The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers will celebrate 15 years of helping farmers “do it right” on August 14 at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny. The VIP event begins at 5 p.m.
The partnership of Iowa farm organizations was created to help farmers raise livestock successfully and responsibly. More than 100 industry partners and sponsors provide additional funding.
Since 2004, CSIF has helped more than 4,500 farmers with its no-cost and confidential services by guiding them through the 250 pages of rules and regulations that govern barn and feedlot citing, as well as offering advice on best management practices and neighbor relations.
“The rules for livestock production are stringent, but we can work with them and make them work on most farms,” says CSIF Executive Director Brian Waddingham. “We want our producers to be good neighbors today and tomorrow.”
CSIF was formed in response to changing livestock production methods and rural demographics.
“Farming in Iowa, just like the rest of the nation, underwent dramatic changes with the farm crisis of the 80s and into the early 90s,” says Sara Payne, chief marketing & communications officer for the Iowa Farm Bureau. Technology enhancements enabled farm size to increase, creating efficiencies and economies of scale. The changes were swift, and at times, confusing.
Iowa farmers stepped up and asked, “How can we help?”
“We saw a lot of farm/neighbor friction. They wanted to responsibly and successfully help manage the changes by being on the front end of the situation before issues occurred,” says Payne.
In addition to the changes in production methods, farmers faced a changing demographic landscape.
“We’ve seen an increase of people moving to the country with less of an understanding of agriculture,” says CSIF Senior Field Coordinator Kent Mowrer. He and Assistant Field Specialist Gabrielle Glenister work closely with farmers, making on-site visits and engaging neighbors.
From the beginning, CSIF made neighbor relations a priority, and its patient, persistent and proactive approach has paid off. “It has taken time, but we’ve made big strides,” says Mowrer. “We’ve approached it case by case and site by site, visiting with neighbors and seizing the opportunity to educate.”
Matt Raasch of Sac County cites CSIF’s proactive approach to neighbor relations as the key to his success. His 2,140-head wean-to-finish hog barn sits less than one mile from an outdoor garden wedding venue, and he’s had no complaints. “With the coalition’s help, we have been able to be an example of how you can have a livestock facility in a fairly densely populated area and everyone gets along fine,” says Raasch.
Producers and CSIF often host open house events for new construction that lets neighbors see modern livestock production for themselves. Payne says that kind of transparency helps create trust.
"It's in our best interest to take care of the environment, and our barns are more efficient."
Bruce Wessling, Greene County Farm Bureau member and pig farmer from Grand Junction
For the past 10 years, CSIF has also worked to tell the story of successful and environmentally sound livestock production in Iowa through the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, an honor bestowed monthly on an Iowa farm that exemplifies best practices.
CSIF helps to improve aesthetics and environmental impact of livestock operations through its Green Farmstead Partner Program, in partnership with Trees Forever and the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association. To date more than 70,000 trees have been planted through the program on more than 200 farms.
Bruce Wessling of Grand Junction was the first to use the program when it began in 2009. In building his third hog barn to expand his operation for the younger generation, Wessling planted 120 Austree willows, Norway spruce and red cedars, all strategically placed by the professionals to protect his units from snow and winter winds as well as provide a visual and odor barrier.
Iowa State University research shows trees near a livestock site can reduce odor by 10% to 15% by capturing dust and odor particles and directing airflow. The Green Farmstead Partner Program enlists the aid of 26 nursery professionals across the state trained to work with livestock facilities.
“First of all, a windbreak is important as a visual barrier,” says Waddingham. “Neighbors can look out and see trees rather than a building. But even more, trees and shrubs say the farmer is committed to the environment, above and beyond what is required.” A properly designed windbreak enhances wildlife and pollinator habitat.
“It’s in our best interest to take care of the environment,” says Wessling, “and our barns are more efficient.” Neighbors have commented on the improved aesthetics and reduced odor. He has since planted a second windbreak at a fourth barn and hosted a Pork & Trees Field Day in June, highlighting the project and the program.
CSIF also offers workshops, including the annual Farming for the Future Conference for young farmers wanting to seize the opportunities presented by livestock production to enter farming. Raasch says hogs make the difference between farming full-time and needing a job in town.
New to this year’s Iowa State Fair is a Start Smart Conference on Aug. 15 in the beef barn’s Penningroth Media Center that offers tools for beginning farmers.
“Livestock is so important to Iowa’s economy, and we are committed to helping it flourish for generations to come,” says Waddingham. Iowa leads the nation in pork production, with one in five Iowa jobs tied to agriculture; nearly one-third of those involving livestock.
“Iowa’s pork industry is most definitely better because of CSIF,” says Pat McGonegle, chief executive officer of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “CSIF has helped producers transition through changes in swine production and seek the opportunities that suit each individual producer. They have allowed livestock in Iowa to thrive."
In honor of its anniversary, CSIF has granted 15 Iowa students with an interest in agriculture scholarships of $250 each.
As CSIF looks to the future, it sees more bridge building, more helping livestock producers grow, more doing it the right way.
“Livestock farmers want to do it right,” says Waddingham. “They want to farm with minimal environmental impact. Farmers who work with us are going above and beyond to successfully manage changes to their operation and to be positive members in their community.”