You’re attending the 2021 National Agriculture in the Classroom conference. Now what?

We are so excited that you’re coming to Des Moines for the 2021 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference. We’ve been planning for a long time and can’t wait for you to experience our favorite state!

As a native Iowan myself, I wanted to help you get a feel for the locale. What restaurants will be close by the conference center? What are some major Iowa things to check out? If you’re bringing kids or meeting with family, what kinds of activities can you do together? What about some background on Iowa agriculture to prepare you for the traveling workshops? I’ve got you!

First, Iowa is solidly part of the Midwest. Temperatures during the conference will likely be 70 to 90 degrees F and humid. The conference will be in Des Moines, which is fairly centrally located in the state and at an interesting place geographically.

All of Iowa has been glaciated at one point or another. The north-central third of the state was glaciated very recently and remains the flattest part of the state with some of the best, richest, newest soil in the world. This glacier’s terminal moraine became the hill that our state capital was built on! So from the capital, if you drive north, south, east, or west, you can see different major geographic areas. More on our land formations here.

Because of Iowa’s rich soils, warm sun, and adequate rain, it has become a prime location for commodity row crops like corn and soybeans. Iowa is the top corn growing state and is either first or second for soybean production, sometimes trading with our pals to the east in Illinois. One of the major markets for these crops is feeding livestock, so Iowa also raises lots of pigs, laying hens, and beef cattle. Iowa is the top pork and egg producing state and is in the top ten in total cattle numbers. This lends itself well to a cycle where the livestock manure can then be used to fertilize the cropland that feeds the animals.

Some of these commodities you may see represented on the traveling workshops you have chosen. Other tours may show more specialty agriculture, from goats to grapes and schools to teaching farms. Iowa has a history of producing crops like apples and grapes, and has been growing the wine, beer, and spirits industries in recent years. In parts of the state where land is less flat, there are also more farms with grazing animals, like dairy cattle, goats, and sheep.

But do you want to get some recommendations on places to eat and things to do? Wait no more! Scroll down for the section headings you’re most interested in!

Restaurants

801 Chop House

For a fancy meal, consider 801 Chop House. This restaurant is housed in 801 Grand, an iconic building in the Des Moines skyline. This is just a 9-minute walk from the Hilton Des Moines Downtown, where conference goers are staying!

Fong’s Pizza

For a decidedly not fancy meal, go to Fong’s Pizza and get the crab rangoon pizza. It is amazing and weird and just an absolute experience. A real Des Moines metro oddity. Fong’s is a 10-minute walk from the conference hotel.

Spaghetti Works

You really can’t go wrong with Spaghetti Works. This is a great restaurant for a nice, sit-down meal with good Italian-American food. Just an 11-minute walk from the conference hotel!

Zombie Burger and Shake Lab

Zombie Burger is a local haunt that stays busy – for good reason. You can find some very ridiculous and delicious burgers (the Undead Elvis is my favorite) as well as milkshakes with cereal in them. Yeah.

Hessen Haus

As it might sound, Hessen Haus is a local German restaurant in a neat part of town close to the Iowa Cubs baseball stadium and the Science Center of Iowa. This one is about a 13 minute walk from the conference center.

El Bait Shop

El Bait Shop is a favorite casual dive bar also nearby Principal Park. They advertise the largest craft beer selection west of the Mississippi, and of course have food.

Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewing Company

At the heart of the Court Avenue district is Court Avenue Restaurant and Brewing Company. This restaurant has good food, good drinks, and is in a neat building in a cool neighborhood.

The Machine Shed

If you’re looking to drive, The Machine Shed is a great bet. This locale really leans into the Iowa agriculture motif with agricultural décor and even wait staff in overalls. Very good food and a nice little gift shop to boot!

Things to do nearby

World Food Prize Hall of Laureates

The World Food Prize, founded by native Iowan Norman Borlaug, is housed at the old Des Moines public library in downtown Des Moines. The building has been beautifully kept and includes excellent artwork and interactive educational displays. Check to see if a tour lines up with your schedule!

Des Moines Botanical Garden

Also downtown, we have a great way to learn about and see plants! Who doesn’t love that?

Iowa Hall of Pride

The Iowa Hall of Pride is housed very close to the conference center, and serves as a bit of a museum for how awesome Iowa is. Which is, of course, very true.

Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market

To get a good cross-section for local agriculture, you can check out the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market! The market opens on Court Ave on Saturday morning. So if you’re staying for the post-conference tour on Friday, you can pop by for breakfast before leaving town! It is said to be the second largest farmers market in the country (after Pike Place Market in Seattle, WA).

Any brewery or winery

This may seem broad, but local breweries, wineries, and even distilleries have become a large part in Des Moines Metro culture in recent years. Folks will often meet up at a local craft brewery to share a flight, eat some popcorn, and play trivia or giant Jenga. If you want to feel like a local, this is a great way to do it!

Family activities nearby

Science Center of Iowa

The Science Center of Iowa is within walking distance from the conference center and has lots of great ways to engage youth. This could also be a fun stop to get ideas for your classroom!

Living History Farms

Living History Farms is about a 15 minute drive from the conference center, but really ties the agriculture and education pieces together. On site, there are several model farms from different points in history. There’s also a gift shop, and The Machine Shed restaurant is just next door!

