7 Innovative Iowans You May Not Know

ag today page 8Who comes to mind when you think of famous Iowans in agriculture?   I asked many colleagues, friends and family this question while writing an article for the latest issue of Iowa Ag Today.

Dr. Norman Borlaug was usually named first. And rightfully so. His research on wheat in Mexico and rice in India led to large increases in yields. He is credited with saving a billion lives and starting the Green Revolution.

Henry A. Wallace was also frequently mentioned. He did extensive research improving corn genetics through crossbreeding. In 1926, he founded the first hybrid seed corn company, now DuPont Pioneer. Wallace went on to become Secretary of Agriculture and Vice President of the United States.

George Washington Carver, although not born in Iowa, is almost always named when discussing famous Iowans in agriculture. He earned is B.S. and M.S. from Iowa State University and also taught there. Carver’s research changed farming practices. He suggested that farmers alternate soil-depleting crops, like cotton, with crops, such as peanuts, soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes. He also developed new uses of these soil-enriching crops, so planting them would be profitable.

Although, these are the most well-known Iowans in agriculture, there are many others who have made a lasting impact in the field— not just in Iowa, but around the globe.

    1. Jessie Field Shambaugh is known as the “Mother of 4-H”.   She developed youth programs that integrated practical work familiar to farm boys and girls, into the school curriculum. Her efforts brought about a significant change in rural school teaching, and her “corn clubs” grew into one of the greatest youth movements in the 20th century, 4-H.
    2. Delicious apple

      Red Delicious Apple

      We have a Madison County farmer to thank when eating Red Delicious apples. The original Red Delicious was first found as a volunteer seedling on Jesse Hiatt’s farm. Hiatt tried to kill it, but it kept coming back. Finally Hiatt decided to let it grow, eventually bringing its first apples to a fruit show. It won first prize and quickly gained popularity for its taste and hardiness.

    3. In 1892 John Froelich built the first gasoline-powered tractor that propelled itself backward and forward. This invention helped pave the way for modern farming. Froelich, with other investors, founded the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company. In 1918, the company was purchased by Deere and Company, now John Deere.
    4. Ada Hayden - ISU Herbarium - Copy

      Ada Hayden

      Ada Hayden was a botanist, educator, and conservationist. As curator of the Iowa State University Herbarium, she added more than 40,000 specimens to its collection. Hayden focused much of her work to learning about and ensuring the preservation of Iowa’s tallgrass prairie areas. The 210 acre Hayden Prairie State Preserve in Howard County is named in her honor.

    5. After the youngest of her six children went to school, Mary Garst went to work for the livestock side of the Garst Company. She managed a 6,000 head breeding herd, one the first in the country to become computerized. Garst was a pioneer and role-model for women in leadership positions in agriculture. She became the first female president of any state’s cattlemen’s organization and was honored as Breeder of the Year by the North American Cattle Breeders Association. Garst also served on boards of the Chicago Federal Reserve, Burlington Northern Railroad, International Harvester and Northwestern Bell Telephone. She was one of the first women to have such prominent roles at national organizations and businesses.
    6. Carefree Beauty - tamu.edu

      ‘Carefree Rose’

      Griffith Buck’s work can be found in home gardens, especially in cold climates. As faculty in the Horticulture Department at Iowa State University, his research focused on geranium and breeding. Buck is most recognized for his work on disease-resistant and hardy roses that would withstand cold Iowa winters without extensive protection. He is credited with developing more than 85 varieties of roses, including ‘Carefree Beauty’ and the first a hybrid blue rose. An extensive collection of Dr. Buck’s roses are on display at Reiman Gardens in Ames.

    7. Jon Kinzenbaw - kinze

      Jon Kinzenbaw

      In 1965, Jon Kinzenbaw opened a small welding shop that grew into one of the largest agricultural equipment manufacturers in North America. His inventions, like the single-axle low-profile grain cart and the folding planter, have helped revolutionize modern farming. Today Kinzenbaw is the president and CEO of Kinze Manufacturing Inc, and continues to farm. Planting and harvesting his own crop helped him to truly understand the needs of farmers and develop ideas to make their work more efficient.

As I learned about these accomplished Iowans, I am inspired to share their stories with students.  My hope is that they will be inspired too and aspire to be the next great innovative Iowan in agriculture.


The Fertile Land

If you have never walked through corn or soybeans in a field, I hope you have been fortunate to plant a garden. It is then, with dirt under your fingernails, that you become a part of the magical process that has been taking place for generations. The hopeful anticipation of seeing the fruits of your labor spring forth to help feed your family or provide some needed income. It is the same feeling farmers get when they see those first shoots sprouting forth from the fields, year after year. None of it possible without the rich organic soil found in our great state. Sure, growing crops is possible in the rest of the world, but much more labor and modifications are sometimes needed.

