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.

-Will

Earth Day and Agriculture

No other industry uses the earth and relies on natural consistency as much as agriculture. Farmers require weather conditions that follow patterns year after year to grow their crops. They count on the soil to hold its nutrients to produce high yields. Farmers need fields to be in good condition to harvest, plant, chisel plow, and spread anhydrous or manure. Crop farmers aren’t the only ones affected by weather––livestock farmers can face extreme challenges when there is too much rain or snow, or in severe droughts or heat waves. The bottom line is this: farmers and ranchers rely heavily on the earth and the natural processes that help crops grow and supply food and water for their animals. The earth provides what farmers need to supply the world with food, clothing, and so much more.

Earth Day is on April 22, 2020, and in light of that, this blog post will highlight some of the ways that farmers are being stewards of the land they use and protecting the environment. Farmers are often ridiculed for the impact that agriculture has on the environment. To be fair, agriculture does have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions, like most industries. That is true. However, often the good things that farmers are doing to help protect our environment are overlooked, so that will be the focus of this blog post!

Cover Crops

A cover crop is a crop that is planted after a field is harvested. In Iowa, a farmer might grow corn in a field and plant a cover crop of cereal rye by using a high clearance seeder or by airplane in the early fall. These crops are not planted to make a great economic

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Iowa Cover Crop

impact on the farmer’s bank account by growing and harvesting them, but rather to make a great impact on the environment and quality of the soil. Cover crops make the soil more absorptive, which allows for water to be soaked in the land instead of running off into streams. They also help with the runoff of nitrates and phosphorous. Nitrates feed plants, so they need to stick around in fields. Phosphorous is important for plants to perform essential functions like photosynthesis. In Iowa, the most common cover crops are cereal, radishes, oats, and wheat. Iowa farmers care about the land, and it shows, as the number of acres of cover crops planted has increased significantly in recent history. In 2017, Iowa farmers planted 1.5 million acres of cover crops! This information is from the Iowa Farm Bureau, and you can learn more about soil conservation from our previous blog post, Soil and Water Conservation Practices – What are they doing?

 

Livestock Health

It is no secret that cow eructations and flatulence (farts and burps) causes methane to be released into the air, which is a greenhouse gas, known for its negative impact on the atmosphere. However, there are a few things to think about that can help break down that problem. Farmers are now growing livestock much more efficiently than they did in the past. For example, we are now growing fewer cattle but producing more beef since 1980. This is a result of feeding cattle more nutritious feed and using selective breeding to grow higher producing cattle. (Introduction to Animal Science) There is also research being done on putting different fats like sunflower oil and seeds into cattle feed, which was found to produce less methane. Scientists have also been working on supplements and vaccines for cattle to help cut down on methane production. To read more about these studies, visit Health For Animals.

Windbreak Trees

Not only are farmers committed to helping the earth for their benefit, but they are also

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Picture from Natural Resources Conservation Service

committed to making it more enjoyable for those around them. Windbreak trees are a row of trees that slow the wind. Windbreak trees are often seen near hog barns. They have been around for a long time, but their purpose remains the same. Stop the smell! This helps keep the neighbors happy, but there are other earth-preserving purposes behind the use of windbreak trees. One main reason is that windbreak trees save energy, which is an issue in our world today. Conserving energy is very important, and windbreak trees can help by saving 7-25% less fuel for heating, according to Iowa State University.

 

Technology in Farming

This is a broad topic, as technology has changed significantly over the past 100 years (you can read about it on our blog post, 5 Ways Technology Has Changed Farming), but one result is very obvious. Technology helps farmers do more with less. Using a GPS to plant or chisel plow now means using less fuel to do those jobs. Looking at soil composition in a field means that farmers can know what nutrients that soil needs to yield well, and can apply them in the correct amount, which can help with issues like runoff. Calculating a feed ration for cattle using technology means that they are fed a perfectly mixed ration, leading them to produce more efficiently. Pig barns are heated and cooled using technology, allowing the barn to use only as much energy as is needed.

This Earth Day, think about the people that use the earth to provide everyone with vital Pink Black Photo Brush National Kissing Day Social Media Graphicproducts. Farmers care about the earth, and they are taking measures to protect it. Earth Day may look a little different this year, but one way to celebrate is by taking time to learn about the earth and the people who use it, by listening to a podcast or reading a blog post! Happy Earth Day!