Road trip ideas

Iowa State University

Iowa State University in Ames has a top-rated agriculture college, several teaching farms, and a campus designed by the same person that designed Central Park in New York City. I am very much biased, but there’s a lot of good stuff to see and learn at ISU.

The Shrine at the Grotto of Redemption

The Grotto is a monument built by a Catholic priest over several decades using a variety of rocks and stones. This stop tops my list of interesting roadside attractions in the state – and I think there’s an ice cream shop close by!

A Silos and Smokestacks partner site

The Northeast quadrant of Iowa is a National Heritage Area called Silos and Smokestacks. There are numerous partner sites in this area of the state that help tell the story of Iowa agriculture and industry. They range from Norman Borlaug’s boyhood home to local museums.

The Field of Dreams field

If you’re planning to drive east, stop at Dyersville before you leave! The original ball field in the corn field in the Field of Dreams movie is just out of town. Though the home is a private residence and the movie was not shot inside, you can visit the field, play catch, and snap some pictures.

John Wayne’s Birthplace and Museum

If you’re planning to attend the conference post-tour, you will already be seeing this stop! John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, which is not too far south of Des Moines. The home has been made into a museum, and they have just recently built a new museum to accompany the home! While down in Winterset, you can also find covered bridges from The Bridges of Madison County, wineries, a cidery, and more.

The Amanas

Originally a German communal society, the Amanas are now a tourist destination. There are several colonies, each with charm. In the Amanas, you can find wineries, breweries, bed and breakfasts, a leather shop, a woolen mill, a furniture store, several German restaurants, museums, and more. My top picks here are the Ackerman Winery (try the rhubarb wine), Millstream Brewery (you gotta get the black cherry soda), and the Woolen Mill.

No matter what you choose to do while you’re here, I hope you learn something and enjoy your time here as much as I do.

-Chrissy

On-Farm Storage – Why Do They Do That?

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that Iowa had enough storage for 3.6 billion bushels of grain. 2.1 billion of those bushels were stored in what is called “on-farm storage.” That means farmers are drying and storing the grain they

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Photo by John Lambeth from Pexels

harvest in personal storage bins, not at a co-op. You can read about co-op storage here. You might be wondering what the difference is, or why farmers would want their own storage. Good questions!

Personal grain storage is different than a grain elevator or co-op in several ways. First of all, location. An ideal location for a grain elevator would be in a rural area with a lot of farmland very close so that farmers don’t need to haul freshly-harvested grain many miles to get it dried and stored. An ideal elevator is also located near a railroad or waterway, like the Mississippi River, so the transport of grain from the elevator could happen efficiently, rather than having to haul the grain again.

Location is also very important to farmers when they decide to build on-farm grain storage. In order to use their on-farm storage most efficiently, they need to build in an area that is close to several of the fields they farm, if possible. Smaller grain storage facilities could be used for just one or two fields, but many modern grain storage facilities are being built to hold several fields worth of grain. Building in close proximity to several of their fields allows farmers to save time during harvest. During harvest, a combine usually dumps grain into a grain cart, which then dumps it into a semi to take to a grain storage facility. If the semi is having to haul grain a distance, it can slow down the process if the combine and grain cart are both full before the semi can get back.

Farmers build their own on-farm grain storage for several reasons; this blog post will highlight three of them.

Marketing

This is the big one! Marketing is incredibly important to farmers, as it can allow them to get higher prices for their crops. Instead of hauling the grain into the elevator or co-op right away, farmers can choose to wait to sell their grain if they think they can get a higher price later on. “You can delay sales three to six months into the future and be paid well for your patience ($0.20 – $0.40 per bushel)”- Hertz Blog. This gives farmers the opportunity to make more money each year for their crop, if they market it well. For more information on how farmers market their crops, check this blog out.

Time

On our family farm, our large on-farm grain storage site is three miles or less from the majority of our fields. That is four miles closer than the nearest co-op, and that distance IMG_2056does make a difference in how fast we are able to harvest. There’s never a line at our on-farm storage site of other trucks trying to deliver corn. Our site also does not close down at a certain time. Co-ops are not always staffed to operate the facilities all night, but many farmers need to work late into the night to get all of their crops in, especially during years when harvesting conditions haven’t been ideal. It can sometimes feel like a race to get a crop in before snow comes, especially in Iowa when severe weather often happens very unexpectedly! By using on-farm storage, the race to get a crop in can be lessened.

Drying

When corn is ready to be harvested, it has 15-25% moisture. If the moisture is more than 15%, it must be dried before it can be stored. That is where a corn dryer comes in. This is essential for grain storage if a farmer is harvesting corn that is even a little bit wet, as wet corn can get moldy when stored. Co-ops have grain dryers, but if a farmer is using on-farm storage, it is cheaper for farmers to dry their own corn. There are many different kinds of grain dryers, but an estimate of an initial cost for one would be around $100,000. Prices can definitely go up from there. The initial investment is a significant one, but when used over many years, the return on investment (ROI) proves it to be a worthy investment. The other option that farmers have is drying their corn at a co-op before storing it there. This costs more for farmers, but comes with the convenience of not having to buy a corn dryer. Here is a comparison of on-farm drying vs commercial drying.

