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No foolin' me, there's plenty happening in Iowa agriculture

Mason City sign

It’s April Fools’ week, which means I’m always leery about opening text messages and emails from my family and friends, many of them pranksters.

However, my work inbox is a different story. Looking at recent emails reminds me of the people I’ve met, the farms I’ve visited, and just how much farmers are taking an active role not only on their farms, but in their communities.

At first glance, there’s an email regarding the addition of a pork processing plant in Mason City in 2018. The new plant is expected to lift market prices for area pig farmers. It’s expected to create nearly 1,000 jobs when it opens mid-2018, and 2,000 jobs when the plant reaches its full capacity. It will help farmers, the Mason City community and all of Iowa.

My email inbox and its corresponding calendar reminds of my recent visit to Nora Springs to visit Dean Sponheim, who is highly regarded in the Rock Creek Watershed for being proactive in his approach to water quality. He first added strip tiling and strip cropping practices to his farm to make it more efficient. Then, he started seeing the benefits from a conservation standpoint. He added cover crops to benefit from the nutrients in the soil. Now, those nutrients are being used by the cereal rye he’s planted instead of being picked up and blown away with wind erosion.

Inside my inbox, a reminder that Iowans are providing safe food and donating it to those in need. A press release from Iowa Select Farms highlights the contributions its company has made to charities and food pantries. The company has donated 22 tons of pork to food pantries within the last year. Farmers I visit often talk about the extra care they take on their farms to produce safe food. The food they grow on their farms not only feed their families, but their employees’ families, their friends, their communities, and the food pantries in which they contribute their pork, beef or poultry products.

And there’s also a press release about the Todd and Denise Wiley family in Benton County. Todd, Denise and their four children operate a farrow-to-finish hog farm near Walker. The have nearly 1,100 sows and market between 27,000 and 28,000 pigs a year. The Wiley family is the most recent winner of the Gary Wergin Good Farm Neighbor award, which recognizes farm families who go above and beyond in care for their livestock and their communities. The glowing nomination from a local FFA advisor touts the family’s involvement in the community—serving on numerous boards and helping to coach the next generation of agriculturalists in the community’s FFA chapter. The family is active in educating the community about modern livestock production and regularly brings animals into schools and donates them to the FFA to farrow as part of an exhibit at the county fair.

While it’s easy to be fooled by activists who say that ‘big ag’ is out to destroy us, I know the people and companies who make up agriculture. I hear from them all the time. I know the people who make decisions in the family-owned farms, who work tirelessly to care for newborn animals while raising families of their own. And I know the care and commitment it takes for these farmers to not only raise animals and their children—but also care for those in their communities. I know this because I’ve not only read the press releases, but I’ve been to the farms and rural communities to see first-hand. It’s real and that’s no foolin’.

Bethany Baratta is the ag commodities writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.