring animals to the sale barn on sale day, and buyers (from packing plants, local meat lockers, or other farmers) can bid on and purchase animals.

On Contract

Increasingly, livestock farmers have been looking to raise their animals on contract. This has particularly been popular with poultry and pig production. Though specifics may differ, the contracting company will essentially tell the farmer when to expect young animals and the farmer will raise them until the company is ready to pick them up and take them to the processing plant.

Direct to Plant

In some cases, farmers can sell directly to a plant without being contracted with that plant. For example, a corn farmer may choose to bring a load of corn to a local ethanol refinery instead of their local co-op. Similar arrangements can be made for some livestock processing plants, given their rules and policies are followed beforehand.

Like other industries, there are many ways to do business in agriculture! Farms that raise different commodities have different challenges they have to deal with. This means that there’s lots of room for diversity in marketing to help meet those challenges.

-Chrissy

Why Do They Do That? – Harvest Dry Corn

Harvest is wrapping up. Corn dried in the field has been harvested as combines finish rolling across Iowa fields. Field corn (not sweet corn) is the primary type of corn grown and accounts for more than 99% of corn that is grown. Field corn can be turned into things like tortilla chips and other human foods; animal feed for pigs, chickens, and cattle; and biofuels like ethanol. Why do farmers wait until the corn is dry in the fields before they harvest?

Because they have to.

Farmers want to harvest the corn when it is fully mature and has fully developed. Field corn is considered to be physiologically mature when a black layer forms at the base of the kernel. This happens as the annual crop begins to dry down. The corn stalk starts to die and dry down from top to bottom. The black layer should appear when the plant moisture ranges from 25-40%. A good indicator of this is when the ear of the corn has bent downward. Usually the ear is upright and parallels the stalk. But as it drys out, the shank gets weaker and the heavy ear bends downward.

Adjusted properly, a combine can thresh, or remove, the individual kernels from the cob when the corn is at a moisture level of up to 30%. But if it is wetter than that the kernels may stick to the cob and will be left on the field. Additionally if the corn is too wet, the leaves and stalks absorb the threshing energy and the wet material can overwhelm the separator trapping both threshed and unthreshed grain. The optimum harvest moisture content for corn is around 23-25%. At this moisture content range, kernels generally shell from the cob easily.

Because they should.

In Iowa, some farmers begin harvesting corn by mid-September, though most of the harvest takes place in October. In a cool year, when the corn matures more slowly, much of Iowa’s crop isn’t harvested until November. Ultimately, farmers will want to sell corn at roughly 15.5% moisture. If the corn is harvested at 23% moisture it will need to be dried down. If the corn is any wetter than 15% moisture, the farmer will receive a price penalty for the shrinkage factor. If the corn is going to be stored, then it needs to be dried to 12% moisture to prevent fungal growth and other damaging factors. Damaged corn will incur a price penalty when sold.

Once corn is harvested, it can be dried in a number of different ways (in-bin, batch, layer, continuous flow, dryeration, etc.). The energy source usually used for these drying systems is propane. Propane can be very costly and add to the overall cost of the farm operation. So, to reduce farm operation costs farmers can reduce the amount of propane used. The drier the corn is when it is harvested means less propane can be used.

Because they can.

Corn harvest start and end dates across the country vary widely. Weather in addition to the condition of the crop is one of the biggest factors when considering when to harvest. A wet fall means the corn dries slower and it means that big equipment like combines might not be able to get out into the field because it is too muddy. From the map, you can see that most states have about a two-month window to harvest corn. Spreading this task out over a two-month time period allows the farmer the chance to better manage their labor, their time, and their operation. Two months still puts a lot of stress and pressure on them to get the job done, but knowing they can start harvesting corn at 30% moisture and leave it in the field until 16 or 17% moisture allows them to plan their harvest season.

Corn harvest video

Corn kernel moisture decreases between about one and two percentage points per day unless other factors like rain slow it down. So if a farmer finds their field moisture level at 30% on September 15th that means they have roughly a two-week window to get the field harvested. Each field will likely be a little different. So start with hilltop fields first as they might be the driest. Then work your way down to lower fields that might be a little wetter longer. However, it is a delicate balance. If the crop dries out too much, the stalks can fall over (lodge), the ears can drop off the plants, and the kernels can crack or break as they go through the combine.

