Educational seminars on conservation and inspirational keynote from Aaron Thomas bring standing-room-only crowds

Members of the state’s largest grassroots farm organization gathered in Des Moines this week to mark farming and stewardship progress through the generations and showcase future leadership during the 97th annual meeting of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF).  There were many ways the state’s largest farm organization showcased their 2015 theme, ‘Growing for the Greater Good,’ Dec. 1 and 2 at the Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center in Des Moines.    

Craig Hill, IFBF president and longtime Milo, Iowa, grain and livestock farmer, called on IFBF members to honor their heritage, celebrate their success, and share their stories of stewardship and innovation.  “No one can fully tell the story of agriculture better than a farmer. It is up to us! We need to tell the story instead of letting someone else define who we are and what we do.  Because it truly is about our theme here this year, ‘Growing for the Greater Good’; it means we all must be dedicated to leaving the world a better place than how we found it.  Our organization, now a record 159,000 members strong, is the organization that leads the way,” said Hill.

Nine different educational seminars, designed to educate and inspire, brought big crowds of farmers, including sessions focused on conservation approaches.  When it comes to conservation and managing nutrient loss, many farmers had questions for speaker Mike Castellano, Iowa State University (ISU) agronomy professor.  “Fertilizing mismanagement is not the primary cause of the nitrate loss to Iowa waterways; when soil gets warm in the spring, naturally-occurring bacteria in the soil turns nitrogen into nitrates before the crops can uptake the nutrients.  Cover crops can really help but there is no magic bullet.  I tell folks it’s like going to the doctor and finding out you have high blood pressure. The doctor says you can do two things: take medicine or exercise and eat better.  What we do on our farm fields are comparable to the ‘eating better and exercise’ approach, because they treat the root of the problem.  So, we need to invest in research to reduce nitrogen variability and losses year-round and make our field practices more effective.  That’s like adding ‘medicine’ to find the solution.  It won’t happen overnight because it’s going to take time, money, training and technology,” said Castellano.   The soil scientist also said it’s going to take everyone’s help on the farm and everyone’s understanding outside the farm to reach water quality goals. IFBF leaders shared that farmers are coming to conservation field days in record numbers, to learn more about the conservation options that would work best for them, and how to embrace challenges and fund solutions.  

Aaron Thomas (pictured above) delivered a stirring keynote address to IFBF members, who called on farm leaders to look upon all challenges in their lives as opportunities to develop a platform that helps them connect with others, improving lives of all.  Thomas is the son of the late Aplington-Parkersburg coach, Ed Thomas, who helped the Parkersburg community recover from a tornado, but later had an untimely death at the hands of a former athlete.  Soon after it was learned that his father was murdered by the troubled former student, the Thomas family stood together, and told a nationwide audience to ‘pray for both families in crisis.’  “My father always said, ‘Life is 10 percent what happens to us, but 90 percent how we choose to react to it.’  And it’s true; anybody can lead when things are going well; it is how one deals with adversity that makes you rise above.” Because of the Thomas family’s leadership on that day, their service to the community and the generations of athletes they inspired, they received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2010 ESPY Awards.  Aaron Thomas is a motivational speaker and the Aplington-Parkersburg High School principal and head basketball coach.   

To see highlights from the 97th annual Iowa Farm Bureau meeting, visit