Farmers Like to Try Growing New Crops

I recently ordered a drink at my local smoothie place and it had hemp seed protein powder in it. That made me curious about the agricultural crop of hemp. I was confused and thought others might misunderstand it as well. Here’s what I learned.

Isn’t it just marijuana?

No, hemp is most notably grown for use as a fiber crop. The long stalks have stringy interiors that can be processed into things like cloth and rope. Most natural fibers that we use for things like clothing come from cotton (a plant) or wool from sheep (an animal). Bamboo has become a popular alternative fiber crop. But cotton and bamboo can’t be grown in the Iowa climate. Sheep are raised in Iowa and while wool has a lot of advantages as a fiber, wool and sheep aren’t as popular as their plant alternatives. Corn and soybeans can also be used to make fibers and cloth, but they take more processing and therefore can be more expensive. Hemp can be grow in the Iowa climate and offers an interesting option for Iowa farmers to get into the fiber industry. But hemp offers a lot of other options too and can be raised as feed ingredient for livestock or for other purposes.

When you hear the word “hemp,” I know for many marijuana is the first thing that crosses your mind. Hemp and marijuana do come from the same cannabis genus. However, hemp has a Delta-9 THC of less than 0.3%, and marijuana has a THC level of more than 0.3%. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the psychoactive compound in cannabis that creates euphoric effects when consumed. The 0.3% of THC in hemp is so low that it would take 2,500 lbs. of the commodity to equal the same amount of THC in one joint typically used recreationally. So there is no chance anyone will be able to use hemp as a recreational drug.

Photo by Kindel Media on

Is it legal?

In 2014, the Farm Bill passed, allowing pilot programs and research to start on the hemp commodity. This farm bill started the discussion on whether hemp farming would continue in the United States and if it was beneficial to everyone.

Four years later, the Hemp Act of 2018 passed. This act moved hemp, with a THC concentration of less than 0.3%, from a controlled substance category to an agricultural commodity. In addition to how hemp was categorized, the act also introduced that hemp producers could receive federal crop insurance. Each state would oversee its laws regarding the production of hemp.

Specifically, the Iowa law allows the production, processing and marketing of hemp products. It does not include using marijuana recreationally, smoking hemp and using or selling hemp for animals.

To farm hemp in Iowa, farmers must first obtain a hemp license. The licensing requires applicants to submit official fingerprints, pass a background check, and have no drug-related felony for the previous ten years. Once the farmer is adequately licensed, they must grow 40 acres or less of hemp and record all farmed hemp. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers a number of different resources for farmers interested in trying to grow this fiber crop.

Farming hemp is not for everyone. Seeds are germinated in a greenhouse and the seedlings have to be transplanted into fields – either by hand or with small scale equipment. Some farmers are refurbishing old machinery previously used to plant things like strawberries to plant the seedlings. Hemp allows for interested farmers to start small and scale up as they become familiar with the agronomics of unfamiliar crop.

Why farm hemp?

Washington Post

Food, building supplies, textiles and oils are just a few of the thousands of different uses from hemp. Hemp is a versatile commodity; the plant’s seeds, stalks, roots, leaves and plant can all be used in one way or another. I personally have tried hemp seed protein in my smoothies. It was a plant-based alternative to my typical whey protein that I purchased because it was cheaper. New products like this are now on the market because of the growing industry. With these new products coming on the market, hemp farming is a place for farmers to invest their money and a portion of their land.

This up-and-coming specialty crop can be grown as either a fiber, grain or for CBD. Out of these niches, CBD or cannabidiol has the most profit potential. CBD is a non-intoxicating phytochemical that has potential health benefits for things like pain, nausea, addiction, and depression. Farmers can usually profit around $1,000 per acre of corn. In contrast, hemp farmers can gain up to $40,000 per acre when their hemp is grown specifically for CBD.

Hemp can be grown in many different regions and climates, making it very easy to grow. However, hemp does prefer certain soils over others. Aerated and loose loam soil can best produce hemp. This kind of soil has mainly sand and silt with a little bit of clay and has enough room for oxygen to flow through the soil. Iowa offers ideal soils.

Hemp also has a short growing season. This fast-growing season means that farmers who live in cooler climates (like Iowa) can fit hemp into their season when they might not be able to with other crops. Farmers with warmer climates may have multiple harvests in one year.

