As we close out 2016 and prepare for the new year, here’s a review of some of the year’s major events in Iowa agriculture.
Water quality progress
Iowa’s farmers continued to take on the challenge of improving the state’s water quality in 2016.
A report compiled by Iowa State University (ISU) showed that farmers’ work to implement water quality practices, such as cover crops, bioreactors and saturated buffers, had kept more than 3.8 million pounds of nitrogen from entering surface water. In addition, 218,000 pounds of phosphorus was excluded from surface water by conservation practices.
Surveys also showed that Iowa farmers are ramping up their efforts in water quality.
An Iowa Farm Bureau survey of 400 members showed that 84 percent were applying conservation practices on their farms, mostly using their own money. The survey also showed that more than three-quarters plan to increase their conservation practices in the next five years.
The focus on water quality in Iowa caught the attention of Illinois Farm Bureau members, who made a trip west to get a first look at Iowa’s progress. They applauded the widespread collaboration on water quality among Iowa farmers, ag retailers, farm organizations and government agencies.
The 2016 elections
After a long and very contentious campaign season, voters made significant changes in Washington and at the Iowa statehouse in Des Moines.
Candidates designated by Iowa Farm Bureau members as "Friends of Agriculture" did very well in the election. Voters elected 77 of the 82 candidates designated as Friends of Agriculture.
With Donald Trump as president, farmers hope to see some relief of the increasing burden of regulation. However, there is concern about the new administration’s stance on trade and the Renewable Fuel Standard.
At the state level, Republicans now have majorities in both the Iowa House and Senate.
In another potential change in Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad has been nominated by President-elect Trump as ambassador to China. If Branstad is confirmed for that post, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will become governor.
Another big crop
Iowa farmers hauled home bumper harvests of corn and soybeans in the fall. While some areas of the state received too much rain, overall conditions were very favorable.
Iowa corn production is forecast at a record 2.7 billion bushels this year, up from 2.5 billion bushels in 2015. Average yield is projected at 199 bushels per acre, also a record.
Iowa soybean production is forecast at a record 560 million bushels, up from 553 million bushels in 2015. The Iowa soybean crop is forecast at 59 bushels per acre.
The big crops in Iowa and around the country filled storage space and put more pressure on prices. However, strong exports of soybeans and corn offered hope for price improvement.
Tough farm economy
Another year of low commodity prices in 2016 continued to pressure farmers’ balance sheets. While few lenders or economists predicted a return to the bleak days of the 1980s farm crisis, they urged farmers to sharpen their management skills and take a proactive approach to find cost savings in their operations.
In addition, experts urged farmers to stay in close contact with lenders, crop advisors, tax accountants and others to help weather the current storm.
Lower commodity prices also continued to put pressure on land prices and land rental rates in 2016, various surveys showed.
After a long legislative battle, Congress established a national voluntary standard for labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients or GMOs. The legislation pre-empted state-by-state labeling rules, which were set to go into effect in Vermont.
Under the compromise, companies can display GMO information on packages or use bar codes that, when read by smartphones, provide consumers with information. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will administer the labeling program and decide which food products should require labels.
Tough weed in Iowa
Palmer amaranth, a tough-to-control weed, spread across a large swath of Iowa during the 2016 growing season. A severe infestation of the weed, which has been devastating to farmers in southern states, can dramatically suppress corn and soybean yields.
ISU weed experts urged farmers to be vigilant to control Palmer amaranth before it establishes a permanent seed bank in the state.
Prestage to Wright Co.
North Carolina-based Prestage Foods plans to build a $240 million pork plant near Eagle Grove in Wright County. The new plant, which is projected to be completed in late 2018, will process 10,000 hogs per day and employ 900 full time workers.
Area farmers were strong supporters of the Prestage plant, saying it will boost livestock and crop demand.