Scaling up water quality practices with Iowa Secretary of Ag Mike Naig | The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 35
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Welcome to Episode 35 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast.
This National Agriculture Week episode (hosted by Delaney Howell) features an interview with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig on Iowa's water quality progress and the steps being taken to scale up water quality protection practices.
It also includes tips from Charlie Arnot (CEO of the Center for Food Integrity) on the best ways for farmers to respond to the challenge of imitation meat.
And the episode wraps up with four Iowa farmers' firsthand insights into Brazilian agriculture and infrastructure.
- Click here to view the transcript +
Narrator: Since 1934 Iowa's farmers have turned to the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman as their trusted news source. Now, The Spokesman Speaks. Listen in and hear from leading experts on topics important to farmers and agriculture. Now, here's your host.
Delaney Howell: Welcome to the March 23rd edition of The Spokesman Speaks Podcast and happy National Agriculture Week everyone. I'm Delaney Howell and we have a lot to share with you on this episode. First, we'll hear about water quality progress from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and get a well-known researcher's thoughts on how we can best respond to the challenges posed by imitation meat. We're also going to hear from a couple of farmers who recently participated in Iowa Farm Bureau's 10-day Market Study Tour of northern and central Brazil. So if you like a firsthand account of what's happening in a country that's one of our biggest competitors, be sure to stick around for that. But we'll start with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig on the topic of water quality. Secretary Naig comes at this issue from a very unique perspective as a leader of Iowa's water quality efforts and as someone who gets to see Iowa's progress in person while traveling the entire state. Laurie Johns caught up with Secretary Naig earlier this year to talk about the progress he sees and what we can expect to see for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. Let's hear what he had to say.
Laurie Johns: Secretary Mike Naig, thanks for joining us. And you have a lot of good news to share when it comes to conservation and improving water quality, news that perhaps people aren't aware of.
Secretary Naig: We really do. And I think that's right. One of the things we'd like to do in 2020 is do a little better job of telling the story about what's actually happening across the state. Of course, I get to see that every day in talking with my team and traveling the state and seeing the progress that we're making in well really in the rural areas, but also in the urban areas. You know, there's a lot of urban conservation that's going on as well. So we're really excited about where we've gotten to over the last several years of implementing Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy. But I'm really excited about the momentum that I see across the state, the innovation that's happening across the state, the private public partnerships that are forming across the state to get more work done. And we are making great progress. We're going to continue to accelerate that progress.
Laurie Johns: And that's good news for everybody no matter where they live in the state, because you're talking about statewide progress.
Secretary Naig: That's right. You know, we do target some, some of our efforts in some specific watersheds, but you know we have projects and efforts going all across the state. And again, I always say that one of the key ingredients of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy is that it is for every Iowan whether you live in town or you live in the country. That's why we addressed point sources and non-point sources. That's why we work in the rural areas and the urban areas. You know, I don't want anybody, any Iowan to think that they don't have a role to play or that they can't improve water quality or do something to improve the environment. So that's one of the things we really hold true to is that we'll work with anybody across the state to get things done.
Laurie Johns: And since more than 90% of the state is agricultural and the world sees us as the ag leader in a variety of things, which is good news. That's why probably agriculture gets the spotlight for several reasons. But there are things that people know about or starting to go, okay, nitrogen and phosphorus, those two, the targets we've got to hit. Phosphorus, good news to talk about.
Secretary Naig: Great news. And here's why I know that we can be successful ultimately with nitrogen, nitrates with water quality overall, is that we've done it before. We're doing it now with phosphorus and soil conservation. You know, you go back, Iowa's been a leader in soil conservation and soil erosion prevention for decades. Iowa becomes the first state in the nation to invest state resources in soil conservation back in the '70s. We were the first state to implement and to finalize a nutrient reduction strategy throughout the Mississippi region. We've been leaders in this and what it shows and when we go and look at the phosphorus numbers in particular were down 20% on phosphorus load reduction over the last couple of decades. That's because we have brought focus, we have brought resources, we have done outreach to farmers and landowners and urban folks all across the state and it just shows that the approach works but it will take time. And that's something that we're really committed to. Again, we're starting 2013 Nutrient Reduction Strategy is finalized. Many of the practices related to water quality and nitrogen are different and new. And so we started with the demonstration effort and now really at this point in time, we are always entirely focused on scaling up on moving to larger scale projects and really addressing those practices that will help us move the needle on nitrogen.