Because hemp only became legal to grow in 2014 and 2018, everyone is still learning how to farm it. There are always opportunities and challenges in growing new crops and some Iowa farmers are embracing this new crop.


A Day in the Life of an Animal Nutritionist

If it moos, oinks, bleats, or clucks it probably lives on a farm. And these farm animals eat a variety of different things. So how does a farmer know what to feed each animal? How do they decided what amounts to feed them? Does an animal’s diet change throughout the animal’s life? Just like humans need different types of food, and in different amounts, so do animals.

To help answer these questions I contacted an animal nutritionist. He specializes in animal nutrition and is especially concerned with the dietary needs of livestock animals.

Role of an Animal Nutritionist

Stewart Galloway is a field nutritionist with Hubbard Feeds. He helps farmers, salespeople, and dealers understand and use the right products when feeding their livestock.

Animal nutritionists can help farmers in many ways, and have different career paths open to them. Some animal nutritionists work for a company that creates animal feed. Their work may include working with numbers, collecting and reviewing lots of research data, and developing nutrition profiles for various animals at different stages of their life. Other animal nutritionists may work as an independent consultant where they interact directly with the farmer customers. This type of role offers lots of flexibility and sometimes travel. Stewart visits livestock producers from Kansas to Pennsylvania. Over time, this industry has become 100% specialized which means there are not many general nutritionists.

Stewart says that working with farmers is the best part of his job because he gets to help them solve problems. There are a great number of details that go into creating the perfect recipe for livestock. He uses technology to help people meet four specific goals: increase profit, improve competitive advantage, decrease risk, and make their lives easier.

Day in the Life of an Animal Nutritionist

Each day, Stewart is problem solving for his farmer customers. Stewart says in his job, “you need to be a person who likes working with a variety of people.”

Some of his duties that he might perform each day include:

  • Formulating diets – Just like you use a recipe to make a food dish, it’s important to get the right ingredients, weights, and mix the right amounts for animal feed. Each animal has varied nutritional needs so an animal nutritionist reviews the food labels and measures the right amount of each ingredient for specific animal types. Food labels contain the amounts of calories, fat, protein, sugar, vitamins, and sugars.
  • Teaching in front of groups of farmers and completing dealer training.
  • Writing articles for various communications media such as extension publications, email, and print trade magazines.
  • Developing decision making tools spreadsheets and dashboards for producers.
  • Creating educational webinars that can be viewed by producers across the country.
  • Conducting meetings with farmers to set goals or check in on their farm animals’ progress, and making feed adjustments as needed.

He says it really helps to be proactive and evaluate any feeding plans a livestock owner has in place. “Animals have a perfect opportunity for good health and nutrition because they don’t have the bad eating habits that some humans do,” he said. One great thing about feeding livestock is animal nutritionists can determine scientifically what animals should eat and predict how they should grow. Stewart mentioned that the genetics in animals now are so good, “we can’t get enough nutrition into them to make them grow as fast as they are capable.”

One surprising thing I learned about Stewart’s job is that he spends little time with the animals. He works with a team of specialists who are actually in the barns. This is not just due to COVID, however. For many years the hog industry has been concerned with biosecurity, and not been able to allow many people to visit in and out of the barns. One of the best ways farmers can keep their animals healthy is by practicing good biosecurity procedures. For more information on biosecurity and its importance, view one of our past blog posts on the topic.

What Kind of Education is Needed?

While in school, Stewart decided he liked animals more than plants, so he went to Iowa State University for Agriculture Studies and gained a diverse agriculture background. After obtaining a master’s degree and a PhD, he went to work in the feed industry. While a master’s degree or Ph.D. is not an absolute requirement, it is more common for individuals in this career field to pursue graduate degrees. A graduate degree is usually required to work in research positions or to secure management or other upper-level roles. Many aspiring animal nutritionists pursue graduate veterinary degrees so they can care for animals in all aspects of their health and nutrition.

If you want more information on what different animals eat, check out this blog Fueling the Body. You will learn what different kinds of fuel people and farm animals need to be healthy and productive.


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.


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.


