By almost every measure, 2020 was an unprecedented year in Iowa agriculture. From the COVID-19 pandemic to a severe drought and then a devastating August derecho, a wide range of unusual events impacted Iowa farmers, and all of agriculture, during the year.
The pandemic slammed headlong into Iowa agriculture in March of 2020, sending livestock and crop markets into a sudden free fall. Prices for Iowa cattle and hogs, as well as corn and soybeans, all dropped as uncertainty about the pandemic gripped commodity markets. Demand for ethanol and biodiesel also plummeted as Americans sharply reduced their driving during the pandemic.
As labor problems slowed production at meat processing plants, or even temporarily closed them altogether, many Iowa livestock farmers were caught with no outlet for their market-ready hogs and cattle.
“The thought of farmers not being able to move their animals when they need to or not being able to accept new animals onto their operation — this overwhelms everything, even the economics of it,” Craig Hill, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) president, said in late April.
The slowdown at meat processing plants was eventually eased, in part by President Donald Trump’s executive order identifying meat processors as essential businesses required to remain operating during the pandemic. Farmers also got assistance from an Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) program, which used funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to reimburse farmers’ losses from animals they were forced to depopulate.
Two rounds of a federal relief program, called the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), also provided direct payments to livestock and crop farmers to help offset some of the losses from market disruptions caused by the pandemic.
As the pandemic sent demand soaring at Iowa food banks, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF), county Farm Bureaus and individual members stepped up to help.
Through donations and matching grants, the state and county organizations donated enough money to provide one million meals to Iowans in need. Many individual Farm Bureau members also helped by donating livestock, providing meals for health care workers or building badly needed personal protective equipment.
As in most years, weather was a big factor in Iowa farmers’ fortunes in 2020. But this being 2020, there were unprecedented weather events.
After an almost ideal planting season, hot, dry weather during the summer sapped fields and reduced crop potential over large parts of western Iowa.
On Aug. 10 a derecho storm with sustained winds of up to 140 miles an hour devastated crops, wrecked grain bins, damaged homes and ripped up everything else in its path as it tore through central and east central Iowa.
The highly unusual derecho tangled some 3.5 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans, according estimates by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
In the November election, candidates designated by Iowa Farm Bureau members as “Friends of Agriculture” fared well. In Iowa races, voters elected 70 of the 74 candidates designated as Friends of Agriculture. At the national level, Iowans reelected Sen. Joni Ernst and elected Randy Feenstra in U.S. House District 4.
Other 2020 events
• County Farm Bureau voting delegates adopted policy language on livestock, biofuels, biosecurity and other key state and national agricultural issues at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s 2020 Summer Policy Conference in Des Moines.
• Corn and soybean markets staged an unusual harvest-season rally on strong exports, robust domestic demand and tighter-than-expected supplies.
• Biofuel advocates and lawmakers worked to force the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the provisions of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), as well as court decisions. They strongly criticized the agency’s handling of RFS exemptions, which destroyed billions of gallons of biofuel demand.