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

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

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun Pizza Facts

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

Sources: California Pizza Kitchen survey, National Pizza Day

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

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

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

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


Additional Resources

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

American Agriculture

From sea to shining see, agriculture is the backbone of this country. Blueberries from Maine, cotton from Texas, and soybeans from Illinois, all provide value to feed, clothe, and fuel our country.

Iowa is the top producing state of corn, soybeans, pigs ,and eggs. Iowa also produces a lot of beef and other commodities. Agricultural products sold in Iowa bring in about $29 billion annually. Only California sells more agricultural goods than Iowa.

One in five Iowans works in agriculture. Agriculture is not only farming. People who work in agriculture might research new plant varieties, engineer tractors, or work in food processing. There are more than 300 careers and about 60,000 U.S. job openings each year in agriculture.

The rich, fertile soils of Iowa drew settlers to the state in the mid-1800s. These early grain farmers needed markets to sell their crops. Brothers John and Robert Stuart founded the Quaker Oats company in Cedar Rapids to buy local cereal grains and turn them into a variety of products for people on the east coast. Railroads were also built to send cattle from the grasslands to the slaughterhouses of Chicago. With these businesses, railroads, and jobs came more people.

Iowa agriculture has made an impact globally as well. A typhoon that hit Japan in 1959 killed a lot of livestock there. Iowa flew 35 pigs to Japan to help repopulate their herds. Many of the pigs in Japan today have lineage that can be traced back to Iowa. These good relationships means that Iowa has trading partners to buy the products that we grow. High demand for these products ensures good prices for farmers.

This history of being a leader in agricultural production carries a weight of stewardship. Farmers need and want to have high quality soil to grow their crops. Farmers practice techniques like cover crops and no-till farming to ensure soil health. Manure from livestock is returned to the fields where it can add nutrients and build organic matter.

The 30.5 million acres in Iowa used for growing crops and raising livestock are truly our most valuable resource and help Iowa be a leader in American agriculture.


Pigs. The Inventors of Bacon

Pop quiz! What is the gestation period of a pig?

That’s right! 114 days. It is easy to remember if you think 3-3-3, that is 3 months, three weeks, and three days.

Question number 2. What is the average number of piglets a sow can have?

Yes! 7.5 is right. Pigs regularly have up to 14 piglets per litter, but the average across all breeds is around 7.5.

We don’t often think about pigs. But every Saturday morning when we pull out that packet of bacon for brunch we can say thanks to pigs for providing us such a tasty treat. We raise pigs in Iowa because it is close to the feed they eat. The main staples of a pig’s diet are corn and soybeans and those are the two top commodity crops grown in Iowa. It isn’t coincidence then that Iowa is the number one pork producing state. But Iowa as a powerhouse in swine production didn’t happen overnight. Pigs as a species of livestock have a history that stretches back over 40 million years!

Pigs were first domesticated around 7,000 years ago in western Asia. They scavenged human garbage for food and this close proximity and regular interaction led to their domestication. Pigs traveled with humans as humans began moving around the globe. By 1500 BCE they were widely used for meat in Europe. They even sailed across the Atlantic with Christopher Columbus when he journeyed to the New World. Pigs are omnivores, which means they will eat most anything (meat based or plant based). The common image is ‘slopping’ the pigs or feeding them table scraps and waste products from human food. While that might have been a cheap way to feed pigs in days of old, that is largely an antiquated idea. Pigs today have carefully controlled diets that allow them to grow quickly and stay healthy. Farmers plan their diets with the help of veterinarians and nutritionists. The pig’s diet will even change as they get older to meet their nutritional requirements.

Pigs were first introduced to America in the 1500s. As corn became the most common feed, more and more pigs were raised in the Midwest. Corn was relatively easy to grow and provides quick energy to the pigs. It also provides most of the essential nutrients needed for the pigs to grow. By the 1850s nearly 70,000 pigs per day were shipped through Ohio to the East Coast. Pigs were produced in the ‘corn belt’ states and then shipped to the population centers along the coasts. The invention of the refrigerated railroad car in 1887 made this even easier as pork (instead of live pigs) could be shipped and the meat refrigerated to keep it fresh over long distances.

By the 1990s farmers had made significant improvements in swine production. Through selective breeding techniques, pigs now have larger litters, less disease, and more muscle growth. Larger litters allow farmers to raise more pigs and meet consumer demand. U.S. pork is exported to more than 100 different countries around the world. The swine industry also changed to meet consumer demand. In the 1950s it was not uncommon to see fat pigs. Consumers at the time liked to see pork chops with a thick rind of fat around them. Today’s health-conscious consumer wants less fat in their diet. Pigs now are raised to be lean and muscular, and not fat.