Christmas Cards from the Farm

It’s that time of the year again. As soon as the temperature drops and the Christmas lights are being draped on houses, trees, and fences I start thinking about sending out Christmas cards. I don’t know what it is about the paper rectangles, but they seem to me like joy stuffed in the appropriately sized envelope. So, you want to send cards but where do you begin? Do you order brand new matching cards? Should you print off the good old family photo to show relatives, friends, family members co-workers and acquaintances how adorable your kids are? Or put your scrapbooking skills to use recycling cards from previous years?  

Then comes the math. Who makes the Christmas card cut? I appreciate  the U.S. Postal Service and am constantly amazed how 55 cents can send a card anywhere in the country, but we are talking about two quarters and a nickel. That can add up to some serious holiday jingle.

No matter what style you choose, or how many you decide to send, all Christmas cards are made of paper. So, where does the paper come from?

Paper comes from trees. More specifically, paper is made from cellulose pulp from trees. Trees that have been planted for harvesting, just like corn and soybeans, are planted for the purpose of being harvested. One misconception about paper is that it “destroys” forests, when paper processing is actually for the most part quite sustainable. According to the US Forest Service, over 4 million trees are planted in the United States. Over 1.7 million of these are planted by the paper and wood products industry, and this excludes naturally regenerated seedlings. These tree farms have been around since the 1940’s and since then the American Tree Farm System has “shifted its focus on whole stewardship, rather than strictly fiber production.”

Reds, greens, blues, silver and gold colors pop out vividly and make Christmas cards festive. Would you be surprised to discover those bright colors may have started in a soybean field? Soy ink can be made from soybeans once they are cleaned, flaked, and processed into oil. Next, the oil is blended with pigment, resin, and wax. This process turns a common bean into “a high-quality ink” which prints bright and sharp images, is cheaper than petroleum-based ink, and is sustainable. Soybeans require little irrigation and only a small amount of energy to cultivate.

Once you’ve written your special holiday message and signed your card (or if your family is anything like mine threatened and harangued everyone until they finally sat down and signed each card) it’s time to seal that envelope. What’s in that glue that seals it together? It’s probably gum arabic made from the hardened sap of acacia trees.

These trees are found in Africa and other places around the world, are long growing and have deep roots. The sap is harvested by stripping the bark of 6-year-old trees or tapping the tree by making a horizontal incision across the bark. The sap runs in a furrow from the cuts, hardening as it is exposed to the air. Another great agricultural product that comes from trees. (Note: During my lessons as an Agriculture in the Classroom coordinator, I teach students that school glue is made from animal byproducts. I find it interesting that envelope glue comes from trees.)

Your Christmas message has made it to the post office and needs to be delivered to your recipient. That can mean many miles of driving. The USPS travels many miles and operates a fleet of 40,000 alternative fuel-capable vehicles, most of which are equipped to use ethanol-blended gasoline. Ethanol is generally made from corn, crop residue, wood chips, or sugarcane. It is a renewable resource for the same reason as trees, they can be replanted season after season. For more information on ethanol be sure to read the IALF blog Ethanol Quick Facts.

So, whether you are a seasoned “card shark” with preprinted labels that are applied before December even begins, or an occasional mailer whose cards may or may not get there by the new year, take a moment to think about agriculture. And as you get ready to mail your envelope, consider the farmer and the agricultural products that make your Christmas stationary possible.


What’s Cookin’ – Holiday Traditions

With the changing of the seasons to colder weather, thoughts often turn to the upcoming holidays. This year, holidays may be a little different for all of us due to COVID but that doesn’t mean we can’t partake in some of our favorite traditions.

Growing up in north central Iowa, one of my favorite traditions was making Norwegian Lefse with my grandmother. My paternal grandfather passed away when I was in fourth grade but my grandmother did a wonderful job of keeping his memory and Norwegian heritage alive with us grandkids. The family story goes that my grandfather was among the first generation born in the United States so we are relative newcomers on that side for coming to America from Norway. In Norway, we came from a family of farmers but land was scarce and expensive, so our family migrated to the U.S. in search of more land, much like other Norwegian immigrants at the time.

Norwegians began arriving in Iowa during the 1830s and by the 1850s the number increased dramatically. Many of these immigrants settled in northeastern Iowa around Decorah which is why you see such a strong Norwegian heritage in that community today. In 1880, more than 82 percent of the Norwegians living in Iowa were farmers. (Source: Iowa PBS)

While farming didn’t end up being the future for our family, Norwegian traditions still played a part in our upbringing – and one of those was lefse.