But they don’t always wait.

While for most field corn harvest it is the kernel of corn that is most sought after, some corn is harvested for silage. Silage is a popular forage for ruminant animals (cattle) because it is high in energy and digestibility. In harvesting corn silage the entire stalk of corn (stalk, leaves, husk, cob, grain, shank, etc.) is cut and chopped. The chopped material is stored and fermented and then later added to cattle feed in beef finishing systems, cow-calf systems, and dairy systems. If the silage is too wet it won’t ferment properly and can lose nutrients. If it is too dry, it has a lower digestibility. Optimum silage moisture is 50-70% depending on the storage system (silo vs. bunker). This means that the stalks and leaves will still be fairly green during cutting. Silage harvest usually starts in mid to late August and can last through the end of September. Other variations of this type of harvest might include snaplage (husk, cob, grain, and shank) and earlage (cob and grain). For the harvest of these forages the moisture level should be 36-42% and will happen near the end of September.

Dry corn – so many uses

Dried corn can be stored for a long time. An entire year’s worth of corn is harvested at one time. It won’t all be used immediately. Instead, it will have to be rationed out over the next 12 months until the next year’s harvest is ready. So in its dried form it has to last at least a year.

In its dried form, field corn can be used for so many things. It can be ground up and used as corn meal or corn flour for a variety of human foods. Dried corn can be broken down and turned into corn starch, corn syrup, or dozens of other by-products. Corn can be found in more than 4,000 items in the typical grocery store. That same corn can be turned into feed for livestock or converted into ethanol and other biofuels.

So, admire those golden fields of tall dried corn while you can.

-Will

Lessons Learned

As much as I don’t want to admit it, this will be my last blog as the 2021 education programs intern. This year has been a whirlwind and not at all what I expected, but I loved it. I want to take you through the ride of my last ten months at IALF.

Spring –

Teaching North Polk 6th graders about cover crops

I started this internship in the middle of January. Looking back to this season of life, I would tell myself: don’t be so nervous! I was always worried I would mess something up, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. These feelings did not stem from the team at IALF, but something I did to myself. I seemed to forget that I was here to learn! The nerves slowly wore off as my internship continued, and I found my confidence as I learned my way around the organization.

As for my work, most of the spring semester I was just getting the hang of what my job as the education programs intern entailed. I did a lot of behind the scenes work at IALF helping prepare for summer professional development workshops. One of my larger projects was to compile a list of all the teachers in surrounding school districts for the summer professional development workshops. After finding the teachers, I emailed them asking them to register for our workshops. This was a great opportunity for me to talk teachers interested in teaching agriculture for the first time. Many teachers that I emailed I met a few months later that summer!

The IALF team at National Conference

My favorite part of the spring was when I finally was able to meet some of my co-workers in person! Thanks to COVID-19, almost all of my interactions with my co-workers had been via email or Zoom. In May, I had my first in-person event. I had worked with IALF for five months and met my co-worker Chrissy for the first time face-to-face! On this day, I helped with North Polk Middle School’s ag day for sixth graders. This was extra special because this is where I once went to school! I taught students about cover crops and watersheds through hands-on activities. This one event helped me out a ton deciding what I wanted to do after I graduate from Iowa State University.

Summer –

The summer was busy, yet so fun! I transitioned to work with IALF full-time. Most of my summer was spent either planning for teacher professional development workshops or attending them. I traveled with Will all over the state. Some of the places I visited were Oskaloosa, Eldridge, Ames and Peosta. While our touristy moments were limited due to COVID-19, it was a great time getting out of Des Moines and meeting educators all over the state and even the country.

My highlight of the summer would have to be National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference. I saw how much work the IALF team put into executing this conference and it was fun to see it all pan out right in front of my eyes. I was able to meet some amazing people, plus help with the conference. The majority of my week went towards helping with registration, running our virtual booth, leading a traveling workshop, and doing other odd jobs as needed.

