A group of international scholars who recently visited Iowa State University (ISU) as well as farms and agribusinesses were struck by the size, scale and technological sophistication of the state’s farming. The young leaders from six different countries were also impressed by agriculture’s strong role in Iowa’s economy, with one in every five jobs in Iowa tied to farming.
But visitors, part of the Nuffield International Farm Scholars program, came away with some other impressions. They were excited by Iowa farmers' work to take on the challenge of improving water quality in the state. The efforts to spur ag entrepreneurship caught their attention. And they wanted to learn more about employing technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs on farms.
In addition, the visitors from Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand, England, Australia and the Netherlands said they were struck by the friendliness and generosity of the Iowans they met during their six days in the state.
“People here have been so welcoming and open to helping us learn about farming in Iowa,” said David Hichens, a dairy farmer from the United Kingdom. “That’s really helped us learn and develop relationships with people in Iowa agriculture.”
The Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust, started in the 1940s in the United Kingdom, is designed to provide research opportunities for students in farming, horticulture or rural industries. The non-profit organization has affiliates in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe. It also has associate organizations in Brazil and the United States.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is on the organization’s board of directors.
It made sense for the Nuffield scholars to visit Iowa and ISU as part of their tour of the United States, said Ed Kee, president of the Nuffield’s American organization.
“Iowa State is a national and international leader in so many agricultural disciplines: animal science, dairy science, agricultural economics and agricultural policy, agronomy and the crop sciences,” said Kee, former Delaware secretary of agriculture. “The Nuffield Scholars come from countries where universities with agricultural programs may teach, may do research, but don’t have the extension component. They will benefit greatly from gaining an enhanced understanding of all three components of the land grant mission,” he said.
Rebecca Hyde of New Zealand was eager to learn more about efforts by farmers and others to improve water quality through the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Raised on a livestock farm, Hyde works as an environmental consultant helping farmers reduce the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus from fields and pastures.
“I think there is a lot we can learn from the efforts by Iowa farmers to reduce nutrient losses,” Hyde said. “It is something that I really want to study to see if there are practices that can work back in New Zealand.”
Hichens, who was raised on a dairy farm in far southwest England, said he was especially interested in the Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative at ISU.
“I’m looking for people who are ready to think outside the box in agriculture, so the entrepreneurship aspect is a big thing for me,” Hichens said. “I think that’s really how we can keep agriculture more sustainable and attract more young people to farming.”
Matthew Fealy of Australia, part of a family farm that raises mangos and avocados, is interested in learning more about mechanization to help ease chronic labor shortages.
“Finding labor is really our biggest issue, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better,” Fealy said. “So I’m really interested in finding solutions through robotics, automation and big data and want to get information on that here.”
Along with visiting ISU, the scholars visited Iowa farms, commodity group offices, central Iowa agribusinesses and the World Food Prize headquarters.