I got away to spend a little time at the Farm Progress Show last week and was glad I did. The big farm equipment show near Boone, and others like it, provide a glimpse into farming’s future. From drones to driverless tractors to the latest and greatest in seed genetics, it was all there on display.

More importantly, farm equipment shows offer a look at the optimism and persistence that are the hallmarks of farming in Iowa and around the United States. They are evidence that even in a tough economic environment like the one today, farmers are looking toward the future. They are always looking at ways to improve their operations, find niche markets that might offer a better margin or welcome a son or daughter back to the farm.

There’s no mistaking that farmers are adjusting to these tough times. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week projected that 2015 net farm income would be about $81 billion. That is down sharply from the robust period a few years ago, but it’s 43 percent better than the USDA’s projection earlier this year. The reason: Farmers adjusted, made tough decisions and found ways to cut costs.

Century Farm example

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey highlighted farmers’ ability to adjust last week in a panel discussion on farming’s future at the Farm Progress Show.

There’s no getting around the fact that today’s low corn, soybean and livestock prices are squeezing farmers and are even putting some operations at risk, Northey said. But he noted that he and Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill, who was also on the panel, recently celebrated with hundreds of Iowa families who had earned the Century Farm and Heritage Farm awards in 2016.

"The Century Farm awards are a good reminder of the long history of farming we have here in Iowa," Northey said. "You know that those farms had some terribly challenging times and that those families had to make some very tough decisions to make it 100 or 150 years. But they did it."

Those award-winning families are a perfect example of what makes agriculture special in Iowa, in good times and tough ones. It’s passion for farming; a pride in caring for the land, water and environment; an optimistic outlook that things will get better; and a persistence to pass along a farm to the next generation.