New Dean of ISU's Veterinary College discusses rural vet shortage, African Swine Fever and antibiotics | The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 19
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Welcome to Episode 19 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, Dr. Dan Grooms, the new Dean of Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, talks about the shortage of rural veterinarians, preventing devastating diseases like African Swine Fever, and antibiotic use. The episode also includes an interview with Jarad Weber, a Lee County Farm Bureau member who was recently named the 2019 Iowa Conservation Farmer of the Year.
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Narrator: Since 1934, Iowa's farmers have turned to the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman as their trusted news source. Now, The Spokesmen Speaks. Listen in and hear from leading experts on topics important to farmers and agriculture. Now here's your host, Laurie Johns.
Laurie Johns: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. This is our August 12th edition. Whether you're working on the farm or catching this podcast episode during your trip to the Iowa State Fair, we're glad you've joined us. This week's episode includes a couple of distinguished guests, Jarad Weber, who is the 2019 Conservation Farmer of the Year, and Dr. Dan Grooms, who is the new Dean of Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Grooms has some important things to say about ISU's role in addressing the shortage of veterinarians in rural Iowa. He also talks about the prevention of a devastating animal disease like African swine fever, so you don't want to miss that. But let's start with Jarad Weber, a Lee County Farm Bureau member who was recently named the 2019 Iowa Conservation Farmer of the Year. That's an award that includes the free use of a John Deere Utility Tractor for up to a year. I recently visited Jarad on his family's farm and learned about the mindset and the practices that led him to being named the Conservation Farmer of the Year. Let's hear a bit of that conversation now. They give you a call and they say, hey, you've won this conservation award. What'd you think?
Jarad Weber: Yeah, I got a text from Rick and I was bailing hay and the first thing that popped up on my phone was that, you've got the use of free tractor. And so I was like, this has gotta be a scam, you know, or some sorta deal. But, so yeah, very excited. Quite an honor. Cause I know there's a lot of great farmers in Iowa, that do good work and we're kind of down here in our corner. And it's pretty exciting to know that people notice when you work really hard and put in a lot of hours. I'm really excited about the award and I think it's a good thing. And it kind of makes me want to focus a little bit harder on what it is I'm doing because it kind of reminds me that what I am doing is important and that people notice. And so, I'm excited to get the award and then excited to do more in the future, you know, from here on out to what we can do to practice conservation farming, you know.
Laurie Johns: Well and conservation is kind of a family legacy isn't it? Cause you've got some stuff on the farm that goes way back.
Jarad Weber: Yeah. So we've been here, the Weber's been on this farm since 1905. A hundred and some years ago. My dad and uncle farmed together when I was a little kid and that's where my conservation started. It was with them. I got to drive a tractor, young age, you know, pull a 10 and 13 foot disk when I was, you know, 12, 13 years old. And I remember from the barely age, don't mess up those waterways, Jarad, or don't get too close to the fence. If you do that's gonna pile dirt up on the fence or you know, when you around his hill make sure he got the disc out of ground cause that's going to be a place for water to run down that hill. And once you do that, we can't fix it. So make sure - it's a little things like that they preached when I was little and then as I got bigger, you know, I kinda understood, you know, the hydraulics, how water moves and how the dirt moves down here in our part of the state and as it's really, it erodes easy. So you really gotta watch what you do. So starting at a young age, I was taught how to do it the right way. I didn't always agree with it when I was young and now that I run the farm, pay the bills, I understand why they were so picky about what they asked me to do when I was younger.
Laurie Johns: And you get a lot of different types of conservation practices and approaches you do to improve water quality. Give me a list. What do you got?