On-farm storage allows for the United States to produce more corn than we use here. We are able to use corn that is stored across the country to export to other countries. According to the National Corn Grower’s website, “Exports are responsible for 33 percent of U.S. corn farmers’ income. More than 20 percent of the U.S. corn crop is exported annually when accounting for corn and value-added products like ethanol and distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS).” If we did not have on-farm storage, the corn crop would not be able to be stored and exported throughout the year without significant changes in our co-ops.

Unfortunately, on August 10, 2020, Iowa lost a significant amount of grain storage in the IMG_2057derecho. Straight line winds, some reaching estimated speeds of 140 mph, crumpled many bins. Co-ops and on-farm storage units both suffered in the storm. Corn was also flattened in the storm. The USDA’s Risk Management Agency estimated that 8.2 million acres of corn were impacted by the storm. Some of that corn will not be able to be harvested, so the demand for grain storage may go down some. Many farmers will be turning to alternative methods to get their crops out of the fields and try to make some money, and Iowa grain storage construction companies will be busier than ever before. No matter what, it will be important for farmers to rebuild their on-farm storage grain bins as quickly as possible to be ready for next year’s harvest.

-Ellie

Grazing Cover Crops- Sheepin’ it Real

Seeing livestock eating in a cornfield in the middle of July is enough to cause most farmers at least a slight amount of panic. Animals can do serious damage to a cornfield, and finding them and getting them out of the cornfield and back into their barn or pasture can often involve every neighbor, the sheriff, and random people stopping to block the roads to avoid accidents. Just last week, my family was called to help a neighbor who had some cows out. However, if you find yourself driving the gravel roads near New Providence, Iowa, this summer, you can be assured that the sheep you may see in one Iowa farmer’s cornfield are supposed to be there!

Landon Brown, a fourth-generation farmer, is exploring the world of sustainable agriculture this year. In late April, like many Iowa farmers, he planted hybrid seed corn on his land. However, unlike some other farmers, he planted his corn in 60″ rows, meaning that each row is 60 inches apart. Most farmers in his area planted their corn 30 inches apart. Three weeks later, in mid-May, Brown planted cover crop seed between the cornrows, which was comprised of nine different types of over crops, with the majority being Dwarf Essex Rapeseed. Finally, in mid-June, he went to a sale barn and purchased eight sheep and released them into the corn and cover crop field.

Brown's sheep
Brown’s Katahdin Sheep

Corn is known as a “cash crop,” meaning that farmers grow it to sell and make a profit. It would seem that sheep could do a fair amount of damage to two acres of corn, even in just a few months, resulting in no profit for the farmer. However, these sheep don’t want to eat the corn. They much prefer the luscious cover crop mix of forages that cover the ground between rows of corn. They do munch on the bottom leaves of the corn but leave the majority of the cash crop alone.

Why plant cover crops and go through the trouble of putting up a fence, providing a water source, and buying sheep? The answer is simple: sustainability. It’s been a buzz word for years, and no one can really seem to provide a broad enough, yet specific enough definition. (I took a class this spring that spent weeks trying to nail down a definition). This simple definition came from dictionary.com: “the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed.” Cover crops are one way that farmers are actively working to help make agriculture more sustainable. Cover crops can help reduce soil erosion, they increase the biodiversity of plants, and they provide nutrients for the soil. All of these benefits help protect the land and will preserve it for future farmers. Cereal rye is the most common Iowa cover crop, but you can also find wheat, radishes, turnips, oats, and several other varieties across the state. Find more benefits of cover crops here: 6 Reasons Farmers Use Cover Crops.

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A recent picture of an area of grazed cover crops.

As for Brown’s sheep, they are content to graze the cover crops. He purposefully purchased Katahdin sheep, which differ from most sheep in their coat. Katahdin sheep have coats made of hair, so they don’t need to be sheared, like those with wool. They are known for being hardy, low-maintenance animals. Brown said that he hopes to attend a sale this weekend and get eight more sheep, as the cover crop provides enough forage to sustain a 16-head herd.

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Sheep grazing the cover crop

The sheep will continue to eat the cover crop until it’s time to harvest the corn. Harvest will happen in the fall, and after harvest, they will be released back to the field to graze until the first frost, which will kill off the remaining cover crop plants. The sheep will then go to the sale barn.

However, selling the sheep isn’t the end of Brown’s mission to practice sustainable agriculture. He already practices no-till farming, meaning that he doesn’t do any tillage in his fields, which is done to help prevent soil runoff. Next year, he’s planning on planting some fields with relay cropping. Relay cropping means planting one crop into another before harvest. Brown is planning on planting wheat or cereal rye first and then planting soybeans before harvesting the first crop. Relay cropping adds to sustainability efforts by decreasing nitrogen leaching and increasing carbon sequestration. (Relay Cropping). He also hopes to add more sheep and graze more acres of cover crops next year, providing that this year goes well. According to Brown’s Twitter account, he is #AlwaysLearning, and he said that his inspiration for this idea came from a book that his father was reading about farming in the past, and from hearing from Loran Steinlage, another no-till practicing Iowa farmer. (@FLOLOfarms on Twitter).