Laurie Johns: And I'm going to get to talk about some of those practices in the innovation of things that didn't even exist when this Nutrient Reduction Strategy was put together. Right? So, but when we talk about phosphorus, the good news there is, okay, so agriculture reaches its end of the nonpoint source phosphorus reduction target. But that doesn't mean it's done. They're not done. Farmers aren't done.
Secretary Naig: That's right. I like to say, who thinks we're done trying to improve corn yields or soybean yields or do a better job of producing the livestock that we do in the state? We will never be done improving or protecting our soil. And, you know, look, it's such a basic thing, but Iowa agriculture is so productive. We are known around the world for the quality of our products, the consistency our products. And obviously agriculture is such a huge driver of our state and our economy. But if we don't take care of the soil and water that really allow us to be productive then we won't have that bright future that we all know that we can have. And so that, that is very much a core element of what we need to do to be continued to be successful in this state is to take care of our natural resources. And so we know too that we're learning things all the time. We're innovating, you know, one example is you know, we started to implement the Nutrient Reduction Strategy back in 2013. Since that time, we've added two practices to the strategy that that we didn't even think of or we didn't know of before that strategy was developed. That just shows the, first of all the pace of innovation. But there's more to come. And we're learning, we're applying the lessons that we've learned from our demonstration projects and again, scaling up all across the state.
Laurie Johns: Well, now of course I have to ask what those two practices are that weren't in the menu.
Secretary Naig: Well, saturated buffers and bioreactors, two things that help us slow water down and denitrify water as it's moving into our streams. And so again, this is something that's was developed right here in Iowa. Others are looking at using this. Iowa's been a leader both in terms of our overall strategy, but also in those bringing those innovative practices to the forefront. And again, other states are using our approaches.
Laurie Johns: Well and the good news is too, that in uniquely for your job, but wouldn't it be nice if everybody, particularly media could do what you do and go to all 99 counties and talk to farmers and see what you're seeing because there's really, there's that story that's, that's not being heard, right? You know, and you're seeing what might work in one county too would be completely different in the other.
Secretary Naig: Absolutely. Look this state and I get a chance to travel this state. I go to every County every year. And when you do that, when you travel this state, you realize that there is a tremendous diversity in our landscape from border to border and river to river. And so to think that we will direct folks or that we should tell people how to manage their land from Des Moines or from Washington D.C., It doesn't work. Things that work on a farm in southwest Iowa in Mills County are not the things that work in northeast Iowa up in Allamakee County. There is a difference in that landscape, in those farms, in those operations, and therefore a difference in the types of practices that'll work in those landscapes. And so that's what we're committed to is working with landowners, working with farmers you know, wherever they are in the state to incorporate practices that make sense in their operation. That's how we will be successful in the long run. That's how we'll build a culture of conservation, not a culture of regulation across the state. It's doing things that make sense in a particular operation in a particular part of the state. But we do need to then do a better job and, and continue to tell folks about what's happening and show folks the progress that we're making across the state. And that's a great part of my job. I get a chance to do that almost every week traveling somewhere in the state.
Laurie Johns: Well, that's good that you're helping to share that story and that good news too, because, you know, farmers tend to be shy types. They might talk about, hey, on this field I might get this yield. But when they're putting in a terraces or putting in some other things, it's not something that they're beating their chest about and they should.
Secretary Naig: Well, and I think a lot of farmers would say, well, who, nobody really cares what I'm doing or what my experiences, you know, some of the most effective stories that I've seen told, or some of the most frankly some of the best information sharing that happens on conservation is farmer to farmer. Farmers, sharing their experiences, farmers even sharing, Hey, we tried this and it didn't work, but then we did that and it did. And that is a very real and very credible thing. And so we really do need to again, get that our farmers to share their stories with each other, but also tell those stories to the public. Because, you know, we want folks to know about the great progress that's going on. And again, they don't have to understand everything about our operations, but we just want folks to know that our farmers and our land owners, they care, they live in these watersheds. They care about their land and stewardship of their operation and we can tell those stories.
Laurie Johns: And helping them get to that place where they can talk to other farmers, involves hiring some additional people to get that word out, to bring them to the fields, to show them, to kick the tires, that sort of thing.
Secretary Naig: Right. So you know, that's one of those major lessons learned as we've gone through demonstration projects and as we scale up is that, you know, this work has to be done face to face across the state. We need to send folks out to visit with farmers and visit with landowners and send urban conservationists into cities to work with developers as well. So this really is something that requires a conversation and opportunities to share information. So we've added, and we're in the process of adding seven additional watershed coordinators across the state in some targeted areas. And again, we know that that's the kind of work that we have to do now. We're also working together with private, the private sector as well to again, encourage the adoption of practices, find out where practices belong, design those practices, and get them built. So there's a lot of work going on and we're really focused on scaling up. You know, almost every conversation that I have in my office with my team around water quality and soil conservation ends with, that's great. How can we do more? That's wonderful. Tell me how we double that. And that really is our mindset and the mindset of the hundreds of partners that are working on conservation across the state.