Showing students in Marshalltown antique tools

Fall –

Here we are, the fall. I’ve done many projects here and there. I talked to a few schools about antique and modern agriculture equipment, wrote a lesson plan on Christmas trees, wrote articles for our Iowa Ag Today magazine and I’m currently creating an impact report for last year’s teacher’s supplement grant. One last thing I’m excited to participate in is our Agriculture in the Classroom Learning Conference. While I only have a month or so left of my internship, I know that more exciting things are to come.

If you know of a college student needing an internship in the next few years encourage them to check out IALF. I highly recommend it!

~Madison

Iowa’s Commodities are Sweet and Savory: Iowa’s Big Four Winners

Cool, brisk mornings and a changing landscape of color…fall is clearly upon us. But before we leave summer behind, we’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate our Iowa State Fair – Iowa Big Four Competition winners.

This year the Iowa State Fair was back live and in-person. Annually, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation honors Iowa’s agriculture industry and its biggest commodities – corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs through our Iowa Big Four Cooking Contest. Before we dive into the winning recipes, here is a quick snapshot of Iowa’s agricultural landscape.

Iowa Agriculture Facts
When it comes to helping feed, fuel, and clothe the world, Iowa has a lot to be proud of.

  • Iowa has some of the richest and most productive soil in the world so it’s no surprise that Iowa is a major contributor to agriculture.
  • Did you know? One in five Iowa jobs is tied to agriculture.
  • Iowa ranks first in the U.S. in corn production and second in soybean production.
  • Iowa leads the nation in pigs, egg, and commercial red meat production.
  • More than 30 percent of the nation’s pigs come from Iowa (24.8 million or 7 hogs per person!).
  • Iowa has 47 million egg laying hens that produced 12.4 billion eggs in 2020.
  • Iowa produces enough eggs to feed every American one egg per day for 52 days.
  • Iowa ranks second in total agricultural exports. Iowa farmers exported $12.6 billion work of agricultural products in 2020.

Iowa’s Big Four Contest is both savory and sweet
At our food competition, aspiring chefs from across Iowa prepare a sweet and/or savory dish using at least two of the big four Iowa commodity ingredients or by-products of corn, soybeans, pork, or eggs. The entries are judged by a panel of experts representing the commodity organizations that are responsible for helping farmers. This year, Anne Rehnstrom (Iowa Pork Producers Association) and Carrie Dodds (Iowa Corn Growers Association) served as our judges.

Iowa’s Big Four Winner – Sweet Category


This year’s winning recipe in the sweet category was Flyover State Doughnuts submitted by Alisa Woods from Des Moines. The recipe uses eggs, corn, and bacon. The second place prize went to Olivia Smith of Winterset with her Iowa Chocolate Orange Cake Pops. Rita Cashman Becker of Fort Madison came in third place with her Candied Bacon Lemon-Lime Strawberry Bars.

Doughnut Ingredients
1 and 1/8 cup Whole Milk, Warm
¼ cup Sugar
2 ¼ tsp (one package) Active Dry Yeast
2 whole large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ¼ sticks unsalted butter, melted
4 cups All-Purpose Flour
½ tsp Salt
Vegetable oil for frying

Doughnut Instructions
Place the milk in the microwave for 45 seconds – 1 minute. Add to the bowl of your stand mixer with the sugar and yeast and stir to combine. Let it set for 5 minutes.

To the stand mixer, add the eggs and butter, then stir.

Using a dough hook, slowly add the flour and salt while the mixer is running and mix for 5 minutes.

Let the dough stand for 10 minutes before turning out into a large, greased bowl. Cover and place in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

Once the dough has chilled, roll out on a well floured surface and cut circles with a large biscuit cutter. Don’t cut the middle circle of the doughnut because this is going to be a filled doughnut. Cover and let them rise for an hour. Preheat your oil to 350 and fry until golden brown on both sides, flipping halfway through.