Today’s modern pigs have come a long way from their ancestor – the wild boar. There are numerous specialized breeds that offer better features depending on what the farmer wants (lean meat, good mothering, long body length, etc.). Breeds like Chester White, Duroc, and Berkshire are just a couple of examples. Why different breeds and different colors? It is based on selective breeding. Imagine a bowl of M&Ms where there were 20 brown M&Ms and one yellow M&M. You are asked to pick just one. Which one do you choose? Most people would pick the different colored one – the yellow one. That is how selective breeding works. When a pig exhibits a different trait (like color) the farmer takes notice of the difference. If it is a positive trait, the farmer will then often use that animal as a breeding animal. That trait that the farmer wants then gets passed on to the progeny.

As we look at the future of the pork industry we can see it growing and being an important part of our food system. There is a lot of science and research that is working to benefit the industry. Scientists are studying things like the gut biome to help pigs more efficiently digest their food. Research is being conducted on swine diseases to help keep pigs healthy and prevent disease. Research is being done on how pork can be a healthy and protein rich part of the human diet. It is exciting to think about the future of pork production.

But for now, I get to enjoy my bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Thank you, farmers!


Supply & Demand of Agriculture in the Time of COVID-19

Life in many ways has been upended. The pandemic has created unique challenges for people around the world. The first and most pressing challenge is trying to treat and cure people who have contracted the virus. The second challenge is trying to prevent others from catching the virus through social distancing.

Through the closure of businesses, we have seen this pandemic have ripple effects through our entire infrastructure, economic system, and beyond. There are a couple of key things that we can point to as evidence of the effect on our agricultural system. But before I go on, I want to preface this by saying each of these scenarios are complex and affected by many different factors. I’m trying to key in on how the pandemic has affected farmers, but there are many things to consider.

When we consider agricultural products, we see things on a timeline that closely relates to the life cycle of each animal or plant.

Day 1

EggFarm-101.jpgChickens produce one egg roughly once every 24 hours. In the first days of social distancing, we saw grocery stores run out of eggs as people began stocking up on essential food items. People bought enough to last longer than normal as they wanted to make fewer trips to the grocery store. Store shelves sat bare of eggs. But this didn’t last long. The number of chickens producing eggs wasn’t effected. As they produce one egg a day and the stores get regular shipments and deliveries of eggs, the store shelves were quickly refilled with eggs. Iowa’s egg farmers lead the nation in egg production, caring for nearly 55 million laying hens producing nearly 16 billion eggs per year. That’s almost one out of every six eggs produced in the United States.

Week 1

IMG_0701.JPGYou have likely seen early stories of farmers having to dump milk on the ground. Dairy cows produce an average of 70 lbs. of milk per day (8 gallons). That milk is immediately chilled but it can’t be stored for long. Usually within 24 hours it is picked up from the farm and taken to a processing plant where it is pasteurized and then either bottled or turned into any number of delicious dairy products like cheese. Each processing plant usually specializes in a few products – like individual serving sizes for schools. As another example, while there may only be 8-10 general types of cheese, of those, some people estimate that there might be 5,000 to 20,000 varieties of those cheeses. Not every processing plant would make all varieties. And the same would be true for yogurt, milk, and other dairy products. Then each one of those processing plants will have a limited number of customers that it might sell its cheese to. For example, if a national pizza chain closes because of state or federal orders it stops buying cheese. The processing plant that produces the cheese doesn’t have a customer to sell to and so stops buying milk.

But the one thing that can’t be stopped is the cow producing milk. Every day the cow will produce milk. And the cows can’t stop and start again. So even if the farmers can’t sell the milk they have to continue collecting it. So without anything to do with it, they dump it on the ground. The broken supply chain can be fixed. But it’ll take time for the processing plant to find a new end market (potentially needing to change the product that they produce). But the farmer will largely have to wait until that is fixed because it is uneconomical to send milk to a processing plant farther away.

Month 3

Chicken can grow from an egg to a market weight bird (5-10 pounds) in approximately 12 weeks. Because there is a high demand for chicken across the U.S. the end market hasn’t been as affected as with milk and eggs. Chicken is easy to cook at home and it can easily be stored frozen at home. Because chicken can be stored frozen, there isn’t an immediate need to find an end market. Because chickens can be raised in a relatively short period of time, the supply and number of chickens raised can be increased or decreased relatively quickly as demand fluctuates up and down. Chicken is also a ‘protein substitute’ which means that it is often looked at as a cheaper option than pork and beef. If pork and beef prices are low, consumers will buy more of those and less chicken. But if pork and beef are high, consumers will quickly switch to chicken in favor of the less expensive option.

Month 6

PorkFarm-100a.jpgPigs can grow from a piglet to a market weight hog within approximately six months. Profit margins in agriculture are very slim. A farmer will feed and raise livestock as long as they are still growing. But farmers don’t want to feed the animals (which is an added cost) if the animals aren’t growing and don’t have the potential to be sold for a higher profit. Most pigs will be sold at a market weight of 270 to 300 pounds. Many processing plants won’t take pigs that are bigger than that because a lot of their machines have been standardized for animals that fall within that weight range. So if farmers aren’t able to take pigs to market, they lose money continuing to feed them and potentially won’t have a market to sell to if they get too big.