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Brown’s cover crop

Iowa farmers are continually learning and evolving their current farming practices to care for the environment and grow more.

-Ellie

The Big Picture of Iowa’s Pork Production Cycle

Iowans are known for a lot of things. Kindness, die-hard loyalty to sports teams (go Cyclones!), and using the word “ope” instead of “excuse me”. However, there’s one more thing that Iowa is really, really good at: raising pigs. Iowa is the number one producer of pigs in the United States and in today’s post we are going to dive into the reasons Iowa can produce so many. The reason is all in one word- sustainability. Sustainability is defined as “the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed.” Iowa’s pork production is very sustainable, as we have the ability to uphold high levels of production, and have for a while now. The reason behind this is that pork production in Iowa is a circular cycle. Let’s take a closer look.

First of all, not only do we grow the pigs in Iowa, we also grow their food right here in Iowa. Pigs require a diet with two major components, corn for energy and soybeans for protein. Iowa ranks number one in corn production, and either number one or two for soybean production (that title alternates with our neighbors directly to the east).

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Iowa is the #1 producer of pork in the U.S.

According to the USDA, in 2018, Iowa farmers harvested over 13 million acres of corn and nearly 9.9 million acres of soybeans. Pigs eating the crops we grow creates a cycle, which is part of the overall sustainability circle. Pigs provide a market for the crops, and crops are grown to provide food for the pigs.

Why do we grow the crops here? I’m glad you asked! Iowa is the perfect place for crop production of corn and soybeans due to our rich black soil, our climate, and the manure that we get from our livestock, which includes – you guessed it- pigs! Iowa’s topsoil is some of the best in the country- in fact, it is known as “Iowa’s black gold”! Our climate provides the temperatures and moisture that crops need during the growing season.

Now let’s get down to the matter of manure. This topic is an incredibly vital part of our sustainability cycle of pork production in Iowa. According to the Iowa Pork Producers Association, around 25% of Iowa’s cropland is fertilized by livestock manure. If you’ve ever driven by a farm and it smells particularly potent (manure-y), or seen a large tank with disks being pulled behind a tractor across a field, you’ve witnessed the pork production sustainability cycle in person.

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Manure Spreader

 Manure can provide many benefits to cropland, including important nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium – the trio is often referred to as NPK – and it is very valuable to crop production. Manure can provide these elements for Iowa’s cropland, and the process through which it gets from barn to field is part of what makes Iowa’s pork production so special. The manure is pumped out of the pit underneath the barns into the big tanks. Then the farmer can take the manure and spread it in nearby land. The proximity of cropland and barns creates an easy access to spread good fertilizer on farmers’ fields. Farmers don’t like to haul manure long distances, and so being able to have the manure as close as possible to their land is important. This is a large consideration when farmers consider putting up new hog barns, and when they consider buying new farmland. 

Manure creates the ability to produce crops for a lower price, because farmers don’t need to purchase as much fertilizer. In turn, this preparesGray Bubble Cycle Diagram Chart the ground to grow corn and soybeans which will be fed to our pigs.  

Iowa is known for our pork production, and there’s a reason. The sustainability process of producing pork is incredible and allows us to produce the most in the country. Pork production benefits our economy, it allows us to provide more food, and it gives manure a great purpose!

Ellie 

 

Hello everyone! My name is Ellie Cook and I am the new Education Programs intern with Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. I am from a family farm in Hubbard, Iowa, where we raise corn, soybeans, pigs, and cattle. I’m currently attending Iowa State University, where I major in Agriculture Communications. I’m very excited to be with IALF!

 

8 Surprising Facts about the Economics of Iowa Agriculture  

Agriculture is big in Iowa. Corn and soybean fields cover the state, farmsteads, livestock barns and grain elevators dot the countryside, and many global agriculture businesses have offices and manufacturing facilities here.  It is pretty obvious that agriculture has a big impact on the state’s economy, but here’s a few things you might not about the economic impact of Iowa agriculture.

  1. Iowa ranks 2nd in the dollars generated (cash receipts) from the sale of agricultural products, but is only 22nd in size. California ranks 1st, but is the 3rd largest state and almost three times the size of Iowa. California also produces many high-value crops such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and horticultural products.
  2. 1 in 5 jobs in Iowa is in the field of Agriculture, but only 4.5% of Iowans are farmers. Off-the-farm jobs are vital to the agriculture industry and include careers in research, sales, marketing, economics, manufacturing, and processing.
  3. Iowa’s agriculture industry contributes $2 billion in household income to the economy. This is approximately 17% of household income in the state.
  4. Iowa is the 2nd largest exporter of agricultural products, shipping $6 billion in agricultural products in 2018. Iowa is ranked as the largest exporter of corn, feeds & fodder, and processed grains.
  5. The manufacturing of agricultural equipment and agricultural products creates jobs and additional exports. Most of Iowa’s top manufactured or value-added exports are tied to agriculture.
  6. Iowa has nine times the concentration of agricultural and construction equipment manufacturing compared to the rest of the nation.
  7. More than 23% of Iowa’s manufacturing gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the food processing industry.
  8. Iowa is home to 36 of the 100 largest food manufacturers and processors, creating a critical mass of food companies and industry knowledge. New food varieties, processes and technologies are constantly being developed in here.  Iowa is known as a place where food processors, ingredient innovators and research institutions come together to collaborate.

