Football has a way of bringing unlikely people together. Under the stadium lights, it doesn’t matter what your voter registration card says, if you’re Team N*SYNC or Team Backstreet Boys or whether or not you think a hotdog is a sandwich (it isn’t, friends)—you high-five strangers after your team scores a touchdown, collectively cringe during fumbles and commiserate over bad calls by the refs. And every now and then this togetherness transcends the football field to lift spirits with a wave, raise millions for a worthy cause and even bring awareness to why America Needs Farmers.

At a time when farmers face a slew of challenges from weather, trade, low prices in commodity markets and other “uncontrollables,” the sentiment of “America Needs Farmers” still rings true today. That’s why Iowa Farm Bureau partners with the Iowa Hawkeye Athletics; to elevate the issues surrounding Iowa agriculture and connect football fans with real farmers in their state. And during this year’s ANF Game on Saturday, Oct. 12, more than 30 young farmers will be at the Iowa Farm Bureau ANF Legends Tent. I think visitors will enjoy chatting with these farmers and will be surprised that no two Iowa family farms are the same—nor do they face the same set of challenges. 

For cattle and grain farmers Shonda and Jeremie Hahn of Tiffin, their challenge emerged when Shonda’s dad had a sudden health issue. Prior to that, her dad was fully in charge of the family farm, and the young couple helped out as needed. Without her dad at the helm, Shonda and Jeremie quickly had to take over every aspect of the farm from planting and harvesting to marketing a crop and crunching numbers. Shonda also stepped up during this critical time to take over the family seed business.

For Kate Edwards, a Johnson County vegetable farmer, struggles came when elected leaders attempted to zone agriculture in a way that would affect her small business. Likewise, proposed ordinances in Johnson County would affect farmers like Travis Spevacek who raise their cattle under roof. That’s why Iowa Farm Bureau members, whether they grew crops on 40 acres or 1,000 acres, raised five backyard pigs or 5,000, came together to support each other. In Iowa agriculture, it is our diversity that makes us stronger, and it takes everyone working together to keep Iowa’s family farms thriving.

Other challenges come in the form of being able to be profitable while also protecting our state’s water quality. For cattle and grain farmer Jared Weber, Iowa’s Conservation Farmer of the Year, that means trying a little bit of everything. On his farm in southeastern Iowa, he uses terraces and grassed waterways to keep soil in place and nutrients out of the water. He grazes his cattle, rotating them throughout the pasture, allowing plants to grow deep roots in the ground. He also has plans to install a bioreactor, a practice that helps filter nutrients out of drainage tile, in the near future.

Dustin Johnson, who grows corn and soybeans and raises cattle in eastern Iowa, tackles water quality by planting cover crops on his farm and practices no-till, meaning he leaves the soil undisturbed after harvest, reducing soil loss. He attributes his family farm’s success to continuously looking for ways to improve conservation practices on the ground and is confident his family is doing the right thing for the environment, benefiting all Iowans.

At the Iowa Farm Bureau ANF Legends tent in Krause Family Plaza from 3:30-6:00 p.m., you will be able to meet the Hahn, Edwards, Spevacek, Johnson and Weber families—along with many other Johnson County farmers—who would love to share how they take on the challenges present in agriculture today and how much your support for them means for farm families.

Just like committed, passionate football players, farmers give everything they’ve got. But instead of the sporting adage, “leave your heart on the field,” farmers put their hearts into their fields. Fans can celebrate that passion by sporting ANF merchandise to raise money for Iowa food banks (a portion of the sale of ANF merchandise benefits the Iowa Food Bank Association. To date, nearly $170,000 has been raised so far!). It’s just another way to show how Iowans help Iowans—a team we’re all on.