As COVID-19 ripples through our state and communities it can potentially impact anyone and everyone. When employees at a processing plant get infected, it is important to shut down to minimize the chance of spreading the disease to other employees. The plant should be thoroughly sanitized and until everyone has been tested, even the healthy employees shouldn’t return to work. But where do the pigs that are ready for slaughter then go? While there are other pork processing plants, farmers might lose money shipping them farther. Or they might lose money continuing feeding the animals and waiting for the plant reopen. But the worst-case scenario would be to euthanize animals and not be able to use them at all. Farmers can start reducing their future herd numbers now to adjust, but they have been raising this current batch of pigs for the past six months. They need to find an end market.

Year 1

_MG_8525.JPGCorn has many benefits as a grain crop because it is harvested dried from the field and then can be stored dried for a long time. While the corn supply is more insulated from the effects of the pandemic, it isn’t completely insulated. Corn has three primary end markets in that it can be used for human food (corn flour products like tortilla chips, products with corn syrup, and countless others), animal feed (food for pigs, cows, and even dogs and cats), and ethanol fuel. Iowa produces a lot of corn and also has a lot of storage facilities for that corn – both grain bins on farms and at co-ops. In the spring of the year, we are still using the corn supply from last fall’s harvest. But as farmers take to the field to plant we need to ensure that the corn is sold and used so there is room to store this year’s corn come harvest in October. If there are fewer pigs and other livestock eating the corn, less corn will be used.

You may have also seen news stories talking about the negative prices of oil. The negative prices are a result of high supply and low demand. One of the uses of corn is to produce ethanol. Ethanol is a fuel substitute and so the price of ethanol is very closely related to the price of crude oil. If there is no demand for crude oil, there is low demand for ethanol. For now, ethanol is still being sold for profit, but the price is much less than it was a few months ago. The future supply of corn and the demand for fuel will largely affect what that price will be.

Year 2

IMG_1588.JPGCattle can grow from a calf to a market weight animal (approximately 1300 pounds) in 18 months. Cattle can be kept and fed out to up to 1500 pounds. So there is a little more flexibility with cattle. But the current closing of meat processing plants still affects the animals that are currently at market weight and ready to be harvested.

Long term, farmers will have to guess at the demand for beef and either start reducing their herd size over the next two years or start building up their herd. How long the pandemic lasts, the supply of feed like corn, the supply of protein substitutes like pork and chicken all affect the farmer’s decision-making process. So even if the pandemic ends tomorrow, because things like cattle have an 18 month or more life cycle, we will still be feeling the ripple effects for the next two years.

What Can Be Done? – Short Term

The first thing that we can do and have been doing is managing the human virus similar to the way farmers manage the prevention of diseases on farms – through biosecurity. In farming we consider biosecurity to mean doing everything you can to reduce the chances of an infectious disease being carried onto your farm by people, animals, equipment, or vehicles. This includes wearing face masks, disinfecting shoes, washing hands. For humans, we have been social distancing, wearing face masks, washing hands. It is much the same. Farmers, especially pig, chicken, and turkey farmers have a lot of experience with this disease prevention strategy. The more we can slow down the spread of the disease, the better off we all will be and get back to life as normal.

One thing some farmers are doing to try to adjust the supply of pigs to the market is to adjust their feed rations. Feed rations have been optimized to maximize the rate of growth. The faster a pig will grow, the quicker it can be sold and then the process can start again. But in this time of closed processing plants, we need to slow the rate of growth in animals. A less optimal feed ration will still provide the animal everything it needs, but simply slow the rate of growth.

One of the issues is the supply chain of food to restaurants. With restaurants closed, where does that food go? It can’t be rerouted to grocery stores easily. The packaging is different. Labeling is different. Some restaurants have figured out that they can become grocery stores. This requires creative thinking, repackaging, and recreating logistics. It doesn’t fix all the problems, but it does offer one potential solution to keep the food supply flowing. With the same number of people needing the same number of meals each week there isn’t really a decrease in the demand for food. We just need to figure out how to reroute it.

One of the shortages that we have experienced is that of hand sanitizer. The disinfecting properties of hand sanitizer come from – the same alcohol that ethanol plants make from corn. But that doesn’t mean we can just switch to making hand sanitizer at ethanol plants. There are many logistical issues like packaging into small quantities that come into play. The other ingredients that go into hand sanitizers also quickly become a limiting factor. Some local, small scale distillers have started creating hand sanitizers and they are much better equipped to do this when compared to large scale ethanol production plants that produce in bulk.

Our current food system relies on consistency and regularity. So one thing consumers can do is shop as you normally would. Keep buying trends consistent, especially for products that have limited flexibility in their supply chain. Farmers have to plan months and even years into the future. A more consistent consumer allows for them to ensure we have enough food at the times we need it.

