Driven by an innovative mindset that catapulted agriculture from horse-drawn plows to self-driving tractors in just two generations, farmers are building a bright future brimming with countless opportunities, Iowa Farm Bureau President Brent Johnson said last week.

“It’s hard to believe the ad­vancement on my family farm just over the past two generations, and I am excited thinking about the new technology and practices that will come about in the next two generations,” Johnson said at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s 104th annual meeting in Des Moines. 

“This is such an exciting time to be a part of Iowa agriculture as we continue down the path of innovation and improvement, … and I’m honored to serve as your president during this defining time for agriculture.”

Johnson recapped a whirlwind first year in office since he was elected as Iowa Farm Bureau’s 14th president last December.  

Three weeks after the election, he was invited to take part in a roundtable with President Joe Biden to discuss issues that are creating an uneven playing field in livestock markets. 

Six months later, the White House called again to invite Johnson to a meeting discussing potential solutions to soaring fertilizer costs.

Those opportunities reflect the reputation that Iowa Farm Bureau has built over the past century, Johnson pointed out.

“I fully recognize that in three weeks’ time, there is nothing that I (had) done yet to deserve a call from the president of the United States,” he said. “But as Iowa farmers, you are the best in the world at what you do, and decades of dedication, resilien­ce, and innovations …, you have earned that. I was simply the lucky one who got to have that conversation on your behalf.”

Policy successes

Farm Bureau marked a number of important policy successes during the past year, Johnson noted, including helping to secure passage of the Iowa Biofuel Access Bill that will create new opportunities for the state’s growing biofuels industry. 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds also spearheaded an effort among Midwest governors asking the Environmental Protection Agency to allow year-round E15 fuel at the pumps, which served as a catalyst for a bill supported by the oil industry that would make uninterrupted nationwide access to E15 a reality.

“The future of biofuels is bright, and as the national leader in biofuel production, Iowa agriculture is positioned to continue driving growth and fulfilling demand,” Johnson said.

Iowa Farm Bureau re­mains engaged on other key agricultural issues like the EPA's Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules and California’s Prop 12, an animal welfare law that impacts Iowa farmers, as those cases work through the courts, he noted. 

Looking ahead to next year, Farm Bureau will be monitoring negotiations as lawmakers attempt to balance farm and nutrition interests while drafting the farm bill.   

“For over half of U.S. House members, this will be their first farm bill, which makes it essential for farmers to engage in the process and have a seat at the table,” Johnson said. 

“We will all need to be diligent, active in educating and communicating those issues that are important for the future of agriculture and the continued economic health for all Iowans.”

Fostering innovation

Farm Bureau is also fostering agricultural entrepreneurship and innovation through programs like the Grow Your Future contest, Acres of Opportunity Conference and Renew Rural Iowa, Johnson said.

“I’m hard pressed to think of another industry with the innovation and advancement of agriculture,” he said. “Iowa Farm Bureau will continue to cultivate opportunities in Iowa agriculture and provide that valuable insight with members.”

Advancing sustainability

Farmers are utilizing technology to produce more food while using fewer resources and advancing conservation efforts, added Johnson, who farms in Calhoun County. 

While his grandfather made the transition from farming with horses to using tractors, today’s farmers are using technology to automatically steer 30,000-pound tractors, precisely place seeds and monitor crop health from planting through harvest.

Advances in technology have helped farmers increase production while decreasing per-unit greenhouse gas emissions, Johnson said. 

For example, in the past 30 years, dairy and milk production have increased 48%, while per-unit emissions from dairy have declined almost 26%, he pointed out. Beef, pork and poultry have all made similar impressive strides. 

Iowa also ranks first in the nation in several conservation practices that improve our soil health and water quality, such as wetlands, bioreactors, grassed waterways, filter strips, buffer strips, pollinator habitat and conservation tillage.  

Meanwhile, advancements in modern livestock production are allowing farmers to improve the level of care they provide to their animals, Johnson added.

“The big strides we’ve taken in agriculture extend well beyond the implements we drive to plant, fertilize and harvest our crops. It’s evident in seed genetics, in our sustainable farming practices, in our conservation efforts and our dedication to responsible animal care,” he said. 

“Critics will say that agriculture is lagging behind, but I invite those folks to spend a day on our farms to see the work ethic and dedication Iowa farmers give to raising our crops and animals responsibly while reducing our environmental footprint.”

As Johnson’s son begins his own farming career on the family’s Calhoun County farm, the IFBF president reflected on the unique role farmers have in the lives of consumers and their intimate connection to the land as stewards of the environment.  

“Farmers are responsible for the food that nourishes and sustains, the clothing we wear and the fuel that moves us from point A to point B,” Johnson said. “Farming is our livelihood, and I believe we were called to rise to the occasion and accept the incredible responsibility in which we’ve been entrusted.  

“It’s anyone’s guess what farming will look like by the time my grandkids are working on the farm, if that’s the path they choose, but I know the future is bright.”