A Day in the Life of a Veterinarian

Did you know that Americans own over 88.3 million cats and 74.8 million dogs? I think those numbers are a clear indictor that people enjoy owning pets. Farmers keep different kinds of animals and for different reasons. Meat, dairy products, eggs, leather, and fibers are all resources that are harvested from animals on the farm.

Whether you keep animals for companionship or raise livestock on a farm, at some point in their lives, your animals will need someone to take care of them.

Photo of our Border Collie pup who is now five. She “helps” with our cattle when it’s time to move them from place to place.

This is when you call the veterinarian. A veterinarian is “a person qualified to treat diseased or injured animals”. There are many different types of veterinarians.

  • Small Animal or Companion-Animal Veterinarians treat animals for wounds, diagnose illnesses, perform surgeries, administer vaccines, and prescribe medications. The majority of veterinarians are small animal vets.
  • Veterinary Specialist – Just like doctors, veterinarians can specialize in a section of veterinary medicine (dentistry, pathology, surgery) or in a particular species or group of animals (i.e. cats, dogs, poultry).
  • Food-Animal Veterinarians diagnose and treat illnesses for animals primarily on ranches and farms that are raised for human consumption.
  • Food Safety and Inspection Veterinarians may inspect livestock and animal products like eggs, dairy, and meat to ensure they meet sanitation standards. In some cases, they might need to quarantine infected animals to prevent illness from spreading to other animals and humans. Still others are involved in testing the safety of medications and additives. As you can see, these veterinarians do a lot to improve public health.
  • Research Veterinarians review past findings and techniques to work toward better methods for diagnosing, treating, and preventing health conditions. They solve both animal and human health problems. This usually requires a specialized education beyond  a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree.

But what does it take to be a veterinarian? I asked the people who take care of our cattle, the employees of Shelby Vet Clinic, what does a day look like for a veterinarian? I know their day starts pretty early so when I called at 7:00 a.m. I was not surprised to find all the vets were busy working on their small animal practice. Clients bring their pets into the office and the animals are treated there. Some animals are treated and can go home right away, however others may need to stay for a day or two, depending on their reason for seeing the vet. While the animal is there, they are cared for around the clock by dedicated employees. Dr. Clayton McGargill had a busy morning vaccinating three dogs and spaying three cats.

We have a slightly different experience on the large animal – or food animal side. If the veterinarian is planning on treating just one or two cows, calves, or even bulls, clients can load up their livestock trailer and bring them in. This would include semen testing a bull for productivity, emergency treatment of a sick calf, or even performing a cesarean on a cow who is having trouble delivering her calf. Just this morning, Dr. Clay pregnancy checked two cows right there at the clinic. He used an ultrasound device to see if the cow was pregnant and how far along in her pregnancy she might be.

Photo of a cow/calf pair. This cow is standing next to her two week old calf.

However, most of the time the veterinarian makes a visit to the farm and turns a cattle shed into their office. It may be to treat the entire herd, give a large group of calves vaccinations, or it may be to assess a large animal that would not be able to be safely transported due to illness or injury. The veterinarian comes prepared with everything they need in their work truck. They are a hospital on wheels.

I asked Dr. Clay what things he carried in his truck and he said it varies. Since each vet usually goes on two or three calls a day (sometimes as many as seven or eight) the supplies need to be restocked daily. In Shelby County there are a lot of cattle farms so that equipment is mostly what the vets carry. Calf pullers to assist in calving, syringes, and a variety of medicines are just some of the items. One interesting feature that the vet trucks have is water onboard. They can clean equipment and have hot soapy water even if they have to operate on an animal in a field.

A veterinarian has to know a lot about animals. They learn in vet school. Most vets attend four years of school, earning a bachelor’s degree and then apply for and attend vet school. This is a highly competitive process. Only about ten percent of applicants get in and then they have another four years of schooling to complete.  

“The best part of my job is the diversity. No two days are ever exactly alike,” says Dr. Clay. “I also like the seasonality of the job.”

Are there any downfalls to being a vet? “We work a lot,” says Dr. Clay. Long hours are nothing unusual for country veterinarians. The hours of operation for the Shelby County Vet Clinic are from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm and one week a month each vet works on-call and is available for emergencies around the clock.

Did you have a love for animals and think of being a veterinarian when you grew up? Caring for animals is an admirable profession and one that cattle farmers, like my husband and myself, could not do without.