What Can Be Done? – Long Term

Long term there will likely need to be a lot of changes to our food system. Grocery stores practice just-in-time delivery to prevent overstocking and to minimize food waste. But this system doesn’t work when a lot of people want to stock up at the same time for extended periods of at-home-living. So food systems might need to find a balance between stocking shelf-stable food and still minimizing food waste. Consumers too can share responsibility. The LDS church regularly encourages their members to keep a three month supply of shelf-stable food on hand. For times like this, that may be good advice for everyone – or at least stocking up a little bit more than normal. Consumers would just have to manage that food supply and constantly use some of it that is close to expiration and constantly restock what gets used. There is no need to buy a huge supply of food tomorrow. But in periodic trips to the grocery, buy one or two extra items until you’ve built up a store.

Some systems are flexible. Ethanol, for example, is a simple molecule. The process of producing ethanol is largely a chemistry experiment and with tweaks at various stages different chemicals can be produced. Some of these different chemicals could be different types of fuels or other additives for industrial and commercial products. Even chemicals for things like cosmetics and make-up could be produced. But this would require retrofitting the processing plant and would take time and money. It depends on what products will be needed and that is yet to be seen. Maybe there will be a continued need for ethanol as it is.

Farmers are very good at producing food. There is plenty of food produced each year. What we are seeing is disruptions in the logistics of processing that food and then getting it to where it needs to be. Components up and down the food system need to be looked at and potentially changed. We need to look at dry storage capacity of grains, cold storage for things like meat, imports from other countries, and balancing that with the locally produced products.

Ultimately, this pandemic will end. When is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain, things have changed and will continue to change. But the agricultural industry and the larger food system has a job to do and that is to provide food to feed America. We are all in this together.


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).


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.


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!



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!


What’s Cookin’?: State Fair Sweet Edition

Mmmm… who doesn’t love the smell of freshly-baked caramel rolls, cupcakes, and yummy eclairs. These were just some of the delicious treats our expert judges sampled this year during the ‘Iowa’s Big Four’ cooking competition at the Iowa State Fair.

Each year, the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation hosts this cooking competition in honor of Iowa’s agriculture industry and its biggest commodities – corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs. Iowa is a major producer of many agricultural commodities. In fact, one in five Iowa jobs is tied to the agriculture industry! The following statistics will give you a glimpse of why agriculture is a significant contributor to the Iowa economy.

Iowa Big Four Facts

  • Iowa’s egg farmers lead the nation in egg production, caring for nearly 55 million laying hens producing nearly 16 billion eggs per year. That’s almost one out of every six eggs produced in the United States. Source: Iowa Egg Council
  • 99 percent of corn grown in Iowa is field corn, not the sweet corn that we enjoy on the cob. Corn is in more than 4,000 grocery store items such as shampoo, toothpaste, chewing gum, marshmallows, crayons, and paper. A small portion of field corn is processed for human uses such as corn cereal and corn oil, however, most of the corn harvested is used for livestock feed, ethanol production, and manufactured goods. Source: Iowa Corn
  • Nearly one-third of the nation’s pigs are raised in Iowa. Iowa producers market approximately 50 million pigs a year. Exports of pork from Iowa totaled more than $1.1 billion in 2017, with Japan, Hong Kong, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea as the leading customers for Iowa pork. Source: Iowa Pork Producers
  • Iowa ranks second nationally in soybean production, accounting for around 14.5 percent of all soybeans grown. In 2018, Iowa harvested 9.91 million acres of soybeans, which valued at $4.8 billion. Source: Iowa Soybean Association

With these impressive stats, you can see why we honor Iowa’s agriculture community with a food competition. At our food competition, aspiring chefs from across Iowa prepare a sweet and/or savory dish using at least one of the big four Iowa commodity ingredients or by-products of corn, soybeans, pork or eggs.

This year’s winning recipe in the sweet category was Iowa Éclair submitted by Kathleen Tinley of Council Bluffs, Iowa. The recipe uses eggs, corn, and soynuts.

Iowa Eclair - 1st place c

Iowa Eclair – 1st Place, Sweet Category

Iowa Éclair


Pate a Choux
1/2 C Whole Milk
1/2 C Water
1/2 C Unsalted Butter
1 T Sugar
1/2 t Salt
1 C Flour
4 Eggs, Room Temperature

4 T Unsalted Butter, Room Temperature
1/2 C Brown Sugar
1/2 C Flour
2 T Soy Nuts, Finely Grounded
Pinch Salt
1/2 t Vanilla
Green Food Color Gel
Yellow Food Color Gel

Sweet Corn Diplomat Cream
5 Cobs Sweet Corn, Cleaned
2 C Whole Milk
6 Egg Yolks
1/2 C Sugar
1/3 C Cornstarch
3 T Unsalted Butter, Cubed
1 C Heavy Cream

Blueberry Sauce
3/4 lb. Blueberries
1/3 C Sugar
3 T Lemon Juice
1 T Water
1/2 T Cornstarch
1 T Unsalted Butter


  1. Beat together butter, sugar, and salt. Beat flour and soy nuts into butter. Mix in vanilla.
  2. Divide dough in half. Dye one half pale yellow and the other half light green.
  3. Roll doughs out between two sheets of wax paper until 1/16-inch thick. Place both sheets of dough in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Sweet Corn Diplomat Cream