Sweet Corn Pastry Cream Ingredients
2 cups Whole Milk
1 ear of Corn, Kernels cut off and reserved
6 large Egg Yolks
½ cup Sugar
1/3 cup Cornstarch, sifted
3 ½ tbsp Unsalted Butter, softened

Sweet Corn Pastry Instructions
In a saucepan, combine the milk, kernels, and cobs of the corn. The cobs hold a lot of flavor so don’t leave them out. Bring the milk to a slow simmer and set aside for 5 minutes. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Whisk well. Remove the cobs, leaving the kernels, and slowly pour into the yolk and sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk as you return it to the heat. Let it heat until it starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Place that bowl in an ice bath and stir in the butter as the mixture cools.

Glaze Ingredients/Instructions
½ cup Butter, melted
1 tsp Vanilla
1 tsp Maple Extract
4 cups Powdered Sugar
3 tbsp Heavy Cream

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth.

Bacon Ingredients
8 slices of Applewood Bacon
Maple Syrup
¼ cup Brown Sugar

Bacon Instructions
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the bacon on a greased tin foil lined baking sheet. Drizzle with maple and brown sugar. Bake 8-10 minutes, depending on how thick your bacon is. Let it cool and chip into small pieces.

To assemble, fill the doughnuts with pastry cream, making sure to fill the whole doughnut. Dip the top in the maple glaze and sprinkle with bacon bits.

Iowa’s Big Four Winner – Savory Category
This year’s winning recipe in the savory category was Iowa’s Breakfast Burrito submitted by Brooklyn Sedlock of Indianola, Iowa. The recipe uses pork, corn, and eggs. Jacqueline Riekena of West Des Moines placed second with her Summer Corn Salad recipe. And, Larry Mahlstedt of Des Moines came in third place with his Pig Powder Party Iowa Mix recipe.

Ingredients
4 tsp Soy Sauce
1 large Yellow Bell Peppers (1 cup)
1 large Green Bell Pepper (1 cup)
1 small white onion (1/4 cup)
6 small Russet potatoes (4 cups diced)
1 – 12 oz package Ground Breakfast Pork Sausage
3 tbsp Olive oil
2 ears Iowa Sweet Corn
1 tsp Cilantro
4 flour burrito shells
4 tsp Goat Cheese
3 tsp Greek Seasoning
2 tsp Salt
2 tsp Pepper
4 large eggs
¼ cup half and half
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp black pepper

Instructions
In a large skillet add 2 tbsp of soy sauce and the 12 oz package of ground pork sausage. While the pork is cooking, dice up the peppers and onion. In a medium stockpot, boil water and add the 2 ears of sweet corn. Boil about 3 minutes or until cooked. Then cut the corn off the cob and set aside. When the pork is almost done add the peppers, onion, corn, and last 2 tbsp of soy sauce in with the pork. Sauté until everything is cooked. Drain any excess soy sauce from the pan.

In a medium skillet, put the olive oil. Dice up the potatoes. It should be about 4 cups and place in skillet with olive oil. Finely chop up the cilantro and sprinkle over the potatoes. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper to the potatoes. Cook until tender.

Now add the potatoes to the pork and veggies. Stir together and add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper and the Greek Seasoning. Heat on low if it has started to cool off.

Cook your eggs as directed below to make scramble eggs.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, and salt. Mix until it is uniform in color and is light and foamy.

Melt the butter in a small non-stick pan over medium heat until the butter coats the pan and begins to foam. Add the eggs to the center of the pan and reduce the heat to medium low. Wait until the edge barely starts to cook. Using a rubber spatula, gently push the eggs from one end of the pan to the other. Continue doing this until the uncooked egg has all settled on the warm pan. Gently push any liquid to form curds. When the eggs are mostly cooked, make big folds but still look wet, fold the eggs into itself just a few times bringing the eggs together. Remove from heat when the eggs shimmer with some moisture. Finish with pepper.

Warm the burrito shell in a small skill about 20-30 seconds then begin to assemble. Put ¼ cup of eggs and ¼ cup of potato veggie mix about ¼ of the way from the bottom of the burrito shell. Dice up about 1 tsp of goat cheese and crumble on top and fold the sides in first then the bottom and continue to roll until in burrito form. Wrap in aluminum foil to keep warm if not eating right away.