COVID-19 Precautions and Biosecurity

Biosecurity is a common practice in raising livestock. Essentially it means that farmers try to keep outside germs away from their animals to avoid those animals ever getting sick. Farmers know that it is easier to raise a healthy animal from the beginning than to raise an animal that gets sick and needs treatment and recovery time before they can reach the market. This makes biosecurity a humane practice as well as a financial benefit.

Current COVID-19 preventative measures are exactly the same.

Wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands; these are some of the same measures that farmers take around their livestock. Their purpose is to keep germs away from organisms to prevent them from ever getting sick.

Teacher guests to a pig barn wear disposable coveralls, hair nets, and booties inside the facility to avoid bringing in outside germs.


Pigs and poultry species farmers are especially careful about biosecurity practices. These species generally live indoors to avoid predators, extreme temperatures, and disease-carrying wild animals. Because they generally live indoors together, if a germ gets in to one animal, it can spread through the barn very quickly. This is not unlike COVID-19 in a nursing home facility.

Wash your hands and wear a mask

Knowing this, pork and poultry farmers take a variety of precautions when entering their barns. They may take full showers before they enter and after they leave. They may have special clothes that only get worn on-site. They may have special shoes, hairnets, or caps they wear. They may walk through disinfectant footbaths to clean their boots. If outside tools or equipment are required, they may get sanitized on-site to kill any lingering germs. This is not unlike nurses wearing special suits, masks, goggles, face shields, and gloves when working in our health services.

Educator guests to a pig barn wear hair coverings to prevent bringing in outside germs.

Social distance

Farmers also social distance. For example, two poultry farmers will rarely visit each other’s barns; especially not wearing the same clothes they would wear in their own barns. This helps keep one flock’s germs away from the other flock, and vice versa. This is not unlike staying home and away from friends when the potential for COVID-19 exposure at their grocery store, pharmacy, and clinic may be different from that of yours.

Get vaccinated

As COVID-19 vaccinations are being rolled out, we also have a unique perspective on the importance of vaccinations. Farmers have long known that by vaccinating livestock against common and deadly diseases that they can protect their livestock’s health and even their lives. We, too, will soon be able to protect our own health and the health of the people around us by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pig farm staff and guests wear designated barn clothes that stay onsite. Staff and guests shower before entering the barn and before leaving the barn.

This is a unique time in our history where we have such parallels between livestock health and human health. We are seeing firsthand what farmers try to avoid every day. We are also seeing how important it is that everyone holds up their end of the bargain. If a farmer visited a different farm without taking proper precautions and forgot to wash their boots upon re-entering their own barn, how would that impact those animals? If a person visits a restaurant and then goes to the pharmacy without wearing a mask, how would that impact those pharmacists and patients?

So, even as the COVID-19 precautions seem foreign, cumbersome, invasive, or even just annoying, it’s really nothing new or radical. These steps we take every day are the same things our farmers do to help protect their animals and secure a safe and abundant food supply for us.


Representation (in Agriculture) Matters

While we can and should recognize the contributions of people of color all year long, Black History Month gives us a great opportunity to focus on and raise up those contributions people in these communities have made. Black History Month reminds us of the importance of respecting and supporting Black people and minorities here in the United States. Even through teaching agriculture we can teach topics and teach in ways that promote respect, love, empathy and understanding to influence young people who will eventually become doers and leaders in this world.

In including conversations about respect of all people, no matter what their skin color, we are able to point to solutions and methods of action that positively impact our world. These conversations can be challenging, so where do you start? Do you start with the six elements of social justice: self-love and knowledge, respect for others, issues of social injustice, social movements and social change, awareness raising, and social action?

Or do you start with the small step that we can all take by including more books representing black characters or from black authors in our curricula? Some of our favorites books are about George Washington Carver who had a huge role in agricultural research. He can be, in part, credited for things like our modern system of crop rotation with legumes and nutrient intensive crops (soybeans and corn or peanuts and tobacco). Check out some of these great titles:

  • A Picture Book of George Washington Carver by David A. Adler
  • A Pocketful of Goobers: A Story About George Washington Carver by Barbara Mitchell
  • A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki
  • George Washington Carver by Tonya Bolden
  • George Washington Carver for Kids; His Life and Discoveries, With 21 Activities by Peggy Thomas
  • George Washington Carver: Agriculture Pioneer: Life Science (Science Readers) by Stephanie Macceca
  • George Washington Carver; Ingenious Inventor (Graphic Library) by Nathan Olson
  • In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby

Black farmers and agriculturalists have had a lot of other contributions to the agriculture industry. Consider Henry Blair who patented both corn and cotton planters. Consider Booker T. Whatley who researched sustainable farming practices and helped improve farm efficiency. Or consider Frederick McKinley Jones who invented the refrigerated truck and helped develop the refrigerated transportation system. In celebrating this attitude of invention, science, and engineering, some of our favorite books featuring people of color are:

  • George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor
  • No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by Tonya Bolden
  • Seeds for Change: The Lives and Work of Suri and Edda Sehgal by Marly Cornell
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Black people and other minority groups are an integral part of American history, science, innovation, and agriculture. Black agriculturalists tend to be underrepresented and face unique challenges. Representation of these groups in nature, science, and agriculture can be important to recognize their contributions and to help create STEM identity in our students.

Building this representation in curricula and developing STEM identity in students can even be tied to history lessons and social studies standards. We remember that we are not isolated, but instead connected to the world as things like Iowa corn is used here at home and also shipped all around the globe. Some of our favorite books that feature diverse cultures and people are:

  • Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo
  • Carlos and the Cornfield by Jan Romero Stevens
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Harvesting Friends, Cosechando Amigos by Kathleen Contreras and Gary Undercuffler
  • Sweet Corn and Sushi by Lori Erickson
  • The Empty Pot by Demi
  • The Good Garden by Katie Smith Milway and Sylvie Daigneault
  • The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

These resources and thoughtful conversations can help students develop race consciousness and help minimize or eliminate discrimination. At the end of the day we all eat. We are all tied to agriculture. We can all have a role in producing food and understanding the agricultural system that is behind it. We can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with peers of all hues. Representation in agriculture matters.


How will you be celebrating Black History Month? What titles did we miss? We’d love to hear from you.

Why Do They Do That? –Irrigation

Most of us are familiar with weather and know that it is not consistent every year, and rain doesn’t always come when farmers need it. This is why some large fields resort to using some kind of irrigation system. Even though you may see a large irrigation system while driving down the road, it is helpful to note that most of Iowa’s cropland is not irrigated. According to the USDA, other states outside of the Midwest, such as California, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Idaho, rely more heavily on irrigation systems. This is due to their irregular and infrequent precipitation.

Using this method of irrigation systems to water crops, farmers can control their crops’ water requirements if there is not enough rainfall. Like many things in the agriculture industry, the control of these irrigations systems can be automated and can be done right from the farmer’s phone or tablet. With different technologies, farmers can adjust the water pressure, the amount of water, and more without even being on the field, similar to how you could control your home’s security or temperature with smart technology while being on the road. As advanced as this may seem, these irrigation systems continually advance with the rest of the agriculture industry with solar-powered irrigation systems being implemented more widely in the future.

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

When deciding what kind of irrigation system to use, farmers have several choices: sprinkler vs. drip and center pivot vs. linear.

sprinkler irrigation system:

This system imitates rainfall by distributing the water above the field surface, allowing it to fall on the crops and soil. All plants on the field should receive the same amount of water, hopefully resulting in similar growth. This system is one of the most popular kinds of irrigation, and you probably have seen them in the fields at one time or another. This system is also similar to what many homeowners use to water their lawns. Like every system, sprinkler irrigation has some advantages and disadvantages. A farmer may decide to go with the sprinkler system because of the reduced cost of overall farm labor and reduced soil erosion. Another farmer may opt out of sprinkler irrigation because of the high initial cost of pipes, motors, and installation, and because of the high water loss due to evaporation.

drip irrigation system:

Compared to a sprinkler system, the drip irrigation system can be more efficient than a sprinkler system because the water is being dripped from a lower point, drop by drop (there is less evaporation water loss). With this kind of system, the soil soaks in the droplets before they can evaporate or be blown away by the wind. The water is applied closer to the roots where it is truly needed. Although drip irrigation may seem like the more beneficial choice, there are some downfalls, including that the water outlets get clogged because they are in direct contact with the ground. These systems also take a lot of training to understand the machine and manage the system.

center-pivot irrigation system:

This type of sprinkler irrigation is just what it sounds like: a mechanical system that moves in a circle with a center point. This machine can also be used to apply fertilizers and pesticides. The chemicals are mixed into the water as the water is sprayed onto the field. This multipurpose system can be used on a variety of crops, including vegetables and fruit trees. The center point is usually a permanent, stationary point where the water is pumped up from an underground well. The long arm of the system stretches across half the field and as it moves in a circle, it waters the entire field. The arm is supported by large wheels that travel across the ground and hold the arm up. If you’ve traveled in a plane over Midwest states like Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado and looked out the window, you’ve likely noticed the circular fields. Each one of those fields has a center-pivot irrigation system on it.