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add corn to the boiling water, cover with a lid, and turn off the heat. After five minutes, remove corn from water and allow to cool.
  2. Cut corn off cobs. Squeeze excess liquid off cobs. Add corn and liquid to a medium pot with a heavy bottom. Add milk to corn and place over medium heat, stirring frequently. Once the milk comes to a boil, remove the pan from heat.
  3. Strain 1 1/2 cup milk from corn mixture. Blend remaining milk and corn with a stick blender. Strain corn puree, discarding solids. Set puree aside.
  4. Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until thickened and pale yellow. Transfer strained milk and puree back to the pot and bring to a simmer.
  5. Slowly whisk 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Add resulting mixture to milk remaining in the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring custard to a boil and simmer for two minutes.
  6. Strain custard into a clean bowl and let cool 10 minutes. Stir in butter and vanilla. Cover the surface of custard with plastic wrap and allow to cool completely.
  7. Whip cream to just before stiff peaks. Fold into custard.

Blueberry Sauce

  1. Combine blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice and cook over medium heat allowing berries to break open.
  2. Whisk together cornstarch and water. Add slurry to blueberries and cook until thickened, about one minute. Stir in butter. Cool.

Pate a Choux

  1. Preheat oven to 400 Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine milk, water, and butter in large saucepan and heat over medium to melt butter. Bring mixture to a boil. Add flour and beat in quickly until fully combined. Remove from heat.
  3. Allow dough to cool a few minutes before beating in eggs one at a time.
  4. Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a ¾-inch piping tip. Pipe 12, 5-inch eclairs on prepared baking sheets.
  5. Cut out corn husk-shaped pieces from green craquelin and corn cob-shaped pieces from yellow craquelin. Place on top of strips of dough.
  6. Bake eclairs for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and bake an additional 25 minutes, until golden brown.
  7. Transfer eclairs to a cooling rack. Pierce bottom of each éclair in three places to allow steam to escape.


  1. Transfer sweet corn diplomat cream and blueberry sauce to pastry bags fitted with plain piping tips.
  2. Fill eclairs about 1/3 full with diplomat cream through steam holes in the bottom. Add a small amount of blueberry sauce through each steam hole. Fill eclairs completely with remaining diplomat cream.

Second and Third Place

Jennifer Goellner submitted the second-place recipe (2nd Place – Maple Bacon Cupcakes Recipe). Maria Monahan submitted the third-place recipe (3rd Place – Grandmas Caramel Rolls). Both ladies are from West Des Moines.

Keep an eye on this blog for the next What’s Cookin’ series as it will feature the winning recipes in the savory category!


Why Do They Do That? – Hormones

We recently had a Facebook post go viral! Well, not viral by standard definitions, but pretty good for us! At last count it was up to more than 17,000 engagements and more than 226,000 people reached. It was one of a regular series we post once a week hash-tagged #FridayFarmFact. It featured turkeys and as we were going into the Thanksgiving season it peaked a lot of interest. Here it is:

It could be that it went viral because it is such an interesting picture. Who doesn’t love seeing a bunch of turkeys just hanging out doing turkey stuff?

Or it could be that it went viral because there is still a lot of confusion about hormone use in production agriculture. Let’s assume it is the latter and let’s try to clear some things up. Do farmers use hormones when raising animals? And if so, why do they do that?

There are three things that often get lumped together in conversation but are actually very different and are often confused – hormones, antibiotics, and vaccines. We’ve discussed antibiotics and vaccines before. As a refresher, antibiotics are typically used to treat bacterial infections AFTER an animal like a pig or a human have gotten sick. Vaccines use a dead or modified virus to stimulate the body’s natural defenses against infection without causing the illness itself BEFORE getting sick. Hormones on the other hand are chemical messengers in the body. They are produced naturally in the endocrine gland and travel through the bloodstream. They control most major bodily functions – everything from hunger to reproduction to temperament. 

Hormones are produced naturally in all animals. Just like hormones regulate your bodily functions, they regulate bodily functions in animals such as livestock. So the meat, eggs, and milk that we get from livestock will have naturally occurring hormones in them. Any food label that reads “hormone-free” is simply not true. But some labels read “No Added Hormones.” For beef cattle and dairy cattle, farmers have found many positive benefits in including hormones in their management plan. Depending on the hormone, they can be given to the animals as a feed additive, a topical solution, or most commonly as an injected implant that releases the hormone slowly over time. The hormones – sometimes called steroids – are usually synthetic versions of naturally occurring hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.

In beef cattle, the hormones help the animals grow more efficiently. This means they grow quicker using less feed. Not only is this cheaper for the farmer (they don’t spend as much on feed costs) but it can also be better for the environment. A recent study suggests that using hormones can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ~5% by reducing the cattle’s environmental footprint. Dairy cattle may also be given bST or Bovine Somatotropin which is a growth hormone that increases milk production. The synthetic version of this naturally occurring hormone is called rbST. SciMoms does a great job of explaining that both the meat from beef cattle and the milk from dairy cattle is safe to consume even with these added hormones. 

