On today's Iowa farms, one size does NOT fit all

In a lot of ways, I’m an old school guy.

When I’m ready to cook a burger or a steak, I still light up the charcoal—I’ve never owned a gas grill. The thrill of video games is a mystery to me; I’d much rather play a board game, or better yet, a round of ping-pong in the basement. And I’m pretty much in the Stone Age when it comes to tools around my house.

Is my way better? Nope. It’s just what works for me.

It’s the same way with farming today, in Iowa and around the country. There are just a lot of farmers doing a lot of different things to produce safe and wholesome food for consumers, make a living from the land; support their families and their rural communities; while caring for the environment.

There’s no perfect farming system, marketing program, or size of operation. Instead, there’s a growing diversity. Indeed, Iowa agriculture is more diverse than it used to be, maybe more diverse than it’s been in a century.

That was clear in a pair of dairy farms we profiled for this year’s June Dairy Month in two of our Farm Bureau publications: Spokesman and Family Living.

In Family Living we caught up with Mike and Jason Bandstra of Pella, who are tapping into booming markets for local food. They are using the milk from their cow herd to make fine Gouda cheese to sell at farmers’ markets under their Frisian Farms label.

For the Bandstra brothers, Gouda cheese making has been a great vehicle to grow the farm and support their families, without adding more cows or more labor. And by making Gouda, they get to celebrate their proud Dutch heritage, to boot.

In Spokesman we profiled 25-year-old Andrew Vagts of West Union, who has struggled through a very tough wholesale milk market as he works to carry on the family dairy legacy. Despite a tough start, Vagts still brims with energy and optimism about dairying and his future in the business.

And like the Bandstras with their cheese making, Vagts is interested in finding ways to tap into the growing market for local foods.

These examples, I think, illustrate that in the dairy business—or any segment of Iowa farming—there is no right way to do things; and there is no perfect size.

It’s going to take all types of farms to sustainably produce food for a hungry world population, which is expected to grow by 3.5 billion in the next half century, as well as the wide-range of specialty foods increasingly demanded by the local food markets. And farmers have to do that while they protect the environment and care for their animals.

Tall tasks, for sure. But certainly attainable for the strong, energetic and increasingly diverse farmers we have in Iowa.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.