-Cindy

Five Ways to Celebrate Agriculture During Iowa History Month

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New this year, March will be recognized as Iowa History Month. This works great with new Iowa Core Social Studies standards, as each grade has Iowa history standards to meet. Since agriculture plays a huge role in Iowa history, here are a few ways to incorporate agriculture in your Iowa History Month celebrations.

Read a book

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The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation has a host of historical, biographical, and Iowa-focused books, all great for learning more about Iowa’s agricultural history. Any resource available in IALF’s Lending Library is free to request and use for a standard two week period, after which time we ask you to return the item. These books all help tell the story of agriculture and agriculture in Iowa.

If you’re looking for a read-aloud book for elementary-aged kids, consider In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby, The Kid Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews, or Sweet Corn and Sushi by Lori Erickson. These books talk about famous Iowans like George Washington Carver, Henry A. Wallace, and Norman Borlaug, as well as the Iowa Hog Lift, which brought livestock to disaster victims in Japan in 1960.

For books for older students and adults, consider titles like The Man Who Fed the World by Leon Hesser, Industrializing the Corn Belt by J.L. Anderson, How Iowa Conquered the World by Michael Rank, Iowa History Reader by Marvin Bergman, or Iowans Who Made a Difference by Don Muhm and Virginia Wadsley.

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Research a famous Iowan

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Iowa is home to so many famous and influential people. Many of these people have roots in agriculture and environmental science!

Our most famous Iowa agriculturalists are George Washington Carver, Henry A. Wallace, and Norman Borlaug, but have you heard of Jessie Field Shambaugh, Ada Hayden, Jesse Hiatt, Warren and B.O. Gammon, Aldo Leopold, John Froelich, or Mary Garst? These amazing Iowans have all left a legacy of learning and scientific advancement in agriculture.

For a more extensive list of famous Iowans (including John Wayne, Elijah Wood, Jason Momoa, and Ashton Kutcher) click here.

Visit a historic site

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Because of Iowa’s rich history in agriculture, there are many places you can visit to help you learn more about our state’s advancements. Many communities have local museums with agricultural exhibits. There are also statewide treasures you can take a trip to go visit!

In the Metro area, you can visit Living History Farms, Wallace Centers of Iowa, The World Food Prize, or the State Historical Museum. In the Northeast quarter of the state, you can visit any Silos and Smokestacks partner site, including the Froelich General Store and Tractor Museum, Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum, or the Norman Borlaug Boyhood Home and Birthplace Farms!

If you can’t physically visit a historical location or a farm, consider holding a FarmChat® program in your classroom with a modern farm to talk with the farmer about how their operation has changed over time.

Surf the Web

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If you want to do some reading and learning on your own, there are lots of good resources online. Some include Iowa Pathways with IPTV, the State Historical Museum online catalog, State Historical Society of Iowa’s Primary Source Sets, National Agriculture in the Classroom’s Growing a Nation, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area’s CampSilos, or Living History Farms’ Learning Fields.

You can also research specific points in Iowa’s agricultural history, like the founding of the Polled Hereford breed of cattle, The Farm Crisis, the floods of 1993 and 2011, the drought of 1977, the invention of the gas-powered tractor, the Homestead Act, or the establishment of Iowa’s land grant university or Extension system. What other major events impacted Iowa and Iowa’s agriculture?

Ask IALF

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IALF has a wealth of resources, ideas, and connections. Let us help you pick a lesson plan, book, educator guide, or even an applicable blog post to supplement your Iowa history lessons.

Using just a few resources, you can celebrate Iowa History Month in true fashion! Be creative and share your Iowa History Month celebrations using the hashtag #IowaHistory.

-Chrissy

How Do They Work? Seed Vaults

When I was working at a seed company several years ago, the company agreed to support the new Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located in Norway. Maybe it was because I had never heard about seed vaults before or because it was in Norway where my ancestors used to farm but I was immediately fascinated with it. It could have also been that it was one more Norwegian item to lord over my husband (he has Swedish ancestors — don’t get him started about the lack of Swedish representation at DisneyWorld, even pre-Elsa).

If you’re like me, you might be curious how seed vaults work but first why do we need seed vaults?

Seed Vaults Help Protect the Crops – Today and into Tomorrow
The world population is projected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations by that point, agriculture will need to produce almost 50 percent more food, feed and biofuel than it did in 2012 to meet demand. Today, more than 108 million people in the world suffer from severe food insecurity (hunger). If we have that much hunger today, what will happen when climate change and other disasters continue to affect food supplies?

If you eat food, seeds are important to you. Seed vaults are one way the agriculture community can protect crop diversity for future use. It’s easiest to compare them to a bank deposit box. Like you would with other valuables in your bank deposit box, seeds are deposited into a secure storage vault by seed companies, governments and other organizations. These organizations can withdraw them at a future date when they’re needed. The variety of a food that goes extinct today may contain the genetic link to secure that crop in the future. According to The Crop Trust, since the 1900s more than 90 percent of fruit and vegetable varieties have been lost. Today’s U.S. apple farmers know all too well the downsides of not protecting their varieties. In the 1800s, U.S. apple farmers were growing 7,100 named varieties of apples. Today, 6,800 of those are extinct.