 

-Ellie

Why do they do that? – Terraces and Tile Lines

Much of Iowa seems flat, but as we’ve previously discussed there is actually a lot of variety to the Iowa landscape. In addition to this, many Iowa farmers dabble in terracing – creating terraces on the slope of a hill. But why do they do that?

Maybe you’ve never even noticed it, but look closely at Iowa fields – especially in the southern half of the state – and you will see terraces on many hillsides.

One thing that Iowa farmers struggle with is soil loss and erosion from water running across the field. When water after a rainstorm flows across the field it can pick up soil particles and carry those particles downstream. Loosing that soil off the field might make the field less fertile. The steeper the slope or grade of the land (like a hillside) the faster the water will move. The faster the water moves, the more soil it might pick up and carry away with it.

Avoca Terraces

Terraces placed on the slope protect the soil from erosion. Photo courtesy of USDA-NRCS, Iowa.

So farmers need to try and slow down the movement of water. Hence, terraces. Terraces are man-made earthen structures that intercept runoff on slopes. They change long slopes into a series of shorter slopes. At each level of the terrace, water has a chance to slow down and the soil has a chance to settle out which keeps it on the field. The result is that cleaner water leaves the field and not as much erosion occurs.

Farmers mound up soil on the hillside creating a somewhat level area with a short steep backslope down to the next level. The top, flat area can still be farmed with crops. The short steep backslopes are seeded with perennial grasses. The roots of these perennial grasses help hold the slope in place.

Sometimes terraces can also include a tile line and drain. In some cases and if there is considerable water build up, farmers can install a tile line and drain. This will allow the soil to settle out and the water to be siphoned off into an underground pipe. This allows the water to run through the pipe down the slope without collecting any soil. The water is discharged at the end of the pipe. This also reduces soil compaction and and enables good root development.

In Iowa, terraces are a fairly common practice. In fact hundreds of miles of terraces help cut soil loss. In one watershed management area terraces reduce soil loss by as much as 13 tons! New terraces might be installed in the fall of the year after growing crops have been harvested or in the spring of the year before crops are planted. In addition to reducing soil erosion, terraces can help retain moisture for growing crops and water conservation purposes. Terraces can even help create nesting habitat in the grassy back slopes that are largely untouched.

-Will

Fertilizing – Why do they do that?

We all know that plants need nutrients to grow. But don’t they get those nutrients from the soil? Why do farmers need to apply fertilizer?

You might hear Iowa farmers talking about ‘applying manure’ or ‘dragging anhydrous’. What they are really talking about is the application of fertilizers to fields with the hopes of increasing crop productivity. All plants need a variety of nutrients to grow and be healthy. A lack of any one nutrient might cause symptoms like yellow leaves or brown spots or other unhealthy symptoms like wilt or susceptibility to diseases like mold or insects.

Plants need a whole host of nutrients to stay healthy. They need micronutrients like boron (B), carbon (C), chlorine (Cl), copper (Cu), hydrogen (H), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), oxygen (O), and zinc (Zn). Recycling plant matter is an excellent way of providing micronutrients to growing plants. They also need secondary macronutrients like calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S). But plants need the most of primary macronutrients which are N-P-K. These nutrients are usually lacking from the soil because plants use large amounts for their growth and survival. The three primary macronutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).

26e53c8Nitrogen is part of all living cells and helps transfer energy in plant cells. It is part of chlorophyll which makes the plants green and allows them to produce food through photosynthesis. Nitrogen supports quick plant growth and maintains strong leaves and good fruit production. Nitrogen can be fixed from the air through the nitrogen cycle or it can be added to fields in the form of fertilizer.

Phosphorus is also an essential part of photosynthesis. It helps the plants form oils, sugars and starches. Phosphorus aids in turning solar energy into chemical energy and helps the plant withstand stress.

Potassium benefits plants in building protein and producing high quality fruit. It also helps plants be more resistant to diseases.

Soil can hold some of these nutrients in place so that they are available to the plants when the plants are ready to use them. So often times farmers will apply manure (high in organic matter and nitrogen) or anhydrous (high in nitrogen). Because the soil can hold these nutrients, farmers can take advantage of slower seasons like the fall (after harvest) or spring (before planting) to apply fertilizer. But soil can’t hold an infinite amount of these nutrients. If there is too much nitrogen it can leach into waterways with a big rainstorm. Nitrogen in water can be a problem for wildlife and humans that rely on that water.