Most people concerned about added hormones in food are concerned about human health consequences. Concerns often cite studies of children exhibiting signs of puberty at an earlier age. But in looking at the data, this trend began before the use of hormones in agriculture. So while there is a correlation, it doesn’t appear that early puberty is caused by hormones. Correlation does not equal causation. Because rbST is a protein hormone it is destroyed in human digestion and doesn’t make it into the human blood stream. Other concerns are over animal welfare issues where some dairy cows developed mastitis. But through improved genetics over the years, farmers have selected for cows that do not get mastitis as easily. The benefits of using hormones in beef and dairy cattle seem to far outweigh the risks.

As the #FridayFarmFact says, poultry (chickens, turkey, ducks, etc.) are raised without any added hormones. Regulations in the 1950s banned the use of added hormones in poultry. Chickens (and turkeys and ducks) are bigger today than they were 50 years ago because of genetics and breeding programs – not because of growth hormones. 

Increase in the size of broiler chickens from 1957-2005 due to breeding. Figure from Poult Sci. 2014;93(12):2970-2982. doi:10.3382/ps.2014-04291

Different breeds of chickens are selected for their  characteristics as good egg layers or good meat producers (broilers). Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds are usually raised for their eggs while Cornish Crosses and Delaware Broilers are usually raised for their meat. Some hormones have been tested on poultry but so far they don’t have a significant enough effect. They do have an effect on growth rate and food conversion efficiency so it is possible that we could see some changes in the law in the future. But for now, there are no added hormones in poultry. 

Neither are there added hormones in pork. Pigs have also gotten bigger, but that is because of better nutrition, good genetics programs, and good management programs – not from hormones. There could be some confusion because some hormones can be used in swine breeding programs to help manage estrous cycles, milk let down, and farrowing. But hormones cannot be used in pigs that will be harvested for meat. 

Hormones are not the simplest subject to understand because there are a lot of different hormones that all have different functions. Maybe the most important thing to understand is that beef cattle and dairy cattle production have federal regulations that allow for the use of hormones and poultry and pork production have different federal regulations that don’t allow for the use of hormones. In both instances though farmers are trying to find economically sound ways to improve their operations (while ensuring animals stay healthy) and federal regulators are trying to ensure that the food system stays safe. Based on what we know from research you can have confidence in the food that is being produced by farmers and that makes it to your table. Whether it is a whole turkey, a roast beef, or a big ham that sits on your holiday table this season, enjoy!


Other references:

What’s Cookin’?: State Fair Sweet Edition

The average American consumes approximately 222 pounds of meat per year – more than 46 pounds of which is pork. Pork is something Iowans know a lot about. We raise 22.8 million pigs each year. If each of those pigs was raised to a market weight of 300 pounds, we could expect approximately 144 pounds of meat from each pig. That means each pig could provide meat for three people over the course of a year. There are only 3.1 million people in Iowa so to feed Iowans we only need to raise one million pigs. What do we do with the other 21.8 million pigs? They get sold to other states and other countries around the world. Iowa truly does have a role in feeding the world!

This is why we celebrate the productivity of the state. Iowa is a major producer of several agricultural commodities. Corn, soybeans, pork, and eggs are what I call the ‘big four’. Each year we host a cooking contest at the Iowa State Fair. Aspiring chefs and cooks can enter dishes – sweet and savory. Each dish has to include one or more of the big four ingredients in the recipe. Kudos to those cooks who are able to include all four! The entries are judged by a panel of experts representing each of the commodity organizations that are responsible for helping farmers (Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Soybean Association and the Soyfoods Council, and the Iowa Egg Council).

This year’s winning recipe in the sweet category was Butterscotch Cream Pie submitted by Jamie Buelt from Polk City, Iowa. This recipe uses lard from pork and four eggs as well as Iowa cream.

1 Cup Flour
1/4 Cup Cake Flour
1/3 Cup Lard
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon Baker’s Sugar
3 Tablespoons Very Cold Water

1/4 Cup Real Butter
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar, firmly packed
4 Tablespoons Wondra Flour
1/2 Cup Milk
11/2 Cup Heavy Cream
4 Large Egg Yolks, separate eggs
1/2 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1 Pinch Salt
3 Drops of Butterscotch Oil

Whipped Cream
1 Cup AE Whipping Cream
1/4 plus 1 Tablespoon Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift dry ingredients and then cut butter until mixture has the consistency of cornmeal. Then cut the cold lard and butter into pea-sized pieces and cut in with pastry cutter. Move mixture to one side of the bowl and using a fork, rake about one-sixth of the dry-butter lard mixture into the other half. Add one tablespoon of cold water and combine. Repeat with each tablespoon of cold water. Bake for 30 minutes until crust is brown.