These soils are the backbone of the strong agriculture industry found in Iowa. It is because of these soils and the rich agriculture heritage found here, Northeast Iowa was designated as the Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area, where people can learn about American agriculture. There are over 110 sites to visit. These sites tell a unique story that can be categorized under 7 different themes. Today, we will discover some of the sites that explore the Fertile Lands of Iowa.

The Fertile Land looks at the prehistory and natural history of the region. Did you know, the landscape of Iowa is one of the most altered in the nation? At one time, 85% of the state was covered in prairie, to be more precise, tallgrass prairie. Some prairie grasses could grow to be as tall as a man on a horse. The flowers, an array of colors, but mostly yellow, orange, and purple. Big bluestem, Indian grass, Compass plant, Ground plum, Pasque flower are the names of a few of these unique plants. The appearance of a prairie is always changing, with the blossoming of new flowers throughout the seasons. As the growing season ends, their life continues on in a different way, producing the rich, black topsoil we see today.

These sites that celebrate the Fertile Land also explore the Native Americans living in Northeast Iowa.  Before the European settlers discovered the rich treasure below their feet, the Native Americans knew which could be used to for food, medicine, and other survival needs. Three sites that I recommend visiting to learn more about the Fertile Land of Iowa are: Wickiup Hill Learning Center & Area near Toddville, Fossil & Prairie Park Wickiup Hill .jpgPreserve & Center near Rockford, and Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City.

Wickiup Hill Learning Center
has a beautiful full-size replica of an Ioway summer home, a three-sisters garden, a maple syrup camp and historic artifact replicas. Hike the trails to learn about and observe the variety of habitats found in Iowa.

While at the Fossil & Prairie Park Preserve, not only can you hike among the grasses and forbs of native and restored prairies, but you may also take a piece of ancient sea life. As the Rockford Brick & Tile Company mined for blue shale to make ag drainage tile, Devonian fossils were uncovered. The beehive kilns, where the tiles were baked may also be explored as you learn about a company that helped transform wet, marshy areas into tillable farmland.

nsmrh0806bison12.jpgThe Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is a tallgrass prairie/oak savanna reconstruction project. Visitors are encouraged to take advantage of the many nature trails and take an auto tour through 700 acres of the refuge to observe the bison and elk herds. Inside the visitor center are many interactive exhibits, windows to observe scientists working with rare native seeds, and a theater.

There are many other sites I encourage you to visit that explore the natural wonders of Iowa. Visit www.silosandsmokestacks.org to find a site close to you. Next time, we will explore Farmers and Families.


Laura Elfers is a guest blogger for IALF. She is the Educational Engagement Director for Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area. Silos and Smokestacks is a partner with IALF and has agriculture literacy as a part of their outreach efforts.

Then and Now: What Iowa Agriculture Looked like in 1972

It’s been 40 years this year since Jimmy Carter famously capitalized on Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus, and 44 years since Iowa’s Democratic Party caucus became the first in the nation. So, what did Iowa’s agriculture look like in the 1970s when this political pandemonium was just getting started?1972

As explained in a documentary by Iowa Public Television, the 1970s were a promising time in agriculture. Previously, the nation had struggled with surpluses of grain due to huge advances in agricultural technology, but in 1972 the Soviet Union found a need for America’s excess wheat and grains, and negotiated a contract between the countries.

This kick-started a multitude of things in the agriculture community—one being the famous call for farmers to plant “fencerow to fencerow” by Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, in 1973. With technology, an eager market, and rising grain prices, the 1970s treated rural America very well.

You can see the differences in many of the agricultural commodities Iowa produces through this graphic. Though different statistics are available for different years, it is still possible to compare some of our main commodities, such as corn and soybeans. Do your own research on agricultural statistics on the USDA website.

Check out these facts, figures, and photos from Iowa from 1972, the first year of our first-in-the-nation status and how they compare to today!

1972 Average corn bushels per acre: 116
2015 Average corn bushels per acre: 192

1972 Average soybean bushels per acre: 36
2015 Average soybean bushels per acre: 56.5

1972 Iowa Secretary of Agriculture: Robert H. Lounsberry
2015 Iowa Secretary of Agriculture: Bill Northey

1972 February corn price: 1.04 $/bu
2015 February corn price: 3.8 $/bu

1972 February soybean price: 2.97 $/bu
2015 February soybean price: 9.84 $/bu

1972 February cattle price: 41.3 $/cwt
2015 February cattle price: 157.16 $/live cwt

1972 February hog price: 26.1 $/cwt
2015 February hog price: 67.06 $/cwt

Photos from the 1970s.

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Photos from 2010s and today.

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Photos courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and USDA


My name is Chrissy Dittmer and I am the new education programs intern for IALF. I am currently a student at Iowa State University.