Jarad Weber: Handful of things that we do: Terraces, tile terraces, which is you know, old practice. We just keep adding where they need to be added. And then waterways. Those are one of the simplest things. But the hardest at the same time, you know, cause to get the water to go where you want it. A waterway can save a ton of dirt, I mean more than tons but the waterway can save you a lot of dirt really inexpensively and we'll go out in the spring with a skid loader and just make sure that water is getting directed to that waterway. And I do a lot of work with a skid loader and a bag of grass seed, you know, for conservation. Real simple, real easy. But if you cut a problem off before it starts at the top of a waterway, make a little rise. Four inches can make a big difference on water. Well before it heads over the hill before gains any speed. If you get it diverted to a waterway, it's a big deal down the road. Cover crops is another one we've been playing with to varying success over the past six, seven, eight years. We've had some real failures. We've had some great success this year was a whole different one where we're planting into chest high rye at green. So that was a new experience for us. Like I said, we've had oats in mature beans that was knee high. That was a challenge on the other end where we're trying to harvest and everything's green and the combine, we're running one mile an hour. Had excellent beans. The cover crops, we do some rotational grazing, you know, in the cow herd, on our rough rolling ground, we run on cows on it so we can kinda utilize all the acres. So 2013, we did our first paddock. We had got some equip money through TJ at the NRCS and Barb, they do a great job at the Lee County NRCS, promoting conservation and then helping find funds available for this. So I talked to TJ and he talked to me. So we went into this paddock and that was when we put a mile fence in, put three waters in night, we'll put a half mile of waterline in a using rap and water. And that was a sweat job. I mean it was hot and dry that summer. And so when we batwing that one, we don't hit the fence. That was a tough one, it was a dry year and hot. But it's worked really well since '13. We're adding one or two more paddock jobs now since that one.
Laurie Johns: What are some of the lessons you've learned or continued to learn along the way?
Jarad Weber: Lessons? Oh my goodness. You can go on and on. So on the cover crops we've learned start out small and we do it close to home. One thing I've learned for sure, keep the sprayer close to your cover crop, keep it close to your cows, because the cows work great for cover crop cause you can have something green, they can go harvest it themselves. You got to watch compaction when it's wet with the cows. Spray it early is important going in the corn, but otherwise in the beans, it don't bother me, you get some height, we'll get that tall stuff. And we learned a lot this year and I think you learn more in a challenging year then you do in a normal year. In a normal year, anything works. I mean, everything works in a normal year, but on a tough year, it really separates itself from what works and what doesn't work and so we've learned a lot this year with some of the headaches. You know, we've replanted beans down here. We're on our third planting of beans, you know, so it's been a real challenge. You going out in cover crop that, you know, that's this high, thank goodness for auto-steer and some of the practice we're using with auto-steer and shutoffs, just stuff like that we've learned that from train wrecks, you know that from some of the hard stuff. And then on the other conservation side, you know, I told you I'm not a 100% no-tiller. We do no-tilling, we do some strip tilling, we do some conventional tillage. And I mentioned earlier that turbo till is my favorite because we can go one pass on the cornstalks in the fall, hit those, bust up the residue. It keeps our dirt on the hills and it starts prepping that seed bed so it can warm up in the spring. And another thing that cover crops we learned with what the turbo till is, take your bean stubble and hit it with a turbo till and then seed it. So you've got your bean stubble broke up, when we're getting some really good yield and beans that are up to the 70, 80 bushel beans, that makes a lot of plumage, so if you can hit that, the turbo till, put your cover crop back on it to protect the dirt, then when you go plant next year, that's already busted up. And that's one of the neatest things we learned from cover crops is, and that was just by chance because that's the way we seeded that year. We had to seed it and then we turbo tilled it in to incorporate it. And that was a neat lesson we learned. And we've had some hard lessons too, some failures and some replant corn. Corn didn't come up. And that gets expensive when you have those failures.
Laurie Johns: Well farming is impossible to predict and it's not perfect. So it's like you're constantly adjusting, right?
Jarad Weber: I feel like we do more adjusting than planning. You know, there's always a plan, there's always an initial plan. And then if you're not good at ad-libbing or it's kinda like almost the quarterback is scrambling, you know, this year we've been on the run from the get go, you know, just scrambling trying to, you know, to try to get out of this situation. But yeah, definitely gotta go with the plan and that's super important. But then the ad-libbing is so important and then what can you make of it, you know, at this point where we at and how do we get out of this one? And then if you don't learn something from it, that's the most important stuff so when you do have a failure, what are we doing to make it better? You know, so we've got a ditch run down this hill. How are we gonna stop it? What do we do next time? You know? And same with cover crops and everything we've done you learn something from. And if you don't, I think you're, you're not doing it right.