Why is it such a bad thing to lose varieties? Did you know today more than 60 percent of the world’s calories come from only three crops: wheat, rice and maize (corn)?

 

What happens if we lose one of those crops to extinction? What happens to our food supply? Food insecurity around the world would likely increase significantly. We need to protect all our food sources, not just the best ones. If we only try to protect the best ones, we may lose the varieties that save us from devastation from bugs, diseases or climate change further down the road. Loss of biodiversity is considered one of today’s most serious environmental concerns by the Food and Agriculture Organization. If current trends continue, as many as half of all plant species could face extinction. Preserving crop diversity remains the best way to help agriculture adapt to the demands we face. How can we preserve the technology? Every growing season, farmers maintain our current varieties in their fields, while scientists use seed banks to help protect them for future needs.

Among the more than 1,700 seed vaults across the globe, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the most well-known. Its mission is to operate as a backup for all the other seed banks.

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Cary Fowler, U.S. agriculturist and former executive director of The Crop Trust is credited with the vision for the seed vault. Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Trust is located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago about 800 miles from the North Pole.

The actual vault is at the site of an old coal mine and is located nearly 400 feet inside the mountain.

svalbard-seed-vault-diagram1 from crop trust

Due to its remote location, lack of tectonic activity and availability of permafrost, the Svalbard site was considered an ideal spot. The site is also far enough above sea level that even if all the world’s ice caps melt the bank will remain secure.

The Svalbard Seed Vault is essentially a backup for world agriculture. It maintains protection for other seed vaults in case of equipment or financial failures or even destruction due to war. The seed vaults in Iraq and Afghanistan were lost due to war. Those crops are gone and will never be seen again.

The Svalbard Seed Vault is a unique partnership between Norway and other organizations around the world. The Norwegian government agreed to construct the vault and maintain it. Norway owns the vault but the storage of seeds is free to users thanks to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Norwegian government and other financial supporters. Seed companies and organizations deposit seeds into the vault and maintain ownership of the seeds. When seeds are deposited, the seed vault operators don’t even open the seed packages. Only the depositor can open the packages.

Interesting Facts about the Svalbard Seed Vault (Source: Crop Trust)

  • The vault cost $9 million U.S. dollars to construct.
  • 13,000 years of agriculture history are contained in the vault.
  • The vault opens twice a year for deposits.
  • There are currently more than 960,000 different varieties housed within the vault and storage room for 4.5 million samples.
  • Each seed sample has 500 seeds in the package.
  • Seeds are stored at -18ºC.
  • No genetically modified organisms (GMO) seeds can be contained in the Svalbard Seed Vault. The vault is owned and operated by the Norwegian government, which does not allow GMO seeds in the country.
  • There are no drug-related crops stored in the vault. The vault also does not contain crops such as bananas as they have no viable seeds.
  • Only the seed depositor can open their seed packages.
  • Syrians were the first to withdraw from the seed vault due to military action that damaged its seed repository. Seeds harvested from the withdrawn deposit were grown then sent back to Svalbard to replenish the supply withdrawn.

Seed Vaults in Iowa
Many of Iowa’s seed companies maintain their own storage of the seeds they’ve developed over time. But, Iowa is also known for the Seed Savers Exchange organization located in Decorah, Iowa. Diane Ott Whealy co-founded Seed Savers Exchange as a way to honor her Bavarian great-grandparents and ensure the varieties they brought with them when they immigrated to America were available to her children in the future.

The non-profit organization began in 1975 by people saving seeds from their gardens and sharing them locally with each other. The efforts further expanded across the country and the world as the organization grew. One of the reasons it’s been so successful is that families who have raised crops over generations want to know their heritage would be cared for as well as their seeds.

Today, the Seed Savers Exchange organization is the nation’s largest nongovernmental seed bank of its kind. It protects more than 20,000 different varieties of heirloom and open-pollinated plants. The seeds are available to members through its catalog and website to grow and regenerate each year. The organization also grows the varieties on its Heritage Farm each year to ensure they’re healthy for future generations.

While I’m no gardener or scientist creating new varieties, I appreciate the efforts of these individuals and organizations to protect our crop diversity for future generations. If we don’t have crop diversity, nothing else matters.

~Melissa

Additional Resources
Seed Banks Around the World
FAQ About the Svalbard Global Seed Trust Vault
Rare Look Inside the Doomsday Seed Vault video
Inside the Vault video
A Trip to the Svalbard Seed Vault with Cary Fowler
TEDTalk: One Seed at a Time, Protecting the Future of Food
The Crop Trust – Securing Our Food, Forever

How to Keep Farm Animals Cool in the Summer

I didn’t grow up on a typical farm but we lived at the edge of town where we raised registered American Paint Horses. From the tender age of four, my summers were spent working around horses – feeding, riding, cleaning stalls and showing. Those were some hot summers spent outside! While I could go inside and cool off in the house or show trailer, our horses didn’t have that luxury. My dad taught us to work the horses in the early morning or late afternoon and make sure they had access to water. If we saw them start to sweat too much and get overheated while practicing, we’d need to stop and let them cool down.