Laurie Johns: Which is good news because there are people sitting back going, we need action. What's happening? Why isn't it happening now? Why can't we solve this in a year? Well, you've had, let's start in 2013. Why isn't it solved now?
Secretary Naig: You know this is something that will take time. And we're all, we all want to move the needle. We all want to move. We're our own worst critics, I think. We want to move faster. And we're gearing up to do that. But there's a lesson learned from the work done on soil erosion, prevention on soil conservation. This does take time. Again, takes time to have that lasting change. We've shown results. We can do it again. I'm encouraged by the progress that we've seen. You know just a couple of examples. We've we're over a million acres of cover crops in the state of Iowa now, and that has happened during a time when the farm economy hasn't been that great. So in spite of some challenging economic headwinds, we've still seen a tremendous increase in in the adoption of that particular practice. You know, it's taken us 15 years to build 90 nitrate, reducing wetlands. We have 30 under development now that will get built in the next couple of years. Again, we're seeing interest in conservation like we've never seen it before. One of the things I just want folks to know is that we have never had this much effort, energy, resources focus applied to soil conservation and water quality in this state as we do right now. Great things are happening and we're poised for accelerating that progress.
Laurie Johns: And it does, you know, you bring up a point too, it does take a number of people working together to put in, for example, a wetland. It's not the same as just, well, you know, how hard can that be? Just dig a hole. It doesn't work that way.
Secretary Naig: Doesn't quite work that way.
Laurie Johns: Engineers, it has to all be designed and that takes time to get them out there too.
Secretary Naig: It does, you know, from finding a site, where we want to put a wetland and then getting the land owner to agree to all that, that process and bringing all the partners together, it can take as much as a couple of years to get that done. Big projects that do great things once they're in the ground. But it does take some time. And you know, the other thing that we're having to do is really look at the capacity to deliver these practices. You know, we will hopefully need more engineers to design practices. We're going to need more contractors to build the practices. I mean, we're thinking, we're talking about things that, a scale that we've never seen before. We can do it, but it will take us some time to build up that capacity.
Laurie Johns: Well, it's no wonder that researchers and farmers from other states are coming to Iowa to go, what are you doing? How do you do it?
Secretary Naig: You know, that's something that I get a chance to do. I chair the co-chair, the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force. And so this is made up of EPA on one side, but also the states throughout the Mississippi region watershed. And you know, because it's not just good enough. If Iowa is focused on this and we're moving the needle and making progress, but our neighbors aren't, well then that doesn't do us any good in the entire region. And so it really is about states working together. But what that allows me to do is to see the fact that where other states are, and we've got a lot of states that are modeling their strategies after hours. We're sharing best practices. We love to hear what other states are doing that's working and see how we can apply those things here. You know another example of something that we've shared is we have a really an innovative first of its kind program around cover crops related to crop insurance premiums. We offer a reduction in crop insurance premium for planting an acre of cover crops. Well, our neighbors to the east, Illinois are modeling their program after ours. We're happy to share that information and ultimately we'd like to think that maybe this is a model that the federal government that USDA could possibly adopt as well. So that's just one example of how we're sharing best practices across borders.
Laurie Johns: That's great. And there's good news. And so probably wrapping it up. If there's farmers that are listening to this, to a podcast right now and they're thinking, so how can I get the word out about what I'm doing? Or where do I start? What would you suggest?
Secretary Naig: Well, I think it is important to share what you're doing. You know we have a lot of great effort going on across the state, but make no mistake, we have a lot of work to do. But we do want folks to get credit for the work that they've done. But I would encourage people to really do take a look at your operations with a fresh set of eyes and think about what's the next thing, what's the next step that I can do to have a positive impact on water quality, on soil conservation and don't do it alone. Ask questions and seek out information and get into that conservation office and work with your agronomist. There's a lot of resources that are available for folks on our end. We're going to continue to build those partnerships and pursue that innovation that we know is needed to really accomplish our goals. But we're also going to do a better job of telling the story and talking about the great progress and the momentum and the partnerships that are forming across the state. We can be proud of the work that's been done. I'm very proud of the work that's been done in the rural landscape, in the urban landscape. We're leading the way, we really are. That sometimes means when we're leading the way we're also running into some of the barriers and the challenges that come with that, but I'm glad it's us.