Makes 4 burritos.

Fresh Sweet and Spicy Salsa (spicy salsa with a hint of sweet)
Ingredients
3 medium size Early Girl Tomatoes
1 medium Yellow Tomato
1 medium White Onion
1 large Jalapeno Pepper
1 large Yellow Bell Pepper
1 large Green Bell Pepper
3 tbsp Cilantro
1 large Peach (sliced)
1 ½ tsp Salt
1 ½ tsp Pepper

Instructions
Wash all the fruits and vegetables. Then remove cores of the tomatoes and quarter, cut peppers in 4 pieces and onion as well. Blanch the peach 30 seconds to remove skin then remove pit and slice. (I use my Tupperware quick chef and throw all the ingredients in and it chops them up finely.)

Makes 2 pints.

All the veggies and herbs in the burrito and salsa came from my personal garden.

If you have a great recipe that features corn, soybeans, pork, or eggs you can enter it at the 2022 Iowa State Fair in the Iowa’s Big Four Competition! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for details next spring.

~Melissa

Unique Agriculture Commodities: Mushrooms

A few summers back I took a road trip with my husband and mom out to the east coast to join the IALF team in Maine. We planned stops along the way, but the most rewarding stops were those that we happened upon. One such stop was a farmers’ market in Lewiston, New York. We moved from vendor to vendor, but one caught our eye. They were selling a fungal treat, mushrooms. Oyster, lion’s mane, and shiitake lined the table. It was our first-time seeing mushrooms at a farmers’ market which led to us purchasing a box of fresh pink oyster mushrooms and shiitake. That night we roasted them on our open campfire. Their flavor was a melody of sweet earthy nuttiness. As we delved into our mushroom medley we discussed how we would never find this kind of produce at a farmers’ market in Iowa. Then, the next summer, I was at the Dubuque farmers market and happened upon a mushroom farmer, and then again, this summer at the Ames farmers’ market. These encounters had me wondering how are mushrooms farmed in Iowa?

What are mushrooms?

Before digging into how mushrooms are farmed, let’s dig into what a mushroom is.

Though the USDA classifies mushrooms as a vegetable, mushrooms, at their basic classification are fungus. Fungi are a type of multicellular mold or yeast that work together to gather food, repair, and reproduce. What we know of as a mushroom then is the fruiting body of these fungi. Some fungus feed on decaying matter, while others can photosynthesize. There are an estimated 5.1 million species of fungus on Earth; of these species there are a total of 300 known funguses that we can eat; of those fungi, only 30 of the species are domesticated, and of those 30, only 10 are commercially grown. These species include morels, white button, lions’ mane, oyster, shiitake, and portabella to name a few.

How are Mushrooms Farmed?

In Iowa, farmers focus on the production of specialty mushrooms. This means they cultivate mushrooms that are not the white button mushroom. When choosing a production style, farmers take into consideration the land, weather, and market that is available to them. These considerations help to dictate the cultivating style a farm may choose. Though there are many cultivation styles used in Iowa, these styles can be broken down into two categories: low-tech and higher-tech.

Low technology mushroom cultivation utilizes wooded areas and outdoor locations to grow mushrooms. In this process, farmers gather logs and find areas where soil is ideal for mushroom growing. Since mushrooms eat decaying matter, farmers will inoculate, or plant, mushroom spore plugs (similar to seeds) into logs by drilling holes and then placing plugs. These logs are then stored either in a wooded area or in a shed to allow for the mushrooms to grow. This method is used by Stone Hollow Gardens & Shroomery out of Dubuque, Iowa.

Another low-tech cultivation method is inoculating the soil, which Edge & Osborne use. Some mushrooms, like morels, do not grow on decaying matter, but rather grow in the right soil conditions. To grow these mushrooms, the soil is inoculated with plugs and then netted to prevent pests from eating the crop. Once ripe, the crop is hand-picked and sold at farmers markets and local grocery stores. With Iowa’s short growing season (Spring-Fall) for mushrooms, low-tech farming can restrict the production of mushroom crops.