27067Farmers try very hard to only apply the correct amount of fertilizer. Too little and the corn or soybeans won’t grow well. Too much and the nitrogen will be wasted and potentially run off into the watershed. Precision application can use soil testing data to apply fertilizer only to the parts of the field that need it.

Anhydrous ammonia application in the fall should be done after the soil temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (usually around the first week of November). This prevents nitrogen losses from leaching. In the spring it is best to apply nitrogen within two weeks of planting the crops to avoid loss.

Once the crop is growing it may need some additional fertilizer (nitrogen) to maximize growth and yield. Even legume crops like soybeans (that have nitrogen fixing bacteria) sometimes need some extra nitrogen to help them grow. In that case it is important to apply the fertilizer as close to the period of maximum crop growth as possible. This ensures that it is available for the plant and won’t leach into the waterways.

Soil-water-conserv-weekApplying fertilizer takes a lot of scientific understanding of plant physiology, the nitrogen cycle, soil testing, and good management decisions. But with good management of fertilizer, crops can produce their maximum yield and we can still protect water quality here in Iowa. This is one small way that farmers celebrate Soil and Water Conservation Week – April 24 through May 1, 2016!

-Will

Happy “May is Beef Month”

 

Utesch Family: Jessica Wilson, Cody Wilson, Nathan Utesch, Elaine Utesch, Craig Utesch, Matthew Utesch.  Kids Cayden Wilson, Tesla Wilson.  New addition (not pictured) Coulter Wilson.

Utesch Family: Jessica Wilson, Cody Wilson, Nathan Utesch, Elaine Utesch, Craig Utesch, Matthew Utesch. Kids Cayden Wilson, Tesla Wilson. New addition (not pictured) Coulter Wilson.

I’m Elaine Utesch, a cattle farmer from northwest Iowa.  My family raises cattle, corn and soybeans on our farm called Triple U Ranch.  We’re a family farming corporation which involves my husband Craig, his two brothers Brad and Kirk, Kirk’s wife Barbara, our daughter Jessica and her husband Cody Wilson, and usually a hired man or two, depending upon the season.  Each of the brothers have a specific area of responsibility and expertise.  Brad manages the cattle feedlot. Kirk manages the crop production. My husband Craig manages the cow/calf herd and I work in the office.  I am also the “on call” person for whatever needs to be done—watching gates, helping get stray cattle in, tending grandchildren, or fixing a meal for the men at harvest time.   Our daughter Jessica is our cow herd breeding specialist and her husband Cody helps out wherever he can when he’s not at work in Stuart, NE where he is the manager of Cottonwood Feeders.  Kirk’s wife Barbara works at our local medical clinic as a medical laboratory technologist but helps out here on the ranch whenever she can.

Triple U Ranch began in the 1920’s with Craig’s grandfather, William R. Utesch buying some land in northern Woodbury and southern Cherokee counties in Iowa.  When William retired in the mid 1950’s, Craig’s dad Bill Utesch purchased the land and continued feeding cattle while raising a family of 4 children with his wife Mary.  As the boys grew up, they knew that they wanted to continue farming, and worked together with their parents to form Triple U Ranch.  What began as a partnership is now a Chapter S corporation, and includes a feed yard that annually finishes out approximately 5,000 head of cattle, markets corn to the local ethanol plants as well as feeding it to the cattle, markets soybeans, sells purebred Simmental and Angus, and commercial cows, bulls, and steers, and provides a living for four families.

mama & babyFeeding cattle is a year-round job, so there is no “down” time for that part of the enterprise.  The cow herd starts to have baby calves in March and finishes up by the end of April.  We will have 160 new baby calves out on our pastures with their mothers for the summer and fall grazing season shortly thereafter.  Maintaining fences and suitable water for these animals keeps Craig and Jessica busy as we have many paddocks of fence to repair or rebuild after the winter.  Kirk is gearing up for planting season and, as the plans were made just after harvest last fall, things are progressing as smoothly as the weather will allow.