I'm glad it's Iowa that's working on these things and showing others how it can be done. I'm excited about what comes this year and what we're building for the future.
Delaney Howell: Thanks for the update Secretary Naig. We certainly appreciate that. We know you're a busy guy. I think most farmers can look around their farms and communities and see that that change is happening across the local landscape. But it's helpful to know that change is also happening in communities all around Iowa and it's making a big difference. If you like to see more examples of Iowa's conservation progress, check out this special conservation section in this week's Spokesman newspaper or head out to conservationcountsiowa.com. This is also a great time for me to remind you that now is the time for you to nominate a worthy farmer for the 2020 Iowa Conservation Farmer of the Year Award. This award is a great way for us to put the spotlight on farmers who are leading the way and the winner receives the free use of a John Deer Utility Tractor for a year. Hey, that's a pretty good incentive. Nominations are due to your soil and water conservation district office by May 18th. To learn more head to Iowfarmbureau.com. Okay, so now switching from water quality to another topic that always gets farmers talking maybe around a cup of coffee in the morning. And that's imitation meat. Charlie Arnot is the CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, a not for profit organization out of Kansas City that represents a really diverse group of farm and food stakeholders, including well-known brands such as Costco, Kroger, Chick-fil-A and others. They also do a lot of research into what consumers want as well as what farmers and other food stakeholders need to do to build trust with consumers. So how do consumers really feel about imitation meat? Spokesman reporter Tom Block caught up with Charlie Arnot at Iowa Farm Bureau's 2020 Young Farmer Conference to get the answer.
Tom Block: So, I'm here with Charlie Arnot, Center for Food Integrity here. So Charlie, thanks for joining us today. First of all, just tell us a little bit, what is the Center for Food Integrity? What kind of work do you guys do?
Charlie Arnot: Yeah, thanks Tom. The Center for Food Integrity is an international not for profit organization dedicated to helping the food system earn consumer trust. So we do a significant amount of research, we do other kinds of programming and training and continue to do a lot of consumer insight to try to help the food system better understand what is it that consumers want, what do they need and what's it going to take to earn and build consumer trust.
Tom Block: And one of the topics of the past year or so it's in the headlines is alternative protein, fake meat, even though terms are somewhat politically charged or emotionally charged. So what are the trends, you know, driving this fake meat or alternative protein movement?
Charlie Arnot: Well, there are a number of them and it's kind of an interesting convergence of a number of different trends kind of coming together. People are voting more with their wallets as they decide kind of what's important to them as they make purchasing decisions. People now believe particularly Gen X and Gen Z that their purchasing decisions actually have a greater impact on society than their voting decisions or their work in their local community. You've got interest in animal welfare, but the two big drivers, the two primary drivers are interested in the relationship between diet and health and impact of animal agriculture on the planet. So sustainability, environmental sustainability, and the impact of diet on health are really the two fundamental drivers. The interesting part about that though is that for most consumers diet as it relates to animal protein is still very important. They have a special emotional connection to meat, milk and eggs. And they don't really view alternatives as a specialty better than those, but they're exploring them. They're exploring them and looking to see is this something that I believe is better for me, is better for the planet, is better for animals, and is it something that I should continue to consume?
Tom Block: And so, with that in mind, what kind of things should farmers keep in mind as they engage with consumers? What kind of messaging is important to have out there?
Charlie Arnot: Well, the vast majority of consumers are not anti-meat. So that's one thing to keep in mind is that we're not trying to fight against consumers who are anti meat because most consumers aren't anti meat. They are concerned about diet and health. They're concerned about the environment. So rather than combating with those consumers and taking kind of an adversarial approach, we're much better served to really engage with them and embrace their skepticism and have a conversation about what is it you're looking for what is it you're concerned about? And then address those and most importantly then help them understand how animal protein helps them meet those needs. You know, we talk about success being the combination of two things. Number one being to help people connect again and understand the role that animal protein helps in living their best life. We all have a special emotional connection with certain types of animal protein. Might be turkey at Thanksgiving, might be steaks on the grill at Father's Day. Might be ice cream with your kids during the summer. Whatever it happens to be. There are those moments in our lives where animal protein enriches our lives in a way that makes a deep emotional connection. So we need to help people connect with that again and help them understand that and celebrate that. Then the second piece of that is we have to give them permission to believe that animal protein is a sustainable part of a healthy diet. And that's being willing to engage in that conversation. To embrace the skepticism and understand that when people raise questions about how animals are raised or the impact on the environment or the impact on health, they're not attacking us. They're raising legitimate questions and concerns that they have and they're looking to us as credible sources. So we have the privilege and the opportunity to fill that role, to really be in that conversation in a much more dynamic, a much more meaningful way than we ever have been before. So what agriculture needs to do is to adopt a less of a confrontational approach and say this skepticism and consumer interest is a great opportunity. It's a way for us to engage in this conversation. And that's where Farm Bureau and other organizations can really help by mobilizing, equipping, training, and supporting farmers to be effective in that conversation.