Photo by Mark Stebnicki on Pexels.com

Linear Irrigation System:

Linear irrigation systems are marketed to irrigate 98% of the field by traveling across the field in a straight line, forward, and reverse working best in square or rectangular fields. This system is another example of a sprinkler system. The water used is either taken from underground or a hose that drags behind the machine’s wheeled cart. In a linear irrigation system, soil compaction is reduced. It is also easier to work in windier conditions, unlike the center-pivot system because they are lower to the ground. Center-pivot systems can work on tall crops like corn. Linear irrigation system are better for shorter crops like alfalfa.

Now that we know what types of irrigation systems are out there, the final question is, why use them? With this kind of technology, crops can be watered in a controlled environment where the lack of rain can be less of a burden on farmers and their yield. Controlling the amount of water applied in a slow and steady manner can lead to less runoff and erosion. Plus, the time that farmers would typically take using more complex kinds of irrigation can now be spent perfecting other areas of the field or farm operation.

Next time you see one of these systems as your driving down the road, now you will have a better idea of what it does! If you’re a farmer, let us know in the comments what works best for you!


Hi! My name is Madison Paine and I am the education programs intern at IALF for the next year. I am currently a junior at Iowa State University studying agriculture communications. I grew up on an acreage outside of Maxwell, IA where my love for agriculture first sparked. I am very excited to be here and can’t wait to see what this next year all entails!

No matter how you slice it…we like pork on pizza

Whether you call it a pizza or a pie, Americans have enjoyed a long history of loving our pizza. Italian immigrants brought pizza along with them when they came to the United States in the late 19th century. And, since that time it’s become one of Americans’ favorite foods.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Of all the possible pizza toppings that we could choose, pepperoni ranks the highest followed by sausage according to a 2018 study from Caviar. With its savory flavors that pair well with flavorful marinara and gooey cheese, we can see–or rather taste –why we love our pepperoni pizzas! Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the U.S. and the top state for pork exports so it’s no wonder that pepperoni ranks high among Iowans. Midwestern states such as Michigan and Missouri also highly favor pork products like pepperoni, bacon, and ham on their pizzas. A few misguided states (I’m looking at you Maine) make the mistake of adding pineapple on their pizzas (I said what I said!).

Before we dive into the various pork meat toppings, let’s learn a few quick details about pigs and pork.

The delectable taste of pork on pizza
Now, let’s dive into a few of the favorite types of pork that grace our pizza.

According to Wikipedia, pepperoni is a variety of salami made from cured pork and/or beef seasoned with paprika or other chili pepper. The meat for pepperonis come from the pig’s back, shoulder, and the belly. Pepperoni gives us a soft, slightly smoky flavor and has a bright red color. So popular as a pizza topping, pepperoni is featured on the pizza emoji. Americans love our pepperoni, consuming 251.7 million pounds of it annually.

No matter its end destination, all pepperonis – whether sticks or chips – go through a production process. Specific cuts are chosen to achieve the target ratio of fat to lean meat. Once selected, the meat is put into a grinder and there, depending on the end use, the various seasonings such as paprika or cayenne pepper are added. Various other cultures are added along the way to help preserve the meat and give it a cured flavor. After the grinding process is completed, the pork is typically placed into filling machines which then place the meat into some type of casing. In the manufacturing process, the meat is smoked several times and then dried.

Sausage ranked second in pizza toppings. It’s a meat product made from ground meat, often pork, beef, or poultry, along with salt, spices, and other flavorings. Sausage is prepared much like pepperoni. Once meat is selected for fat ratio, it goes through a grinding process where seasonings are added then it’s put in casings and smoked.

On many meat lover options or breakfast pizzas, you’ll often find bacon added. Bacon is a type of salt-cured pork made from various cuts, usually the pork belly or from the less fatty back cuts. Americans love our bacon, spending $5 billion on it and eating 18 pounds of it annually.

Bacon’s popularity goes back to early times when people smoked it and cured it in their own homes. Today, bacon is made mainly through food manufacturers. Pork bellies go through a process to soften them and then they are put in a brine solution using water and salt to cure the pork. Liquid smoke and other seasons are also added in the process. After showering in a liquid smoke mixture, which adds more flavor and color to the surface, the pork is transferred into a big oven to cook the meat. It then goes into a freezer for a few days which makes the meat easier to slice. Finally, the meat is cooked again, inspected, and packaged.