What is Lefse?

Image Source: Cheap Recipe Blog: Norwegian Lefse

Lefse is a traditional, soft Norwegian flatbread. Some lefse is made with potatoes but true Norwegians (LOL) know the better version is made with flour. In fact, the original lefse made in Norway was actually made from flour – not potatoes. It wasn’t until potatoes were introduced in Norway more than 200 years ago that people started adding them to lefse. Batches of flour lefse could last a household through the long winter months as it was more of a flat bread or like a tortilla when it dried. The lefse was stored in wooden boxes and dipped in water to soften it when it was needed for use. My family puts butter and sugar on the lefse and then rolls it up for eating. But, other Norwegians have been known to use the lefse like a tortilla and wrap beef, mashed potatoes and peas in it like a burrito, or some put butter and jam on it.

Before we dive into the making of the lefse, let’s take a look at where the ingredients for lefse come from. There are many different types of lefse but the particular one that my grandmother made is quite simple. To make our family’s Norwegian lefsa you’ll need flour, sugar, salt, water, and lard.

Flour is a powder made by grinding different types of grains. Wheat is most commonly used to make flour. Mills use high protein or hard wheat species to make bread flour and lower protein or soft wheat to produce cake and pastry flour. All-purpose flour is made of medium protein. Watch how wheat is grown, harvested, and used in baking products.

Sugar is a type of sucrose derived from sugarcane or sugar beets. Most cane sugar comes from countries with warm climates due to the plant’s intolerance to cold. Sugar beets grow in cooler temperatures but do not tolerate hot climates. In the northern hemisphere, most of our sugar comes from sugar beets. The beet root is composed of 17 percent sucrose. In the spring, farmers plant the seeds and then the sugar beets are harvested in the fall. In the United States, sugar beets are most commonly grown in three regions: Upper Midwest (Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota), Great Plains (Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming), and the Far West (California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Statista’s Sugar Beet Production Report notes that approximately 28.6 million tons of sugar beets were produced in the United States in 2019.

Salt isn’t thought of as an agriculture product but it is an important component to many recipes. Salt is one of the most widely used and oldest forms of food seasoning. It is processed in several ways – from salt mines, evaporation of seawater, and through mineral-rich spring water in shallow pools.

Lard is a semi-solid white fat product made by rendering the fatty tissue of a pig. While some might think it’s the same thing as Crisco, it’s actually not as Crisco is made of vegetable oils. In the 19th century, lard was used in replacement of butter in North America. But, lard lost its favor in the late 20th century due to its less healthy reputation vs vegetable oils.

All the ingredients are mixed in a large bowl. You’ll need a long wooden turning stick, a pastry board, a special rolling pin with deep grooves and a large, flat griddle. (Pictures courtesy of

Lefse Recipe
6 cups flour
½ cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups of boiling water
3-6 tablespoons of soft lard

1. Mix with spoon first since the water is boiling hot then mix with your hands
2. Roll out the lefse as thin as possible
3. Cook on dry skillet until it bubbles
4. Place lefse in between thin towels to cool (each lefse separated by a towel or they’ll stick together). Once cool, the lefse can be wrapped in aluminum foil, placed in a freezer bag and be pulled out later for use.
5. To make it soft again, drip warm water on the lefse and place them separated by towels until ready to eat.

Food is often at the heart of family, holiday traditions. As we sit around our tables this holiday season, maybe we can all take a moment to thank those who make our family traditions possible – farmers. Without farmers, we wouldn’t have the food to enjoy on our holiday tables.

What are some of your family’s holiday traditions?


Additional Learning

Iowa Pathways: Norwegians
Lefse History
Exploring our Fluid Earth: Weird Science – Salt is Essential to Life
Cane Sugar: How It’s Made
Beet Sugar: How It’s Made
All About Sugar and Baking
How It’s Made: Flour
Wheat Harvest
U.S. Sugar Industry
Make Your Own Lefse – Lefse Equipment

Helping Students Relate to Lessons about Agriculture

“Oh! I get it!” These sweet words are music to a teacher’s ear. The exclamation of understanding that erupts from a student might just be the reason teachers continue their dedicated service. It doesn’t matter whether the child had been working on a subject for two weeks or two minutes, the joy is the same. This student understands!