Laurie Johns: Well, with that in mind, what makes it worth it? What is the driving thing that man, I'm going to keep trying it.
Jarad Weber: Like in this scenario where I'm here getting an award, it seems like, you know, it just all happened at once, but just a little bit at a time. You know we tried 40 acres of cover crop because we did prevent plant. We started there or did a terrace that I built myself. And the paddock job was just a curiosity. It's like, can we make this work by splitting this pasture up into smaller chunks and rotationally grazing it? And just, my own curiosity and then part of it's the challenge that I enjoy from people saying, hey, I don't think that's going to work. And I'm just like, I think I can make it work. So start small and try something, you know? And if you fail, that's a great, you know, something you learn from. And we've done a lot of that. We've had a lot of failures. We've had some success too. It's been great but a little bit at a time and then it just kind of starts rolling along just like anything kind of snowballs and once you get a little bit going and then you just keep adding to it. And now we're kind of in the middle of some kind of cool I think. And I feel like we're just getting started. You know what we're doing. I think we're just getting a good start on what conservation really is.
Laurie Johns: Well you're always looking at something else. What's next?
Jarad Weber: What's next? I want to work with the cows more. We're going to keep going with some of the paddock stuff. The cows are great down here in this part of the state because we've got so much ground that you can't put corn and beans on. So we're going to keep working on a cow herd. Get more out of the ground. Maybe it's interceding, maybe it's doing a better job with the fertilizer management. You know, weeds and brush management's always the deal. But I want to add to the cow herd and that conservation part and then do a better job with the row crop because I don't, any farmer can probably do a better job on the row crop side of things. But I'm excited about what's a fort. When I started farming, you know, 15 years ago, I had no autosteer, no large equipment, you know, so, but now, you know, with some of the stuff we have available to us and what we've learned, I'm just excited about trying some new stuff and keep pushing the cover crop. Keep working with the no-till and the strip-till and see where it works and see where it doesn't work. And then seeing if we can back off on the chemical side and use this cover crop to hold those weeds backs. I think that's important cause it's one thing to go out there and put some cover crop on. But if you gotta use a gallon Roundup to kill it, what are you gaining? You know, you got your dirt but you're use a lot more chemicals so you're gonna have to kill it. So you use some chemicals, but can you back off the residuals, you know? And where can you go from there? So, I don't know. Sky's the limit, you know, with some of this stuff, we're gonna need more terraces. There's some obvious places where we got some water moving or some dirt moving. We're going to do some more terraces. Got some pattern time I like to do. I think we can, with combination of terraces on the sides, get some tiles on top make these farms more productive because with the way agriculture is now, you gotta squeeze everything you can out of what you have. You know, say I look into renting another a hundred acres or whatever it is. I'm trying to improve what I have and not try to farm the whole county or anything like that, but just make the most of what we have is what we're trying to do and do it the right way like my dad and uncle would like because, you know, this thing got started a long time ago, way before me. And I think it's important for me to do my part to conserve it and then teach my kids, say, hey, it's not all about just plowing it under and taking cash off this farm. You know, there's more to it than that. And so there's a ton of stuff that that's coming down the road and we only know what it is yet, you know? So we're just keep rolling on with it and going.
Laurie Johns: A great conversation and I'm sure you can all relate to Jarad's situation. Conservation is really site-specific and there's a lot of trial and error involved. What's important is that we continue to learn along the way and keep that goal that Jarad referenced in mind, leaving a legacy for the next generation. Keep up the great work, Jarad, and congratulations on being named the 2019 Iowa Conservation Farmer of the Year. From Lee County, we had northwest to Ames and Iowa State University. Dr Dan Grooms is the new Dean of Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine. Spokesman Editor Dirck Steimel visited Dr. Grooms at the Vet College late last month and he discovered some fascinating things about the college's work and its evolution. Ready to hear that? Let's listen in.
Dirck Steimel: We're here with Dan Grooms, Dean of the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine. You've been here since October.