Canadian Bacon
Some pizza eaters like to add Canadian bacon to their pizzas. Canadian bacon is the American name for a form on back bacon that is cured, smoked and fully cooked, trimmed into medallions, and thickly sliced. This type of bacon is made from the lean eye of the loin. It tastes more like ham than other flavors due to its lean cut.

Fun Pizza Facts

  • It’s believed that pizza was first invented in Naples, Italy in the 16th century
  • Pizza is the favorite food (21%) over steak (16%), hamburgers (13%)
  • Pizza wasn’t popular in America until after World War II
  • Pizza is the preferred dish for cheating on your diet
  • About 13 percent of the U.S. population consumes pizza on any given day, or 350 slices of pizza are eaten each second in the U.S.
  • More than three billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year, plus another one billion frozen pizzas
  • $38 billion worth of pizzas are sold annually in the United States
  • 93 percent of Americans have eaten pizza in the last month

Sources: California Pizza Kitchen survey, National Pizza Day

Bring Agriculture into Your Classroom through Everyone’s Favorite Meal – Pizza
Want to bring agriculture into your classroom? Bring in pizza with the following resources:

We’re also launching a farm-to-table pizza competition called Pizz-a-thon! Check out our teacher resources and enter your classroom here!

Want more ideas of how to incorporate agriculture into your classroom through ways your students can relate? Contact an Ag in the Classroom Coordinator in your local area or a member of our staff for ideas.

All this talk of pizza has me craving some gooey, savory goodness! I’m off to find some pizza!


Additional Resources

Know the Nutrients in Pork
History of Pizza
Pig Farming: Learn more about farming, pig breeds, and antibiotics
Iowa Pork Producers Association
How It’s Made: Bacon
USDA Pizza Facts
Most popular pizza toppings in every state
How pepperoni became America’s favorite pizza topping

Agriculture 101: Oranges

Oranges are a staple of the produce section, but how much do you know about how they are grown and harvested? Let’s dive into the agricultural story behind this popular tropical fruit. 

Oranges are a perennial tree fruit grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Brazil is the top orange-producing country, growing about 30% of the world’s supply. In the United States, oranges are grown commercially in Florida, California, Texas, and Arizona. Florida and California dominate, producing 55% and 44% of the country’s oranges, respectively, in the 2019-2020 season.  

Orange production in California and Florida are very different though. Over 95% of Florida’s oranges are processed into juice, and 80% of California’s oranges are sold to eat fresh. Why is this? It comes down to geography and climate. California’s dry heat is favorable for growing oranges with a sweet flavor and a thick peel that holds up well during storage and transportation. California’s mountains also create natural windbreaks that protect the fruit from wind damage. Florida’s ocean breezes and humidity, on the other hand, produce very juicy oranges that have a thinner skin and less pleasing appearance. 

While there are several types of oranges grown commercially, navel oranges are most commonly grown for fresh consumption because they are sweet, easy-to-peel, and seedless. Their seedlessness is a result of a genetic mutation and can only be propagated via cuttings since the fruit is sterile.   

Orange groves are laid out in rows to maximize space, sun penetration, and harvest efficiency.  Herbicide is applied under the planted tree to reduce competition for water and nutrients. The area between the rows is mowed as needed.

Oranges do not continue to ripen after they are picked, so growers must closely monitor the crop to ensure they are harvested at peak maturity.  Oranges picked too soon are not as sweet.  Oranges picked too late will quickly become soft and loose their sweetness.  Fruit size and color are helpful factors in monitoring maturity, but commercial growers also utilize internal assessment to decide when a section of an orange grove is ready to harvest.  A sample of fruit is taken and tested for its juice, sugar, and acid content.

Once the oranges are ripe, workers carefully handpick the fruit and place it in large canvas bags. The bags are then placed into specialized vehicles that bring the harvested fruit from the grove to roadside tractor-trailers. Oranges grown for fresh consumption are hauled to packinghouses to be washed, graded, and packed. Oranges produced for juice are transported by truck to processing plants for juice extraction. Check out this video to see an orange harvest an action. 

That’s the agricultural story of oranges! What other crop or animal product would you like to learn more about in an Ag 101 post?