As an Agriculture in the Classroom coordinator it is always interesting spending time in classrooms. Grade to grade and school to school, lesson topics tend to vary wildly. From learning about pumpkins with PreK, to mixing up soil with third graders, and then creating lessons on lavender as a specialty crop for middle school students, agriculture is the underlying principle in all of our lessons. It’s really one of the most significant things in our lives. So how do you get kids interested in agriculture? How do you help them understand the role food, fuels, and fibers play in their lives. And finally, guide them to find their own role in agriculture?

There are many ways to make agriculture relatable to students:

  1. Compare agriculture vocabulary with something they already know about.

How big is an acre?

“Acre” is a word not many kinds would know. Plus mentioin43,560 square feet is kind of hard to imagine. However, even the youngest of learners can recognize the familiar 100 yards of a football field (not including the end zones).

How much corn is in a bushel?

To all my fellow agriculture enthusiasts, I am about to make a confession. I grew up in the city and had no idea what a bushel of corn was. And I didn’t have a clue what it weighed. I had seen antique stores sell “bushel baskets” and I thought a dozen ears of corn would fit nicely, so in my agriculturally illiterate mind… 12. Twelve ears of corn was a bushel. Wasn’t I amazed to discover it’s more like 112. And it weighs 56 pounds. Or as much as an eight-year-old.

How much does a combine weigh?

Kids are impressed by the giant equipment that farmers use to grow the food that feeds the world. Tractor wheels taller than a grown up and combines as tall as a small house are awe inspiring. But an educator can’t always bring these things into the classroom with them. Pictures are great and a chance to have a FarmChat® virtual field trip is even better. Otherwise, make your words descriptive and compare it to something they already know.  A John Deere combine, depending on the model, might weight 30,000 pounds, that’s as much as two school busses, or six elephants.

2. Bring lots of examples with you to class or have lots of pictures available for your virtual lesson. You can describe the difference between treated and untreated soybean seed, or you can show students. You can talk about the nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots of a soybean plant, or you can bring in examples, pulled out of the field that very morning.

3. Use the changing seasons to teach about what is happening on the farm. In November, we talk turkey. In January, it’s winter on the farm. Spring is an excellent opportunity to talk about the beginning of life cycles. Egg hatching programs and the baby chicks offer a hands-on opportunity for kids to learn about what happens in an animal’s lifecycle.

So whether you are a born and bred city gal like me, or an experienced farmer who’s taken a plow around a field a time or two, we can all agree agriculture is relatable and important to students. It’s our job to help them understand how and why.


What a Perfect Time for a FarmChat® Virtual Field Trip!

Students in Iowa have returned to school. Some classes are being held in person while some students are connecting with teachers online. No matter what the school day looks like, an opportunity to visit a real farm is hard to pass up. Sign the permission slips? Pack the lunches? Send home reminders to wear layers and appropriate shoes? Load up the buses? Drive for miles and miles IF the weather is right? Or… skip all the hassle and schedule a FarmChat® virtual field trip! 

While actual field trips require days, if not weeks of planning and are being postponed due to the pandemic, a FarmChat® program is the ideal alternative solution. FarmChat®, or a virtual field trip, is a program that utilizes technology (Skype, FaceTime and other software platforms) to bring the farm experience directly into school classrooms. Using a laptop at the school and a mobile device at the farm, students connect with and directly speak with the farmer. Students can see the farm and ask the farmer questions. They can even virtually ride along in the combine or tour a livestock barn all from the safety and security of their classroom. A virtual field trip!

Benefits of a FarmChat® virtual field trip include:

  • Safety. Most working farms are not able to host large number of students. Real farms can hold real dangers if students have not been properly instructed about farm safety. Teachers are able to focus on the topics intended and the learning if students are not required to be shepherded from place to place.
  • Experiences. It can be difficult or impossible to show 25-30 students the same thing at the same time. While 2-3 are watching a cow be milked the rest of a class may decide to test out their “waterproof” boots in a nearby puddle. Focusing on the screen in a classroom allows the entire group to experience the details as if they were watching in person. Also, a working farm has many different sights, sounds, and smells. By visiting from their classrooms, students can see and hear the farmer better then if they were standing in a large group.
  • Saving time. The virtual field trip will last around 20-30 minutes. In that time kids can focus on the experience, and then return to their regularly scheduled day. This means less time away from school and more time to discuss what students have learned.
  • No permission slips. Having a virtual field trips allows students to explore a real farm, without leaving the school grounds.
  • No transportation costs. Students are engaged and focused on the farm directly from their desks. With no need to find a bus driver or arrange for transportation, schools are not limited by funding.
  • Standards. By taking students on a virtual field trip they are able to make real world connections to the topics they are learning in school.