Dr. Dan Grooms: That's correct, Dirck So I landed on October 1st, 2018.
Dirck Steimel: Good. Tell us a little bit about your background and the impressions you've had of Iowa animal agriculture since you've been here.
Dr. Dan Grooms: So just a little of my background. So first of all, I was born and raised in Ohio and actually grew up on a beef cattle farm there. My father was a vocational agriculture teacher and my mom was a nurse. And so I come from an agriculture background. Both of my grandparents were actually dairy farmers in Ohio. Went to veterinary school at Ohio State and was in private practice in a mixed animal practice in central Ohio for about five years, but then was recruited back to Ohio State to work on a graduate degree. And after finishing that graduate degree was lucky enough to be recruited. And I took a job at Michigan State University in their College of Veterinary Medicine where I was the beef cattle extension research and kind of teaching person there. So, for the better part of 20 years, I really was engage in both the beef cattle as well as the dairy industry in Michigan. Cause what I worked on was infectious diseases of cattle. And so the viruses and bacteria that affect beef cattle also affect dairy cattle. And so really, I worked with the cattle industry broadly, even though my appointment was specifically beef cattle. So, research on infectious diseases, outreach programs on infectious diseases and then a lot of teaching around how do we control and prevent infectious diseases in our cattle population. So did that for 20 years. Was also a department chair for three years before being asked to apply for the position here at Iowa State. And so I did, and I was lucky enough to be chosen and then have been here now for just short of 10 months and it's been probably the best 10 months of my life to be honest with you.
Dirck Steimel: What are your impressions of animal agriculture here in state of Iowa?
Dr. Dan Grooms: Yeah, absolutely. Well, unbelievable. So I mean when you get out about the state of Iowa. So first of all, being from an agricultural background, I certainly knew of the importance of agriculture in the state of Iowa. I understood the importance of Iowa State towards supporting both the agriculture mission broadly, but specifically the animal industry in the state of Iowa. So that's part of the reason that I came here was because of that rich history of Iowa State University supporting agriculture broadly and specifically here in Iowa. But once you get here and actually start learning about it, that's when you go wow. You see how, you know, first of all, how broad it impacts the economy. When you start learning about what people are doing from a technology standpoint to really improve the health, the welfare and the productivity of animals here in the state of Iowa, you really start understanding, you know, how really how really outstanding animal agriculture here is in Iowa. And it's been a lot of fun learning about it.
Dirck Steimel: One of the things that we've heard a lot about is foreign animal disease. How can the vet college help Iowa farmers to reduce the threat of foreign animal disease such as African swine fever?
Dr. Dan Grooms: Yeah. So, so African swine fever certainly is the big threat that we're all thinking about today. And as we should as that disease kind of spreads across Asia, you know, it worries us, you know, what would happen should it come here. There's also lots of other foreign animals diseases out there that we need to be cognizant about. I had the opportunity to spend a month in the United Kingdom back in 2001, when Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak occurred there. And so I've had the opportunity to see how devastating a foreign animal disease can be. So here at the College of Veterinary Medicine, we play lots of rural roles, I should say in both preparedness should a foreign animal disease outbreak occur. And then also, hopefully it doesn't occur, but if it should occur mitigating that outbreak. So a few key roles. Number one is we are training the veterinarians that are basically, those folks that are out there. They're kind of the first point of contact. They're the folks that are looking for these disease outbreaks. So recently there was a new disease discovered here in Iowa called porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. That was discovered by an Iowa State alumni. She first recognized that this is something unusual. This is disease we've never seen. Brought it to the attention of our veterinary diagnostic lab. And eventually we diagnosed PED virus here in Iowa. And then the rest is history, as I should say. So we train our veterinarians, our students here, how to recognize number one, the common foreign animal diseases, Foot and Mouth disease, African swine fever, so forth and so on. But also to look for diseases that are unusual that we may not know about, emerging infectious diseases. You know, what's not a typical pattern? So that's a key thing that we do here is train those veterinarians to look for those problems. Number two, our Center for Food Security and Public Health plays a huge role in helping farmers get prepared should a disease outbreak occur. So that role primarily is through developing the secure pork supply systems, secure milk supplies, secure beef system. So this is helping farmers be prepared should there be an outbreak, how they can continue their business. So that's an important role that we play. And then the third important role is our veterinary diagnostic labs. So the VDL is a key player in both surveillance for diseases as well as should there be an outbreak in helping to figure out where it's at and then also show which farms are infected and which are not. This was probably no more evident than in 2015 when we had that high path AI outbreak here in Iowa. So the VDL was constantly working with producers in number one, figuring out where the disease was, but more importantly, showing which farms were free of the disease so that they then could go ahead and move their eggs or move their chickens or their turkeys, through commerce. So that VDL, that veterinary diagnostic compass, a key component to any disease control program. But specifically, should we ever have a foreign disease outbreak, they would play a key role there.
