There is nothing in agriculture that’s easy, said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig last week during Iowa Farm Bureau’s 2023 Young Farmer Conference. But, he said, the hard work is worth it as Iowa farmers feed and fuel the world.

“Without a doubt the best part of being the secretary of agriculture … is the chance to travel our great state visiting communities, farms, businesses,” said Naig, who gave the opening remarks at the conference, held Jan. 27-28 in Des Moines.

“I’m inspired by the innovators and have tremendous respect for the builders, the risk takers and the doers. While some just talk about what others should be doing to strengthen our economy, grow our communities and protect our natural resources, you are actually doing it.”

Naig said several challenges face Iowa farmers, from inflation and access to inputs to federal actions like the Waters of the U.S. rule or inaction on trade issues.

“There has been a lot of complexity added to what we do,” Naig noted.

Ag issues that will be at the forefront in 2023 include the reauthorization of the federal farm bill, Naig said.

“All 12 titles within the farm bill touch Iowans, even forestry,” Naig said.

He said risk management tools are a vital area of interest to Iowa farmers and ensuring those remain strong should be at the top of lawmakers’ to-do list.

Naig also noted domestic market access has become a bigger problem in recent years, especially in light of California’s ballot initiative, Proposition 12, which would mandate how hogs, cattle and chickens across the country are raised if sold in California.

He also said the U.S needs to continue to press Mexico on the GMO corn issue, which threatens to limit the types of corn that can be exported to the largest consumer of U.S. corn.

Naig added that Iowa leaders will continue efforts to increase biofuel use.

“If we’re number one producing ethanol, we should also be number one using it,” Naig said.

And Naig highlighted progress made by farmers under the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a science-based water quality effort via incentive-based, voluntary programs.

“Ten years in and there have never been more resources available to enact change,” Naig said.

backbone of the economy
Naig said that perhaps the biggest problem facing Iowa’s ag economy is ongoing worker shortages.

“Agriculture is the backbone of our state’s economy responsible for one in five jobs in this state. But we need more people working — and we need more people working in agriculture. Flat out, we need more Iowans,” he said. “There is no one easy answer, but certainly part of the solution is a recognition that we need to do more to ensure we have thriving communities. Just like the crops that we grow need the right conditions to thrive, so do our families, farms, businesses and communities. There has to be an understanding that we have to be able to live, work and play in communities of all sizes all across this state.”

Naig charged the young farmers to continue their efforts to make Iowa a great place to live. One way to do this is by volunteering in the local community or school district or helping neighbors.

“We also need to find community solutions that address housing and childcare while ensuring our communities have the amenities that families are looking for — good schools, low taxes and broadband access,” Naig said.

And Naig took a moment to thank those present for the hard work they do every day.

“I always appreciate the op­­portunity to be in the presence of the talented and hardworking men and women working daily in production agriculture,” he said. “You are growing the food and fuel and caring for the land and livestock needed to meet the demands of consumers here and around the world.”