Why Teach Agriculture? Your Top 12 Reasons

Teaching about agriculture in Iowa is an ideal way for students to learn what their state is all about and provide real-life connections to science, math, and social studies concepts. Agriculture is one of the topics that students can easily connect to because they can apply concepts being learned. After all, who doesn’t enjoy talking about food? Nearly everything we eat, wear, use — even the fuel that powers the cars and busses they ride in — comes from plants and animals grown on farms. Agriculture themes provide perfect real-world connections to STEM and make learning relevant to students.

photo 29Students can make connections to the curriculum through agriculture, but additionally it is important for everyone to understand the source and value of agriculture as it affects our quality of life. We rely on the food and fiber system every day. Here are your top 12 reasons to teach (and learn about) agriculture:

  1. Agriculture has transformed in the past 100 years. Agriculture has transformed in the past 10 years.  With advances in technology, agriculture and natural resource management is more than ever a science-based human activity that is developed and applied for the public good.
  2. Since the domestication of plants and animals, humans have been experimenting with genetics, types of soil, climate, production practices, and harvesting to meet the needs of a growing population.
  3. Agriculture provides the food supply needed for survival, growth, and health for both humans and animals.
  4. Major factors in food choices have been cost, culture, convenience, and access and/or availability.
  5. Americans have become more interested in how food is produced, its nutritional value, agriculture’s impact on the environment, and the contribution agriculture makes to the local economy and landscape.
  6. IMG_0102Consumer demand ultimately influences what is produced and how it is processed and marketed. The global movement of agricultural products continues to be driven by economics and consumer demand and preferences.
  7. The U.S. food supply is considered the safest in the world, but safety issues still exist.  Everyone who handles food in any form should know the basic safe food handling practices.
  8. Agricultural development has relied on evolving scientific understanding, engineering processes, and the application of both to develop innovative technologies to save labor and increase yields. The science and technologies applied to agriculture and food rival the science and technologies applied to medicine.
  9. Only 1% of the U.S. population make their living on farms and ranches.  However, more than 21 million workers or about 15% of the U.S. workforce to support farm and ranch production, processing and marketing. The fact that 1% of the population produces for the other 99% is a real achievement!
  10. The U.S. agriculture industry annually produces about $159 billion toward GDP, netting a positive $37.4 billion trade balance.
  11. IMG_0065aThere will be an estimated 54,000 annual employment openings in the agriculture, food and renewable natural resource sector.  There are only about 29,000 students—a 45% gap—graduating in directly related degree programs.
  12. Our quality of life is dependent upon the continued development and appropriate use of science and engineering to provide an abundance of safe, healthy, nutritious food, fibers, and the fuels necessary to sustain the needs of a growing world population.

So, is agriculture important?  We think so!


Do More By Doing Less: Agriculture in the Classroom


One of the biggest complaints that teachers have is that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  These passionate, hard-working professionals care for their students and want to provide them the best education possible.  But, between planning for seven classes a day, monitoring hallways, taking recess or lunchroom duties, tutoring students after school, grading papers, and updating student records there is hardly enough time to slip away to the bathroom during the day.

I loved my first year of teaching.  It was exciting, challenging and exhausting.  Looking back I’m glad I was only a bright-eyed 22 year old and didn’t know any different.  I regularly arrived at school by 7am and would rarely leave school before 9pm.  I really enjoyed working with students.  But each night I fell into bed weary from the day.  My sequential years of teaching were a little bit better, but I never NEVER went home at 3:30pm when the school bell rang.

Teachers are asked to do a lot and I think I’ve found a way to help them out.  Use agriculture as the way of teaching science, social studies, math and language arts!  Teachers around the country are implementing Ag in the Classroom activities into their curriculum as a way of teaching those core concepts.  By applying what they learn, students retain more and learn faster.  Teachers can do more of what they love – teaching – by doing less work utilizing agriculture to teach these core concepts.

1F5692BC-66BF-405D-B1502728800D50E5_articleScience is advancing so quickly that we need to start introducing students at younger and younger ages.  What if you started talking to 12 year olds – 6th grade students – about DNA?  What if they could see DNA for themselves and understand how it is the building block of all living things?  Well they can!  Students can extract DNA from strawberries with this simple activity.  (Full lesson available here or here.)

How about teaching 4th grade elementary students about Iowa history?  Iowa history is agriculture!  With a fun spin off of the Where’s Waldo books students can learn about history and agriculture with these lessons.

2013-04-30 09_54_01Or how about a fun arts and crafts project to teach students about edible parts of plants.  Learning about plant anatomy and healthy eating are just two of the concepts that students will glean from this activity.

Students will never forget these lessons.  They are easy for teachers to implement.  And because they apply concepts they address multiple competencies that are laid out in education standards like Iowa Core, Next Gen Science Standards, and National Ag Literacy Outcomes.

So this school year, do more by doing less.  Bring AGRICULTURE into student classrooms.

– Will