A Day in the Life of a Truck Driver

Farming is like a puzzle in that it has many pieces. A farmer grows the crop and cares for the livestock but what then? Can he or she do it all by themselves? Who delivers the farmer their seed to plant? Who delivers the veterinarian their supplies for animals? How does the crop get delivered to where it is needed – like the local grain elevator or co-op? The answer to those questions is a semi-truck and driver, the number one job in America. One in every 15 workers in the country is employed in the trucking business.

As an Agriculture in the Classroom program coordinator, I have had the opportunity to present the lesson, Many Hats of an Iowa Farmer. In this lesson, students learn about all of the different jobs a farmer gets to do on the farm. But a modern-day farmer requires many more hats than any one person could wear at the same time.

That makes a lot of sense when you think about it, since almost everything a farmer needs for the farm, or sells from the farm, is hauled and transported by truck. Literally and figuratively speaking, the truck driver is the one who connects all of the pieces. They are sort of the Modge Podge, or the glue, of the farming community.

But what does it take to be a truck driver? I asked our friend, owner and operator Joe Leaders who works together with his dad, to tell me what a day looks like from behind his very large windshield. 

Joe learned how to drive truck from his father and was required to take a special test when he wanted to drive a truck commercially. A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is needed in order to legally drive a semi-truck on the roads. Driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) like a semi-truck requires a higher level of knowledge, experience, skills, and physical abilities than is required to drive a non-commercial vehicle like your family’s car. Semi-trucks are much bigger than cars and having additional training and experience helps keep them and you safe on roadways.

“You try to keep costs low by being your own mechanic. You tend to get good at maintaining your vehicle.” Part of Joe’s fleet of trucks also includes four different kinds of trailers: a grain trailer, a  flatbed trailer, a pot, or livestock trailer and a drive-in trailer, also called box trailer. He is able to help farmers and agribusinesses transport a lot of different types of materials with all of these different trailers.

In order to transport their load and cargo safely, a driver needs to know what they are hauling each day and how to hook up or attach to the appropriate trailer to the truck. One semi-truck can pull many different kinds of trailers. When loading livestock, it is important to be aware of the size of animal, what they weight, and how to properly load them so that  their semi and trailer, also called a rig, stays balanced.

Knowing the height and weight restrictions for each road is a very important part of a truck driver’s job. Every road has a limit of how much weight a semi-truck can haul. Carrying too much weight in the semi-truck and trailer could damage the road and might be unsafe for the driver. The weight of a semi-truck and trailer is spread out onto all of the vehicle’s axles. It take a bit of math and knowing how many axles your equipment runs to make sure you are staying “road legal”. Heavier loads may still be road legal if the weight is distributed across more axels. Eighty thousand pounds is the weight limit for most trucks. However during the COVID -19 pandemic more goods have needed to be shipped and transported. Joe and other truckers received permits allowing them to carry slightly heavier loads. Even when some areas are shut down, agriculture materials still need to be trucked to the places. Going under bridges can also be a problem for  truck drivers. Drivers need to know exactly how tall the truck and trailer is and what is the bridge’s maximum clearance. Most bridges on public roads have a clearance of at least 14 feet. Most trucks have a maximum height of 13 feet, 6 inches so that they can safely pass under.

The seed that needs to be planted each season, fertilizer that is applied to fields, livestock which farmers raise to sell, equipment that is purchased from dealerships, and the food that farmers eat themselves is delivered across the county by hard working truckdrivers. They spend hours on the road sometimes away from their families for days at a time. Truckers are required to keep a logbook, tracking their miles and hours, and making sure not exceed the 12 hours of drive time. Some things need to be hauled and transported over long distances. These journeys – sometimes across the country might take several days. Joe has traveled from Iowa to states as far away as Georgia. Everyone in America relies on truck drivers like Joe to bring them almost every item they eat, use or wear.

Joe says, “The best part of driving truck is going new places and meeting new people. And showing my sons around the country when they have the chance to ride with me.”

Do you know a truck driver in your life? Extend a great big thank you to each and every one!


New English Language Arts Competition: A Bushel of Stories

English Language Arts is a very important subject in K-12 schools. To help support teachers in this venture, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation is hosting a new writing competition called A Bushel of Stories.

The objective is simple: students in grades 3-8 are invited to write a story about food or agriculture with a chance at becoming a real, published author!

The new contest comes with a series of lesson plans. There are six total lessons, three for grades 3-5 and three for grades 6-8, that help teach key ideas about parts of a story, book vocabulary, and how to write a story. Each of the six lessons have also been written as virtual lesson plan format.

