Ag knowledge

Ag knowledge
As Iowans, we drive past corn and soybean fields, hog barns and cattle pastures every day on our way to work, school or town.

Because we live in the heart of farm country, we may think we have a pretty good understanding of how agriculture works, especially compared to East Coast urbanites.

But in reality, how much do we truly know about farming? Is our knowledge based on past experiences of growing up on a farm, or maybe visiting a farm or two? Do we understand how and why today’s farmers use modern technology to raise crops and livestock for a growing world population while using fewer resources?

That was clear to me a few weeks ago when I visited West Hancock Elementary in the rural town of Britt to catch up with the North Iowa Ag in the Classroom team. They were teaching first graders about the many uses for Iowa-grown corn.

Brenda Adams, one of the Ag in the Classroom coordinators, said she recently gave a presentation to young students explaining how corn is turned into ethanol to fuel cars. Adams noted that one of the byproducts of ethanol production is dried distillers grains, or DDGS, which are fed to cattle and hogs so nothing goes to waste.

After class, a teacher told Adams that she never knew there was such a thing as DDGs – and she lives on a working farm.

The teacher isn’t alone. Even though I grew up on a farm and have worked at Farm Bureau for many years, there’s still so much I don’t know about farming today. Agriculture is so dynamic today, it’s really hard to keep up.

I hate to admit how old I was before I learned that field corn is food for livestock, not people. When I was a little girl, my dad told me that the corn he delivered to the elevator would end up as corn flakes. I thought my dad was the smartest person in the world, so of course I believed him.

Now I know he was partly right – corn flakes are just one example of the thousands of food, feed, medical and industrial uses for the field corn grown in Iowa.

Every once and while, we all hear or read comments that make us question what we know about agriculture. Unfortunately, some people think that because they live near a farm, or eat corn flakes every day, it makes them an expert in agriculture. So they spread misinformation to their friends or on the Internet.

But just because we eat food doesn’t mean we’re farming experts, just like driving a car doesn’t make us qualified auto mechanics. Yes, we may question if we really need to replace the transmission fluid in the car, but we usually trust the mechanic to know what’s best.

Similarly, when we have questions about agriculture, it makes sense to turn to the experts: the farmers, Extension specialists, veterinarians, agronomists and agribusiness professionals who work on farms every day.

I have found that most farmers and ag specialists are thrilled to talk to folks about what they do for a living. They are proud of their role in feeding your family and people around the world.

You can also get an “ag education” from the comfort of your home by visiting the food and farming websites listed below. Who knows? You may discover something you never knew about agriculture.

- On the Web: Best Food Facts ( – Terrific, interactive website where consumers can ask nutrition and ag experts about the foods they eat and how the food is raised. The website is updated frequently, so check back often for new questions and expert answers.

- On Facebook: Real Farmwives of America ( – So much better than those reality TV housewives, this group of farm women from across the country share daily Facebook updates on their families, friendships, farms and homes. I especially love all their wonderful recipe ideas!

- On Twitter: Follow Iowa farmer Mike Ver Steeg ( @foodprovider) to get a tractor-ride view of spring planting. Ver Steeg has more than 3,000 Twitter followers, and he welcomes conversation with each and every one.

- On blogs: Get a glimpse of what it’s like to live and work on an Iowa farm by following two of my favorite bloggers, Liz at “Life as an Iowa Farm Wife” ( and Sara at “Sara’s House HD” (

Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.