In contrast, high-tech mushroom farming uses bags with a growing material called, medium. Medium is created from saw dust, oats, straw, or wood chips that have been pasteurized and placed into a sealed bag. The pasteurization process cleans the medium to kill all bacteria and unwanted spores (such as other fungi or yeast) to reduce competition and contamination of the mushroom crop.

Medium bags are inoculated with mushroom plugs in a sterile environment to reduce the chance of airborne particles (i.e., unwanted fungi) falling into the medium. Bags are then placed into an environmentally controlled building. This type of housing allows farmers to monitor temperature, lighting, humidity, and air flow, all of which affect the growth cycle of mushrooms. This operation can happen on the large scale (commercially) where there are multiple warehouses for mushroom cultivation. Or small scale, such as Todd Mill’s mushroom farm, Mushroom Mills, in Columbus Junction, Iowa. Mill’s farm started off by growing mushrooms in an environmentally controlled shed and has now expanded to larger buildings.

What to do with Mushrooms?

Mushrooms have different flavor profiles that range from nutty, to earthy, to even fishy. These robust flavors make mushrooms perfect for sautéing in a little butter or adding them to any dish. However, the lion’s mane mushroom, with flavors much like crab, make it perfect for tofu “crab” rangoons.

Tofu “Crab” Rangoons

Ingredients

  • 1 package of tofu (we prefer Old Capital Tofu)
  • 2 green onions chopped
  • 8 oz of lion’s mane mushroom (fresh or dried)
  • 2 tsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 TBS minced garlic
  • 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce or fish sauce
  • 3 tsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 24 wonton wrappers
  • Oil for frying

Directions

  • Place tofu, oil, and lion’s mane mushroom into a blender. Blend until creamy.
  • Add garlic, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Continue blending until mixed in.
  • Place mixture into a bowl and fold in green onions.
  • Spoon mixture onto wonton wrappers. Fold and crimp shut.
  • Deep fry until golden brown.
  • Let cool and enjoy.

~Cathryn

A Day in the Life of a Farm Products Purchasing Agent

There are many jobs that occupy a farmer’s time. A farmer wears many hats and they just do not have enough time to do everything themselves. For example, each year we wean our calves. Weaning is when we remove the calves from the mother cow since they no longer need milk every day. We then evaluate our herd. How many of the heifers calves (females) will we keep for breeding and growing the herd in the future? How many bull calves (males) might make the cut for future breeding purposes? How many of the males should we castrate and raise as steers? Once we determine how many calves we will raise in the feed lot, we might need to purchase a few more.

Purchasing cattle is not like heading to Walmart. We are not able to pick our “product” off the shelf, pay, and then return home. Livestock purchases are made at a sale barn. Livestock at the sale barn aren’t marked with a specific price. Instead, they are auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder. The sale days can be busy with lots of different animals up for auction. In the sale barn, different lots, or groups of animals, are auctioned off one at a time. Depending on the number of head, or number of weight classes being sold, sales can take a very long time. And with sale barns located across the state and country, farmers might have to travel long distances  to find the best livestock. Travel to and from each auction is a time commitment.

This is where we enlist the help of our favorite Farm Products Purchasing Agent, Steve Stamp. Steve farms corn and soybeans in Harrison County, Iowa, and works as a purchasing agent in the cattle market. He will go to the sale barn acting as an agent for one or more farmers, so they don’t have to travel. He knows what each producer is looking for when selecting which cattle to purchase: the breed of cattle; whether they are cows, heifers, steers or bulls; how heavy or big the cattle are; how many animals are in the lot; and how much the farmer is willing to pay. The purchasing agent then bids on lots of cattle for the farmer until the appropriate numbers are purchased.

Farm Products Purchasing Agents, like Steve, work on commission. Steve earns 50 cents for each hundred pounds of cattle that he purchases. That means if he purchases one 400-pound steer for us, he makes $2.00. His check comes directly from the sale barn. We pay the sale barn for the cattle, plus Steve’s commission. That has been the rate since the late seventies.

View of a livestock scale and seating inside of a sale barn

He also works as buyer because he enjoys it. He meets many of the same people at sales year after year and has the chance to talk about cattle, crops, and farming overall. This opportunity to learn keeps Steve dedicated to working the sales.