Thinking back on those days and the work that went into us caring for our small number of horses, I never really appreciated how hard farmers work to care for their livestock. Farmers care deeply for their animals and want to keep them comfortable. Whether they’re raising cattle, pigs or chickens, there are a lot of actions farmers take to keep their animals cool in the hot summer months.

Raising Animals for Local Environments
One of the first ways farmers can keep livestock comfortable is to raise animals that are well suited for local environment conditions. Iowa weather typically changes gradually. Some animals, such as cattle, have the ability to change their coats for the type of weather – shedding leading up to the hot summer months and adding thicker coats as winter approaches. The Angus and Hereford breeds are the most common type of cattle breed in the Midwest due to several factors, including their ability to adapt well to extreme hot and cold conditions.

Indoors or Outside – Housing Matters
Where animals are located also determines their care plan. As you’re driving along the Iowa countryside you’ll likely see cattle in lots of different locations – in an open feed lot with shelter nearby or grazing in the pasture. No matter the location, farmers make sure cattle have access to water through ponds, creeks or watering systems. When no water is around, farmers bring misting tractors to the animals to cool off. If you see a farmer driving a misting tractor out to the field, you’ll likely see the cattle not far behind coming to greet them. When it’s 90+ degrees with high Iowa humidity, we all want to take a dip in cool water and farm animals are no different.Cattle_Stream_Crossing

For animals such as chickens and turkeys, they are likely housed in indoor facilities or have free range access to outside. For indoor housing, it’s important for producers to manage the environment. Chickens pant when they get hot as they don’t have sweat glands. If they’re too hot they won’t want to eat, which will impact their growth rate. Ventilation, lighting, temperature and litter condition all impact the housing environment inside, and the health of the poultry. With hot summers, producers regularly check the thermometer inside the facilities to gauge the temperature and closely follow weather forecasts to make adjustments.IMG_0016

Pigs are an animal that don’t sweat either. While they do have a few sweat glands, it’s not significant enough to keep them cool. Pigs can easily overheat if not kept cool. While most pigs are raised in modern confinement facilities with climate control, they can still overheat during extreme heat. Pork producers with large indoor facilities use fans, air inlets, sprinklers/misting systems and other tools to help manage the heat stress on their animals. For pigs primarily raised outside, farmers keep them cool by offering shade and access to water – both for drinking and laying in it. Pigs love mud and it has practical purposes for them. Mud can help cool pigs down and protect against sunburn.

happy-pig

Daily Check-Ins
Each day – even weekends and on holidays – farmers are focused on making sure animals are comfortable and healthy. Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean a farmer can rest. They’re constantly checking on their animals to make sure they’re staying healthy, well fed and have access to water and shelter.

Keeping an Eye on Nutrition
You might be surprised to learn farmers also work with a nutritionist to ensure their animals are getting the right nutrients at the right time for optimum health. This is one way to keep the animals healthy, which will help them in extreme weather conditions. Some animals will decrease their feed intake during periods of high temperatures. Farmers counteract this by feeding them high quality, dense food.

Other Factors
Many factors need to be considered when managing animals during extreme weather conditions. In addition to raising the right breed for the environment, providing shelter and access to water, and watching diets, producers also consider actions such as transportation and handling procedures as well as timing animal reproduction activities.

Extreme heat causes significant stress for all animals. Farmers want to do what’s right for their animals while also ensuring a quality product for their customers.

~Melissa

Hello! My name is Melissa. I’m the new part-time administrative assistant for the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. While I didn’t grow up on a traditional farm we did raise and show registered American Paint Horses as well as registered purebred elk. Growing up, I was also actively involved in our local 4-H group.

I studied public relations and marketing in college and went on to work for several different companies in marketing communications roles. I always enjoyed opportunities to work in the ag industry the most so I’m glad to be back.

 

 

Montana Cattle in Iowa?

I’m originally from Montana, but I’ve been living in the Midwest now for more than a decade. I love finding connections between my birthplace and my adopted home. We recently did a FarmChat program with students from Gilmore-City Bradgate Elementary. Through this program students get to take a virtual tour of a farm. They interact live with a farmer and get to ask questions, see a live feed of the animals, and get to have all of the interactions of a field trip (maybe minus the smells).

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On this virtual tour, the farmer was describing his black Angus cattle and his operation. He feeds the animals up until they are market weight before selling the animals for butcher. He has very few cows and calves on his operation. Most of the cattle he raises are steers or market heifers that were born somewhere else. In fact, most of his cattle come from my home state – Montana!

Montana is known for raising a lot of cattle. The wide open grasslands are ideal for grazing animals. Montana has 2.5 cows for every person! Grass-fed beef extols a lot of positive benefits, but for taste reasons there are few things better than corn-finished beef. And Iowa is ideal for producing corn-finished or grain-finished beef. We’ve talked about the differences between grass-fed and grain-finished before. And we’ve discussed the effect that diet choice can have on the quality of the meat. But we haven’t talked about why cattle from Montana (or Wyoming, or elsewhere, even as far away as Florida) might come to Iowa.

The answer is simple economics. It costs less to ship cattle from one place to another than it costs to ship feed from one place to another.