What are the rules?

All Iowa students in grades 3-8 are welcome to participate. Students should write a story about food or agriculture that include accurate depictions of agriculture (though fiction stories are allowed). Final projects must be submitted by March 1 to be eligible to win the contest.

For the full rules and guidelines, please read this document.

What are the prizes?

There will be six students awarded. First, second, and third place for the elementary division (grades 3-5), and the same for the middle school division (grades 6-8).

First place students in each division will become a real, published author, and their story will be semi-professionally illustrated, printed, and made available to Iowa educators free of charge. First place students will also receive a $100 cash prize, a plaque, and a certificate for the teacher.

Second place students will have their name and book title noted on the first place winner’s book. They will also receive $75, a plaque, and a certificate for their teacher. Third place students will also have their name and book title noted on the first place winner’s book, will receive $50, a plaque, and a certificate.

How do I get started?

No registration is necessary for this competition, but several resources are available to you!

Begin the program by reviewing the full rules and guidelines. Each division has slightly different requirements, and you will want to make sure your students’ work is eligible.

Next, consider working through the lesson plans available to you. Each lesson plan is aligned to Iowa’s English Language Arts standards and the National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes. These lesson plans will help your students understand concepts like elements of a plot, how to edit and revise writing, how to write a summary, how to research, and much, much more!

These lesson plan resources paired with IALF’s Lending Library give educators everything they need to be able to execute this program. The skills students will learn by participating will help them be more effective writers, readers, and communicators overall.

Don’t miss out! We’d love to read your students’ stories in just a few short months.


All things mint!

The holidays bring about warm memories of family get togethers, present exchanges, and favorite activities to do with our daughters. While making a few Christmas treats, the aroma of mint was in the air which reminded my daughters of their summer garden.

This past summer, my girls and I started growing some herbs as an easy summer project. Mint was the favorite herb that they liked to pick. They enjoyed smelling it and using it in their drinks.

Mint is one agricultural product that reaches millions of people every day. Let’s take a closer look at how mint is grown and used in everyday products.

The Mentha Genus

Photo Source: Washington Mint Growers Association

Mint belongs to the Mentha Genus. There are many varieties of homegrown mint, however, two main species of mint are grown for agricultural production purposes – the Mentha Piperita and the Mentha Spicata. There is also a lesser known, cheaper variety of mint known as Mentha Arvensis.

The state of Washington is the world’s largest mint-producing area. It is also grown in California, Idaho, Indiana, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Mint oil is located in the glands on the undersides of the leaves. Professional odor evaluators can tell you exactly where a particular mint was grown and when it was cut just by the taste differences.  

Mint is a perennial plant. Farmers often grow mint for four years and then rotate it with other crops like soybean or corn. For example, a farmer will typically plant mint the first year in rows. In the subsequent three years, the field looks more like a meadow as the plant expands its root system. If you’ve ever seen an alfalfa field, that’s what a mint field would be like. You can learn why farmers rotate their crops in one of our past blog posts.

Photo Source: Washington Mint Growers Association

How is Mint Oil Made?

The mint plant is harvested once or twice a year depending on the variety and region it is being grown in. The entire plant is harvested then it is steam distilled to extract the essential oil, which is the commodity that farmers sell. There isn’t a large, open market for selling mint oil, so farmers mainly grow mint under contract from processors.

How Farms Work, a channel on YouTube, has created a three-part video series on mint oil. Watch this part three video where they show how mint oil is extracted. You can watch part one here, and part two here.

How is Mint Used?

Mint oil is found in a variety of products – toothpaste, mouthwash, gum, candy, beauty products, and more.

One of its earliest known uses was when ancient Greeks rubbed it on their arms, thinking it would make them stronger. It’s also been used in the past to treat stomach aches and chest pains. In more modern uses, research is being conducted to see if it can help treat irritable bowel syndrome.

Photo Source Pexels.com

Mint is used in drinks like Mint Mojitos to give them a refreshing flavor. It’s also used in anything from syrups and candies to ice cream and curries.

You might not know that mint can also be used as an insecticide to kill common pests such as wasps, hornets, and ants.