Stir brown sugar and butter in a saucepan until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cook 2-3 minutes longer on low-medium heat, and then remove from fire. Beat egg yolks. In separate large bowl, mix flour with 1/2 of milk, until smooth. Then add beaten egg yolks and salt and mix well. Blend remaining milk with this mixture. Add milk-flour mixture to saucepan with sugar/butter mixture and cook on low/medium heat until thickened (anywhere from 30-45 minutes), stirring constantly. Remove from heat and blend in vanilla extract and butterscotch oil. Stir constantly until well-blended and slightly warm and then pour into a prepared piecrust and chill.

With a mixer, cream with sugar. When cream has thickened, add vanilla and beat until soft peaks form. Top chilled butterscotch filling with whipped cream. A flourish is nice.

2nd and 3rd

Second place was submitted by Sharon Gates of Des Moines, Iowa and was a Corn Custard Brulee with Candied Bacon Crumbles.

IMG_4413.JPG1/2 Cup Bacon Crumbles
2 T Brown Sugar
1 T Light Corn Syrup
1 Cup Fresh Sweet Corn (removed from cob)
3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup Whole Milk
3 T White Sugar
3 Egg Yolks
1 Egg
1/2 T Salt
1/4 T Freshly Ground (fine) Black Pepper
1/8 T (scant) Chipotle Chile Morita Powder
Sugar for Bruleeing

Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together bacon, brown sugar and corn syrup. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven. Set aside to cool. Put remaining ingredients except heavy cream and brulee sugar into blender and liquefy all. Add heavy cream pulse blender to incorporate. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a ramekin sprayed with non-stick spray. Place ramekin in a baking dish on the middle rack of oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish to halfway up the outside of ramekin. Bake 45 minutes or until the center of the custard registers an internal temperature of 170°F. Remove from oven and let cool. Just before serving sprinkle a layer of sugar over the top of each custard and brulee with a torch. Serve candied bacon on the side.

Third place was also a Corn Creme Brulee submitted by Diane Rauh of Des Moines, Iowa. Considering these two winners – clearly these are recipes we should try.

IMG_4441.JPG1 Can (15 oz) Whole Kernel Corn, drained
4 Teaspoons Butter
3 Cups Whipping Cream
1 Cup 2% Milk
8 Large Egg Yolks
1¼  Cups Sugar plus 4 Tablespoons for topping
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Bean Paste

Heat oven to 325°F. In large saucepan, cook corn and butter over medium-high heat until all liquid is evaporated. Spoon out and set aside 1/4 cup of the corn. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in cream and milk; cook until bubbles form around sides of pan. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Pour in blender container. Cover and blend at high speed until smooth. Strain through wire mesh strainer and discard corn pulp. Return cream mixture to pan. In medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and 1¼ cups sugar with wire whisk until blended. Whisk in a small amount of the hot cream mixture. Return egg mixture to pan, whisking constantly. Stir in vanilla. Sprinkle reserved corn in bottom of 8 (6-8 oz) ramekins or custard cups. Place in baking pan. Add 1 inch of hot water around the ramekins. Bake uncovered 40 to 50 minutes or until centers are set but still jiggle slightly. Remove from water bath. Cool 10 minutes. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or until well chilled. Sprinkle 1.5 teaspoons sugar over each ramekin. Using brulee torch, caramelize the sugar. Serve immediately.

Enjoy the recipes!



5 Ways Technology Has Changed Farming

spraying corn

Farms have changed a lot in the last 50 years. Farms are bigger, livestock are usually raised inside, yields are higher, less manual labor is needed, and it’s not common to see dairy cows, beef cattle, pigs, and poultry on the same farm. Why is this? The answer is simple. Technology.

Think about how much technology has improved medicine & healthcare, communications, and transportation in the last 50 years. The field of agriculture has changed just as much.

Let’s take a look at the few of the ways technology has changed farming.

1. Livestock genetics & breeding. Improving livestock breeds is not a new practice. Humans began domesticating animals more than 10,000 years ago. Early farmers selected livestock for their adaption to specific climates and bred them to improve productivity, temperament, and meat, leather, and wool quality. While the practice is not new, the technology used to improve livestock genetics and breed animals has changed dramatically in recent years.

Animal geneticists work to identify elements within genes that can enhance animal growth, health, and ability to utilize nutrients. These genetic advances can increase production while reducing environmental impacts.

It is common for beef cattle and pig farmers to purchase straws of semen from male animals with superior genetics and use artificial insemination to breed females. Embryo transfer is also gaining popularity in the dairy and beef cattle industries.


2. Crop genetics & pest management. Like livestock breeding, the idea of improving plant genetics is not new. Farmers and scientists have used plant selection and breeding techniques to improve crop yield for years. Plant breeders have worked to improve germplasm to develop seeds with the best mix of characteristics to deliver the best yield for specific soil and weather conditions.

Today, plant breeders use a mix of both traditional and modern methods to improve plants. Modern breeding methods include marker assisted breeding, which helps speed up the time it takes to to get the desired improvement, and genetic engineering (GE). GE technology can improve a plant’s insect resistance, drought tolerance, herbicide tolerance, and disease resistance. This technology gives farmers an additional tool to help increase crop yields.