Harrison County farmer explains the process, as well as some of the challenges, of baling hay during a summer FarmChat®.

Local farmers are interested in sharing what they do. And teachers want to teach about local crops and livestock. Connecting the components has never been easier and is only limited by the connectivity of a cellular network. Here is a list of frequently asked questions that can help with planning a FarmChat® program.

Start planning your FarmChat® a virtual farm experience today. Reach out to your local county coordinator and let your virtual ag-venture begin.


Tips for Reading to Students

Whether a book is read in person, over the phone, or even on a virtual platform, reading aloud to students can be a very engaging experience. It is one of my favorite things to do when I visit a classroom. You can almost feel the students’ anticipation if it is a book they have read. And if it’s one they are not familiar with? Then you can see their eyes alight with excitement, eager to experience something new.

Reading books to students may seem like an easy task, but there are several things that you can do to prepare and practice. This will make it the best experience possible for both you and the students.

Things you can do to prepare:

  • Make sure you are comfortable with the book. Go ahead and try a practice read before you are in front of a room full of students. This will help with fluency and will allow you to engage with students and not just be focused on the text.
  • Time how long the book takes to read out loud. A child’s attention span can last approximately two to five minutes per year of their age. For example, a 5-year-old could be expected to listen 10 to 25 minutes at a time. Pick a book that is best suited for the age of the students. Of course every child is different, so while you are reading your book, you will need to be reading your audience. (More tips below on how to engage wandering listeners.)
  • Books can be a great way to introduce students to agriculture and agricultural themes. While a trip to a farm could be overstimulating for some students, sitting in their classroom learning about farm animals could be a safe way to explore tractors, cattle, and crops. Need a few ideas? Check out the IALF lending library for books on beef, corn, dairy, the environment, farms, food, history, plants, pigs, poultry, soy, technology and so much more. Complete kits and teacher guides may also be available to check out.
  • If you are looking for ways to increase your classroom library with accurate agriculture books, why not check out the Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher Supplement Grant Program?

Tips to improve the read-aloud experience:

Now that you have selected and practiced reading an age-appropriate agriculturally accurate book, it’s time to read to students.

  • Always begin by reading the names of both the author and the illustrator. Children as young as three can begin to identify the author as “the one who wrote the story” and the illustrator as “the one who drew the pictures”. Students will become familiar with these words if you consistently use this method during read-alouds.  
  • Be sure to pause after each page, allowing the students to closely observe the illustrations. Taking in the pictures can help a student learn something new about the story each time it is read.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or even pause if you think some explanation is needed. Questions like, “have you ever seen a cow?” or “how do you think he feels about flying from farm to farm?” could be good questions to engage your audience. If you are looking to gauge involvement without a lot of discussion, you could always ask students to raise their hands. “By a show of hands, who would like to drive this tractor?”
  • Get moving! Just because you are reading a book does not mean you need to be sitting. Stand up during exciting parts or even move around the room to draw students into the story. Are the characters in the book on a long dirt road? Maybe move to another end of the room. Does a part seem animated? Move the book “bump”, “zoom”, or “swish” depending on what the characters are doing or what action you are trying to portray.
  • Add sound effects when appropriate and don’t forget to give different characters different voices. Don’t worry about sounding silly, that’s the point. Reading is FUN and young learners will enjoy seeing you enjoying reading.
  • Sitting still can be an issue for active learners. Help them contain their wiggles by encouraging them. Have students act out parts with you. Even sitting down, they can use arms to climb up a grain bin or toss the hay with a pitchfork. You might even call on a student to be your book holder or page turner giving them a job, which focuses their attention.

This fall will bring many challenges as we return to school in person, online, or even a hybrid combination of the two. Reading out loud to your class can help to calm those first day of school jitters (theirs and yours). So check out an age appropriate agriculturally accurate book. I wish you good luck! And happy reading!