Dirck Steimel: Another issue that people in Iowa agriculture are concerned about is just the supply of veterinarians themselves, large animal vets. What is the college doing to help train those people and get us enough large animal vets that they need for their lifestyle?
Dr. Dan Grooms: Yeah, it's great question. So I think I'd reframe it in that there's really a shortage of veterinarians in rural Iowa, in rural Michigan where I came from, in rural South Dakota. And it's not only for food animals, although certainly that's important for farms, but it's also for companion animals as well. There's a developing shortage, especially in rural areas of veterinarians just to take care of people's pets. And this isn't unique to veterinary medicine. It's a problem in the human medical fields. It's a problem in the law fields. You know, it's an issue where the newer generations are less inclined to want to be in rural areas. But nonetheless, it's important that we try to meet those needs. So, several things that we're working on. This isn't a simple, you know, a silver bullet issue that you can solve. You have to look at it from a lot of different angles. So things like a loan repayment program. So the cost of medical education, whether it's veterinary medicine or human medicine is high. And so one of the ways that we can try to encourage people to go back into rural areas is to help them with their cost of education. And so there are federal programs right now. It's called the Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program. We work as the College of Veterinary Medicine, work very closely with our state veterinarian here in the Iowa Department of Agriculture in making sure that we are well positioned to receive those federal loan repayment programs. In fact, Iowa is one of the most successful states in getting those loan repayment programs. Those are specifically targeting veterinarians that want to work in rural Iowa and want to work in agriculture community. So we will continue to partner with IDALS and the federal government in getting those loan repayment programs coming back to Iowa. So I think that's one thing. Number two, we have to work hard, not only as the College of Veterinary Medicine, but also with organizations like the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association as well as practitioners across the state in recruiting people from rural areas into our profession. The data would suggest that people coming from rural areas in the United States, it's more likely for them to go back to those areas versus someone that comes from a suburban or urban area. But that's a team effort working on trying to recruit people from those areas. So it's local practitioners trying to mentor and encourage folks to go into veterinary medicine. It's the IVMA setting up programs to, again, recruit and market our profession to students that are in rural areas. And then likewise, it's our job to go out there and talk with folks from all kinds of different backgrounds, including rural backgrounds about the importance of veterinary medicine and the opportunities in that career. So that's something we will continue to work on. The third thing is, this summer I actually hired two students, two veterinary students here as interns. And their job was to basically visit with stakeholders all across the state of Iowa. Veterinarians, producers, IVMA representatives, legislators, a variety of different people as well as our students here and ask the questions. What are some possibilities to try to help solve this problem here in Iowa? So they've been doing a great job of gathering a lot of information, a lot of data, getting a lot of great ideas, and they're going to bring that back to me. And then we're going to work with our Iowa Veterinary Medical Association and hopefully have kind of a summit around this topic of, you know, how do we better solve the problem of bringing veterinary medicine back to rural Iowa. So we're working, we don't have all the answers at this point, but it is something that's important to me. Because I came from a rural area, I understand the importance of veterinarians to the health and welfare of animals in rural areas to the safety and the quality of the products that are being produced there. And to public health in general. So it's something that's important to us and we're working on it.
Dirck Steimel: Another thing that's been in the news is antibiotics. How is the college helping farmers reduce the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock production?