3. Labor and mechanization. Improved farm equipment has probably had the most significant impact on how farmers raise crops and care for livestock. Tractors, planters, and combines are much larger and efficient. Livestock barns have automated feeders. Robotic milking machines milk cows. These technologies and others have enabled farmers to produce more with less labor.

4. Livestock facilities. Aside from beef cattle, livestock are usually raised inside climate-controlled barns. Farmers do this to protect them from predators, extreme weather conditions, and diseases spread by animals and people. Raising livestock inside also enables farmers to utilize technology. Many livestock barns have Wi-Fi and automated feed and climate control systems. Farmers can monitor a cow in labor or adjust the temperature in a barn from their smart phones. If the power goes out, back-up generators start and the farmer is alerted with a text. This technology enables farmers to be more efficient and better care for their animals.


5.Specialization. When my grandparents were my age, farms looked like those in children’s books. They raised a little of everything on their farm. They made a good living and fed their family off 160 acres of corn and hay, a few cows, laying hens, some pigs and my grandmother’s large garden. Over the years, their farm changed. As they invested in tractors and better livestock facilities, they concentrated their efforts to make the most of those investments. They sold much of the livestock and focused on raising pigs, corn and soybeans.

Farms today are even more specialized. If farmers raise livestock, they usually raise one type and even focus on one growth-stage. Most pig farms specialize in farrowing or finishing. Beef cattle farmers generally have cow-calf herds and focus on breeding, calving and weaning, or finishing operations where they raise weaned caves to market weight. Specializing enables farmers to acquire the facilities, technology, knowledge and skills needed to produce the chosen crop or animal, and produce it well.

Farming has changed a lot. What do you think it will look like in the future? How will advances in technology continue to allow farmers to be more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable?


Why Do They Do That? – Vaccines

Cold and flu season may be waning for the year for humans, but farmers might still give their animals vaccines. Why do they do that?

One of a farmer’s main priorities in raising animals is keeping the animals healthy. Vaccines are one of the tools that farmers use to help keep their animals healthy. First, it is important to understand the difference between vaccines and antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections AFTER an animal like a pig or a human have gotten sick. Antibiotics are chemical agents that act by killing the bacteria or preventing the bacteria from multiplying. Vaccines on the other hand are given to animals BEFORE they get sick to try and prevent infection. Vaccines use a dead or modified virus to stimulate the body’s natural defenses against infection without causing the illness itself. If after the immunization, the body is exposed to the specific virus in the future, it will recognize it and fight off the infection much more quickly and effectively.

Once an animal receives a vaccination, the immune system responds by producing antibodies that destroy the infectious agents. This stimulates immunity from contracting the disease in the future. Vaccines are typically used to fight viral diseases but can also be used to immunize against bacteria, bacterial toxins, or parasites. They are usually given to animals in the form of an injection.

IMG_5457.JPGPigs, for example, are communal animals. They love being around and interacting with each other. Modern farms raise pigs in barns and in shared pens. Each pig has a lot of close contact with all of the other pigs. If one pig gets sick, there is a high likelihood that all of the other pigs would get sick too. It is sometimes hard and costly to treat a lot of sick pigs. So preventing illness is the preferred strategy. If all pigs are vaccinated, then they are all safe. Even if one animal doesn’t get vaccinated, it should still be safe because of herd immunity.

There are several diseases that are common in pigs. Procine parvovirus, PRRS, swine fever, and swine influenza are just a couple of examples that vaccinations can help protect against. In part, farmers are trying to manage the health of their animals. But some of these diseases (like swine flu) can be transmitted to humans. Keeping the pigs healthy helps keep humans healthy.

Throughout much of human history, diseases have caused widespread deaths. Smallpox was one of the most feared. In 1774 and English farmer inoculated his wife and sons with puss from a cowpox lesion on one of his cows. The wife and sons couldn’t contract the cowpox, but it was similar enough to smallpox that their bodies developed a resistance to both diseases. This was how the idea of vaccination first started. This inoculation technique was widely used and then by 1796 Edward Jenner had success in research and experimentation with vaccinations. His techniques continued to improve and over the succeeding years were applied to other diseases.


Most piglets receive their first shots of vaccines within a week after they are born. This helps ensure they have a healthy immune system from early on. These early vaccines are for common diseases and can be easily prevented. After the first round of shots, sometimes booster shots are required to ensure the vaccine is effective. Viruses can mutate in nature. Influenza or flu viruses for example mutate very quickly. So the same vaccine might not work year after year. In cases like that, animals may need to be vaccinated with a different vaccine that year to prevent the specific strain of influenza (just like with humans).

IMG_8324.jpgJust like antibiotics, vaccines have a withdrawal period. Humans don’t want those vaccines to be in the meat. So an animal cannot be harvested within a certain time period. The vaccines will have done their job and then been naturally flushed out of the body by the time the withdrawal period has passed. Each vaccine is a little different, but withdrawal periods can be around 21 days. Vaccination is a common and safe part of the pork industry. It helps ensure the health of the individual animal and the health of the whole herd. Just like humans should be vaccinated, animals should be too!