Steve’s work as a purchasing agent allows us to focus and start working on other farm projects and tasks like getting the combine ready for the fall harvest, repairing fences, or even catching up on the daily record keeping it takes to run a farm.

I asked Steve if he went to school or had any special training to be a buyer and he told me that no, he just “grew up in the sale barn”.  There are lot of things going on in sale barns and lots of little things to look for to make sure a buyer is supplying quality cattle.

Livestock holding pens outside of a sale barn

You get to know who the local people are and can evaluate, long term, the condition of the cattle they are bringing to the auction. You can get to know the history of the cattle and evaluate which groups will go well with each individual purchaser. Since Steve has been buying cattle for over 42 years, it’s safe to assume he has had a lot of on-the-job training. “It’s something that’s in your blood,” says Steve.

“Being observant is the most important quality to being a good buyer,” says Steve.

There are almost a hundred different types of farm products purchasing agents who purchase farm products either for further processing or for resale. Do one of these job descriptions appeal you? Tell us which one you are interested in and want to learn more about in the comments below.

-Melanie

Why Do They Do That? Grassed Waterways

Have you ever driven past a crop field and noticed strips of grass in between the crops? Why do farmers leave those areas unplanted? What’s with those strips of grass in the field?

They’re called grassed waterways, grassed drainageways, intermittent drainageways, or a combination of similar terms. Though you may not be able to tell from the road, they do serve a purpose!

You may be able to tell by looking that they tend to be at the valley between two hills and curve with the landscape. This is by design. Historically, land used for row-crop production was plowed, tilled, broken up, and only planted during the summer months. This resulted in those low areas in the landscape eroding with rainfall.

There are different types of rain erosion, but rill and gully erosion are particularly relevant in this case. You maybe notice just in your yard that when there is an abundance of rain, it collects and travels through the lowest areas in the landscape. If that area doesn’t have plant cover or isn’t protected, the rain can carry away that soil, creating something like a small trench, or a rill. If left unchecked, it can get larger, creating a gully.

Photo from USDA archives depicting hillside erosion in the 1930s

To be clear, erosion is a natural process. It is how mountains and even the Grand Canyon were formed. However, it is a different problem when human processes, like over-tillage, push the processes to move faster, degrading land and water quality at the same time.

This is a problem for several reasons. As you can tell in the photo above, land that is heavily eroded is no longer useful for agricultural production. A tractor, or even a horse for that matter, cannot safely traverse that landscape. Precious topsoil has long since left the field.

This can also pose a water quality issue. As discussed in this blog post, some of the main concerns in water quality are high loads of nitrogen (nitrates) and phosphorus. On the chemical level, they reach waterways through different forms. Nitrogen becomes a nitrate, which is negatively charged and bonds with water. Therefore, water that has traveled through the soil profile quickly (like in drainage tiles) is a more likely source of this nutrient. Phosphorus, however, is a positively charged ion, which bonds directly with the soil particles. That means that when soil is eroded from the landscape, it is bringing phosphorus (among other things) into the waterways with it.

Photo from USDA archives

For these reasons, there have been conservation efforts focused around soil and water protection to help farmers implement mitigation strategies. Grassed waterways are just one of these strategies that can help with some of these problems.

What about grassed waterways specifically helps?

First, choosing the correct placement matters, to help mitigate the water erosion at the places the water would most like to erode.

Second, having that area constantly growing plants, like grasses, is beneficial. The living roots of the plants help hold the soil in place. The above-ground growth of the plant helps protect the soil surface from the force of the raindrops. The continuous plant growth also helps build soil structure and soil health, making it more resilient to severe weather events.

Third, the physical barrier of plant growth can help slow flowing water down. It helps give soil particles suspended in the water time to settle back into the earth, which can help reduce some phosphorus in the waterway as well as mitigating some turbidity.

Photo from USDA archives

So the next time you drive past farmland and see the strange-shaped grass patches, just remember that they’re there to help fight erosion and keep water a bit cleaner!

-Chrissy