Dr. Dan Grooms: So absolutely. So antibiotic use is kind of high on everybody's thought processes. Now we have, unfortunately across the world, not just here in the United States, we have an increasing risk of antimicrobial resistant bacteria out there. And by the way, this is a problem both in human medicine and it's also a problem in animals as well. And so something that we have to really pay attention to work on. So there's a couple of things going on here at the college that are important. Number one is, is teaching proper antibiotic use. Antimicrobial Stewardship is integrated within our curriculum across the board. And whether we're talking about companion animal medicine or we're talking about food animal medicine, it's something that is important to us in that we train our students well in the proper use of antibiotics and then hopefully they take that information and that knowledge out to their producers or out to their companion animal owners and provide that knowledge to them. So that's an important part of our training program, number one. Number two, we have several faculty here, that do research on antimicrobial use in all species. So they're looking at better strategies, use anti-microbials, different types of non-antibiotic treatments for Infectious Diseases. A variety of ways to try to combat AMR use or antimicrobial resistance and maybe alternatives to antimicrobial use. Third and probably, maybe the most important thing is that a year ago at this time Iowa State was awarded an institute, it's called the National Institute of Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education, NIAMRRE, for short. But this was a national institute that was competed for by several universities, land grant universities across the country. And we were lucky to have won that competition. So our institute is actually is a joint effort between Iowa State University, University of Nebraska, University of Iowa. Yes, we love the folks from the University of Iowa. We would love to work with them. And then also the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. So there's both the human side as well as the animal side and NIAMRRE, the national institute is working on several different things to help make some strides on animal core resistance. So it's education, there's research components, there's bringing people together to have conversations both from the human and animal side. And so we're looking for exciting things coming from that institute in the future.
Dirck Steimel: Now under the new protocols, the FDA protocols, the vet is a really important part of the antibiotic. Is that right?
Dr. Dan Grooms: Absolutely. That's exactly right. And FDA who oversees antibiotic use in animals, basically sets the rules and regulations. They're increasingly making it such that veterinarians have to be involved in antibiotic decision making, specifically in food producing animals. So recently, two years ago when the veterinary feed directive came into place, that meant that any antibiotics used in food producing animals had to be prescribed, although it's not officially a prescription. It basically had to be overseen by a veterinarian. And I think that the oversight of antibiotic use in food animals will continue to get more and more stringent and require veterinarians to be involved in that decision making process. Whereas, you know, historically that wasn't necessarily the case. You could go buy antibiotics, whether feed grade antibiotics or injectable antibiotics from a local farm store, but you know that's going to be becoming less and less available to producers.
Dirck Steimel: Any other issues that you'd like to bring up for our farmer members?
Dr. Dan Grooms: I think it's important to say that, you know, in my 10 months here, it's just been really, really exciting to learn about Iowa agriculture, to learn about Iowa State University and the College of Veterinary Medicine, the great partnerships that we have across the state. I think one of the exciting things that's happening here at Iowa State that I think probably all agriculture, all folks involved in agriculture, would like to know is that we're moving forward with the building of new veterinary diagnostic lab. We were so thrilled to get support from the state legislature in moving this project forward. So right now we're planning what's called phase one of our veterinary diagnostic lab. And I would love to be able to say that a year from now we're actually digging a hole sometime in 2020, probably later in the summer, early in the fall we will be starting the construction of the new veterinary diagnostic lab, which is really important for all of agriculture, not only just animal agriculture but also for the folks that feed those pigs and those cattle. So that's the crop producers as well. So that's an exciting development and we can't wait to get that project started.
Laurie Johns: So, do you know any young men or women who would love to become a veterinarian? Well then this would be a great podcast episode to share with them. We certainly appreciate Dr. Groom's time and thoughts on the role and direction of ISU College of Veterinary Medicine. Well done. That's all for this episode of The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. We hope to see all of you at the Iowa State Fair. Remember, Farm Bureau Park is right next to the Varied Industries Building, just off the Grand Concourse. And be sure to tune in for our next episode of the podcast, August 26th. Until next time, thanks for reading The Spokesman. Thanks for all the great stories and inspiration and thanks for listening to The Spokesman Speak.
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