Consider that a cow will consume between 1.8% and 2.3% of its body weight in feed everyday. For an average 1,200 pound cow that would equate to 21 and 32 pounds of feed per day. That feed could be a mix of grass hay, alfalfa, corn silage, corn, soybeans, wheat straw, or a variety of other ingredients. Corn and soybeans mixed in rations have been shown to provide quick weight gain and ultimately lead to marbling of the meat which gives steaks added flavor. To grow an animal from 500 lbs. to finish weight, they might be on feed for 170 – 200 days.

Let’s assume that we wean calves at 500 lbs. Weaned animals are separated from their mothers to convert to a diet that doesn’t include milk. The process of raising weaned animals to a weight that is full-grown and ready for market is called finishing. To finish the animals they need to be raised from 500 lbs. to 1,200 lbs. Their diet is going to change as they grow with more and more corn being added to the ration as they get closer to the 1,200 pound mark. Over that time period (170-200 days after weaning) we will use approximately 50 bushels of corn. There are 56 pounds per bushel, so roughly 2,800 pounds of corn per animal. So farmers are faced with a choice: Ship a 500 pound animal or ship 2,800 pounds of corn. It becomes easy to see that it would be cheaper and more cost efficient to ship a 500 pound animal to the feed rather than shipping 2,800 pounds of feed to the animal.

Iowa is the number one producer of corn in the United States. Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, and a handful of other Midwestern states are known for raising and finishing cattle because of this access to feed that the cattle love so much – corn. So cattle born all over the United States come to Iowa feedlots to be finished on corn. This finishing gives the meat its distinctive taste and quality.

cow eating grass 2.JPGSo this May, help celebrate Beef Month with a nod to the process that makes use of the most efficient process of producing beef – breeding them in places like Montana and then finishing them in Iowa. Sure, Iowa has plenty of cow-calf operations and you can see calves all over the state this time of year. But just as many farm operations focus and specialize on the finishing process so that they can produce high quality beef.

-Will

Ag 101: Eggs

Aurora moving along the horizon

While stocking up on eggs recently, I noticed the wide variety of choices in the egg section. There were white eggs, brown eggs, and sizes ranging from medium to jumbo. I also found cartons labeled free-range, cage-free and organic. Looking at all of the options sparked many questions. Does shell color affect the taste or nutrition? How will egg size affect my recipe? Is free-range and cage-free the same? I had more questions the longer I thought about it.

After a few conversations with farmers and a little online research, I found my answers.

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What’s the difference between White and Brown Eggs?

Egg shell color is determined by the breed of the chicken. White-feathered chickens with white ear lobes lay white eggs. Red or brown-feathered chickens with red ear lobes lay usually lay brown eggs.

Does shell color matter? Not really. Nutritionally there is no difference.

Where are most eggs produced?

I’m proud to say that Iowa is the top egg producing state! According to the Iowa Egg Council, one in five eggs consumed United States is from an Iowa farm. Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas around out the top five egg-producing states. These five states represent over half of all U.S. layers.

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Why are so many eggs produced in Iowa?

Corn and soybeans are key components of a hen’s diet. In fact, Iowa’s laying hens eat about 58 million bushels of corn and 30 million bushels of soybeans annually. Raising hens near their feed source reduces the overall production costs. Chicken litter, or manure, from Iowa’s egg farms also provides a valuable soil amendment and nutrient source that is used to grow the next crop of corn and soybeans.

Are most eggs gathered by hand?

Farmers who raise a small number of hens to sell eggs locally likely gather their eggs by hand. But most of today’s farms utilize automated gathering belts to do the job! Check out this cool video to see how it works!

How old are eggs in the grocery store?

Most eggs raised commercially, are shipped off the farm within 24 to 36 hours of being laid. Most go to a distributor, but still arrive at your local store within a week after being laid.

Apple Blossom In Spring!

What’s the difference between free range, cage free, and organic eggs?

Here’s the simple explanation:

Free-range eggs are produced by hens have access to outdoors. The hens consume grains, but may also eat wild plants and insects.

Cage-Free eggs are produced by hens raised inside, but may roam in a room or open area within the barn or poultry house.

Organic Eggs come from uncaged hens that have access to the outdoors. The hens are fed an organic diet of feed produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.

Visit the American Egg Board’s overview of common production systems if you’d like to know more.

What determines egg size?

All hens lay small eggs at first. The size of their eggs increases as they mature. In most modern breeds, hens are laying large to jumbo eggs by the time they are 40 weeks. Old.

A hen’s breed, body weight, and feed intake also affect egg size.

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What size eggs should I buy?

If you are buying eggs to scramble, fry, or poach, it really doesn’t matter. After some experimentation, you might find that you have a preference based on your appetite. For me, two large eggs make the perfect breakfast. If I am buying eggs to make deviled eggs, I prefer x-large or jumbo ones.

Buying eggs to use in recipes is a different story. Most recipes are developed using large eggs. Using a different size, especially when baking, will affect the texture, flavor balance, and consistency. I have a friend who only buys x-large eggs. She is an avid baker and doesn’t notice a difference if the recipe only calls for a few eggs. However, if she is doubling a recipe she will often use one less egg than called for. For example, if the recipe calls for six eggs, she’ll only use five. This egg size conversion chart is a handy recourse if your family prefers an egg size other than large.

– Cindy