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Embracing innovation so everyone has a seat at the dinner table.

Norman Borlaug's innovative work in agriculture has saved one billion people from hunger.
Very few issues today have the power to unite so many diverse individuals as the fight to combat world hunger.  In an intense election season with many important issues being hotly debated, it was a breath of fresh air to witness the unity and shared values of the 600 individuals who attended the Iowa Hunger Summit during the World Food Prize.  When the facts about hunger are laid out, it’s easy to see why this issue has the ability to unite so many people with wide-ranging backgrounds and differing political views.

Consider this: according to a recent National Geographic, one in eight people in this world goes to bed hungry every night; that’s 805 million undernourished people in this world, and many of those who are starving are children.  Even locally, here in Iowa, new figures show 1 in 8 Iowans don’t have the money or the ability access healthy, safe meals every day.

For the past two years, I have been fortunate to work alongside many great Iowa farmers who contribute to Iowa’s status as the nation’s leader in the production of so many commodities.  ‘Feeding a growing global population,’ can sound cliché, but a major theme of this year’s World Food Prize addressed how we can feed a world population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, when so many Iowans and others around the world are already going to bed hungry each night.

After hearing experts representing all aspects of food production, speakers from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media, and various charities address the growing hunger crisis, the overwhelming response to fighting hunger is innovation and doing more with less.  It sounds simple, but what does that actually mean here in Iowa?

Today, innovative modern livestock barns allow farmers to take better care of their animals though technology that controls the barn’s climate, utilizing automated equipment that administers the right amount of food and water, and strict biosecurity practices that help keep the animals healthy and safe, so the food you and I feed our families is the highest quality and safest in the world.

Here in Iowa, where corn, beans and hogs are king, the farmers looking for ways to fill a niche market and produce more with less are easily overshadowed.  I recently had the privilege of meeting some young men who decided livestock barns didn’t necessarily have to house only hogs, cattle and poultry as we have come to expect.  Though innovation and thinking outside the box, we now see fish and shrimp raised indoors, year-round, in Iowa.  Iowa aquaculture has caught the attention of many and may be one of the fastest growing segments of Iowa agriculture in the coming years.

Another young farmer I have had the privilege of working with defines innovation and is truly a trailblazer in Iowa agriculture.  Andrew Pittz is a sixth-generation Iowa farmer whose family grows the traditional Iowa commodities, corn and beans, but he had a different vision.  Pittz was the first to grow aronia berries in Iowa.  Aronia berries are considered a ‘superfood,’ a highly nutritious fruit extremely rich in antioxidants.  Much like the farmers leading the way in Iowa aquaculture, Pittz’s innovative move to aronia berry production is just another example of how Iowa farmers are thinking outside the box to produce more food locally to feed a growing global population.

Dr. Norman Borlaug, an Iowa farmer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, would be proud of the innovation embraced by Iowa farmers.  As a man who spent his life dedicated to improving crop genetics and increased food production, Dr. Borlaug is credited with saving more lives than any other person who has ever lived.  Thanks to the groundwork laid by Dr. Borlaug’s life’s work in genetic engineering, we have witnessed incredible advancements in biotechnology, leading Iowa farmers to produce more food while using fewer resources, despite threats from climate and pests.

I walked away from the Huger Summit somber realizing how many people in my community are hungry, but at the same time, I left with pride and optimism, knowing thousands of Iowa farmers are working hard in the fields, right now, in an effort to harvest a record crop that will go to feed as many people as possible.

I’m grateful that an event like the Iowa Hunger Summit can bring so much diversity to the table for a common, shared goal, and I’m proud to work with the Iowa farmers who are on the front lines embracing innovation to combat the challenge of hunger, which we can all agree is one of the most important issues facing us in the next few decades.

By Andrew Wheeler. Andrew is Iowa Farm Bureau's Public Relations Coordinator.