Our business is cattle.  There are many hurdles to overcome daily in this business—fluctuating market prices, governmental regulations, fuel prices, and most of all, weather.   A year and a half ago we sustained near-devastating damage to our feed yard and facilities in a tornado which came through on the evening of October 4, 2013.  With the help of family, friends, and neighbors, we cleaned up our mess and rebuilt our business facilities.  We were fortunate that none of our cattle were killed in the storm, and we were able to get feed and water to them immediately the next morning.  Our own home was damaged but we were able to sleep there that night.  The challenges of weather are probably the most critical to our business.

As a former high school Family and Consumer Science teacher, my interest in our cattle involves having our Ranch produce safe, nutritious beef for consumers in an environmentally positive manner.  We feel we accomplish this every day.  Our family farming business was awarded the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Environmental Stewardship Award in 2000.  Raising cattle on feed that is produced on our farm, using the animals’ manure to fertilize our crops, and seeing our calves through their life cycle from birth to weaning to feeding and to harvest at surrounding harvest facilities is what set us apart from others.  Sustaining four families from one established family business is important to us.

-Elaine

Life of a Farmer

For Matt Schuiteman, there is no typical day on the farm.

Schuiteman and his wife, Minde Jo, co-own AJS Farms in Northwest Iowa. Both sides of his family have been farming for five generations. He and his family live on the farm that his grandfather bought in 1948. They raise hogs, alfalfa, corn and cattle.

What is it like to be Matt Schuiteman?

A typical day starts between five and eight o’ clock in the morning, and ends (hopefully) in time to go to one of seven children’s events. It starts at the computer with checking emails, the markets, and the weather. Then, it’s time to do chores – hogs and cattle require everyday feeding and care. With 30 head of cattle and 3,000 head of hogs marketed each year, there is a lot to be done every day!

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Schuitemann was a guest panelist at IALF’s Agriculture Day Farmland Even in Sioux City.

Spring is planting time on farms all across Iowa, and for the Schuitemans, it’s time to plant alfalfa and corn. Some manure application also happens at this time. Manure from livestock can be applied to soil as a fertilizer.

The summer is time to bale alfalfa and grass hay. The hay, once baled, is used to feed livestock like cattle. The whole family is involved in showing hogs and cattle, and the spring and summer are the main showing seasons.

In the fall, the Schuiteman family is busy with corn harvest as well as manure and fertilizer applications. Schuiteman applies fertilizer with a strip tillage machine, which leaves most residue on the soil surface while tilling up a narrow strip between rows. This efficient method and promotes healthy soils.

In the winter, Schuiteman hauls corn and tends to livestock. Most of the corn is either hauled to an ethanol plant or an elevator, where the grain is transported to to other parts of Iowa and other states, and usually turned into livestock feed. Most of the cows on AJS farms calve between January and April.

Regardless of the season, Schuiteman is enjoying being a farmer.

“I love seeing newborn calves and pigs. I love being in the field during the season, especially when I’m working alongside my wife, Minde Jo. I love working on the show livestock with my kids. I also love being on the computer from time to time keeping up with market and information trends,” Schuiteman says.

Every day on AJS Farms brings concern for the environment. One of Shuiteman’s biggest goals for the future of his farm is to increase his cattle herd, so that cover crops can be used as a feed source. Schuiteman uses cover crops to improve the soil as they farm, which includes raising the carbon content of the soils so they become healthier and more productive. In fact, caring for the land is of the most importance on the farm.

“I think we have to do everything we can to be good stewards of what’s been given to us, and to improve how we do things whenever possible. There isn’t much future in a farm that doesn’t pay attention to the environment and the health of the soils it manages,” Schuiteman said. Part of being a good steward for Schuiteman is incorporating cover crops. Right now, they are experimenting with cereal rye and red clover.

What is unique about Matt and his operation? Being 100% continuous corn is pretty unique in Iowa, where corn and soybeans are usually rotated every year or every few years. The Schuitemans made this choice because it increases the carbon content of the soil, can be more profitable, and provides a lot of opportunity as a feedstuff. Schuiteman then uses cover crops, like rye and red clover, to help improve soil quality. This allows the soils to stay healthy in a corn on corn rotation. The idea of feeding a cover crop to livestock is also new and innovative.

It’s safe to say that if you were Matt Schuiteman, you would be a busy guy – a day in his life would be filled with caring for his livestock, land and family.

-Kelsey