Mint Facts (sources: Mint Industry Research Council, Idaho Mint)

  • 45 percent of mint oil produced in the U.S. is used for flavoring chewing gum.
  • 45 percent used to flavor dentifrices (toothpaste, mouthwash, etc.).
  • 10 percent is used for flavor in the confectionary, pharmaceutical, liquor, and aromatherapy industries.
  • One 400-pound drum (barrel) of mint oil will flavor more than five million sticks of chewing gum.
  • One pound of mint oil will produce approximately 1,000 tubes of toothpaste or 50,000 mint candies.
  • There is about one drop of mint in a tube of toothpaste.

Want to grow some mint at home? Check out this article.

Tell us in the comments what your favorite mint product is!


Sources and Additional Reading

Extracting the Essence of Mint
How Your Toothpaste Gets So Minty Fresh
Mint Industry Research Council
Plant of the Month: Mint

Chemistry Tastes and Smells at Christmas

One of the things that makes this time of year so special is the food. The tastes and the smells of special treats bring back memories of a warm kitchen, family bonding, and the merriment of the season. Behind all of those joyous experiences is agriculture and science. Chemistry to be specific. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite holiday spices and the chemistry that makes them so unique.

No matter what sweet treat you are whipping up in the kitchen (maybe sugar cookies?), there is a good chance that you’ll add some vanilla extract or even some seeds from the vanilla bean. 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde (C8H8O3) is commonly known as vanillin. This compound gives vanilla its flavor. Carbon is found in all organic matter and that is at least one commonality of our spices – they are all organic molecules. Vanilla beans are actually the fruits that appear after the pollination of the vanilla orchid vine. The bloom opens and closes in a single day and must be pollinated within that timeframe to produce a fruit. Knowing the chemical signature of one of our most popular flavors means that we can produce synthetic vanilla from a variety of methods if harvesting the real thing is too complicated. But producing synthetic vanilla has complications of its own.

Thinking about the holidays you might next think about cinnamon. Sticks from the inner bark of a tree in the cinnamomum family make this spice. The bark can then be finely ground to make cinnamon powder. The flavor of cinnamon is complex, but two major components are cinnamaldehyde (C9H8O) and Eugenol. Other compounds that make up its flavor profile are ethyl cinnamate, linalool, and methyl chavicol. Cinnamaldehyde has a pungent, spicy note and can either taste a little bit sweet or have more of a slight burning taste. It can be used as a natural insect repellent in agrochemical applications. Cinnamon makes cookies like snickerdoodle mouth wateringly good.

Eggnog might be an acquired taste, but it definitely screams holiday season when it shows up in the grocery stores. Dusted with a little nutmeg and it becomes a real treat. Known for hundreds of years to be a hallucinogen in large doses, nutmeg occupies a milder status in the spice cabinet. Its flavor (and mind-altering properties) is the result of a complex mix of molecules, but two of the predominant ones are myristicin (C11H12O3) and safrole (C10H10O2). Chemically they are very similar!

One of my favorite holiday cookies are gingersnaps. My grandmother used to put red, green, and white sprinkles in the little fork indentations on top. The look and taste is Christmas to me. Ground ginger comes from the dried ginger root – which is actually a rhizome. Its unique flavor comes primarily from gingerol (C17H26O4) and zingiberene. Zingiberene makes up close to 30% of the oil of ginger. Ginger is a hot, fragrant spice and is thought to have originated in India.

A clove studded ham or a clove studded orange dropped in a batch of mulled wine can warm up the coldest winter day. Dried cloves were the buds of an aromatic tree native to Indonesia (syzegium aromaticium). They are now grown throughout southeast Asia. Cloves are complex chemically, but get a lot of aroma and flavor from Eugenol (C10H12O2). Widely used as a flavoring, clove oil can also be used topically to treat a toothache or ingested to treat gastrointestinal complaints. It can even be used as a fungicide in agrochemical applications.

Throw all of our Christmas spices together, plus some extras like black pepper and star anise and you can whip up a batch of Pfeffernusse cookies. Black pepper doesn’t immediately come to mind when thinking about holiday baking. The spice comes from southeast Asia where many of the other spices come from and does add a unique flavor to these cookies that works. Black pepper is the fruit of a flowering vine in the family piperacae. When it is dried, the fruit is often referred to as peppercorns. Pepper owes much of its flavor to a compound called piperine (C17H19NO3) which it contains to levels of about 5-10% by mass. Though piperine is only about 1% as hot as capsaicin, it still brings a bit of heat. Other compounds such as pinene, bring flavors like citrus, smoke, herbs, and wood. Star anise also has a host of flavor compounds. Two of the main ones are anethole (C10H12O) and safrole which contribute to its unique flavor.

Happy holidays!