Tom Block: And so often when we have those conversations, at least in the past, we want to hit them with the science, right? We know why we're doing things, we do them on a very, you know, rational basis. But is that something that connects with consumers or does it need to be more of the emotional, type of connection?
Charlie Arnot: Yeah, that's a great question because we really have to compete on the emotional, social and rational level. Just giving them data, just giving them facts is not, we know from CFIs previous research that's been peer reviewed and published, that values are three to five times more important than facts and building trust. So we have to make that values-based connection first. When consumers are asking questions, we have to acknowledge that concern. You know, as a parent, as a farmer, as a dad I share those same concerns about making sure that the food we're providing is safe and healthy and that we're doing a great job of protecting our environment. Let me share with you what we're doing on our farm and I'd welcome any additional questions you have as opposed to simply sharing data. So it really is about understanding that we have to have those values based in the value based engagement first. Then we provide data to support the information and the claims that we want to make.
Tom Block: And as we talk about alternative protein, fake meat is this something that you see continuing? You know, is it just going to be a tiny percentage of the thing. What's the potential here? You know, is this really going to erode some of the market for the real meat that our farmers produce?
Charlie Arnot: Yeah, great question. So it is not a fad. It is a trend. But how much that trend is going to grow is still to be determined. It is not going to replace animal protein. The desire, the demand, the affinity that people have for animal protein is still very, very strong. The vast majority of Americans still want to enjoy animal protein, but they've got those legitimate concerns that they may be looking at alternatives as a way to make them feel less guilty about enjoying the animal protein. So I might have a steak and a burger on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then do something else Thursday and Friday to make myself feel better about it. What we can do is work on helping people understand they can feel good about having animal protein responsibly every single day in whatever way works for their diet. And so again, rather than trying to combat, we need to get involved and get engaged in that conversation about the nutrition and health benefits of animal protein. People are looking for simple ingredients and clean labels. It doesn't get much more simple than animal protein, chicken, beef, pork, dairy. It's one ingredient, right? So we have that going for us and in a phenomenal way, plus all the macro and micronutrients that really contribute to a healthy diet. So we need to change the dialogue, be engaged in this, starting with values and then providing science and understand there will continue to be a role for alternative proteins, but how large that role is and how much it grows in some degree is up to us in terms of how we engage, how we choose to respond, whether or not we can help consumers understand they can have a healthy, safe, nutritious diet using animal protein in a way that would supplant their desire for having alternatives.
Tom Block: And you talk about engaging. And there's so many platforms today, what's the best ways to engage with the consumer? Or is that just kind of an individual choice with what a farmer might be comfortable with, you know, whether it be social media, whether it's in your own community, what are some of the ways that farmers can take this message out to the public?
Charlie Arnot: Yeah, that's a tough question today because when in the, in the day of mass media, right? You used to be able to rely on your primary television networks or your daily newspaper. But today consumers are crowdsourcing knowledge and so they're picking up a little bit from friends or family or from social media and then they kind of aggregate all of that or synthesize that to inform their opinion. So we really need to be involved in those conversations in a way that works for the farmer. So if you're comfortable having that conversation in your local community, great. If you're comfortable on social media, even better. But we need to acknowledge the issues and not steer clear of them. We're not going to amplify them or inflame them by being engaged in that conversation. These conversations are taking place. We can be a credible voice in that conversation in a way that many cannot. And so it really is important for farmers to be willing to be engaged in that conversation, to acknowledge the skepticism, embrace concern, and then provide that values based response that helps people understand, Hey, as a farmer, I really appreciate your willingness to raise that question, means a lot to me that you share concern about animals and how they're cared for. Because as a farmer, that's what I do every single day. I'd really like to share with you more about how we make that happen on our farm. But now you've acknowledged the concern, you embraced the skepticism. You've identified that you share the same values for caring for animals. Now you're given permission to talk about how you actually make that happen.
Tom Block: And through your research, what have you seen as far as you know, the difference like one person can make, because a lot of times you hear, well, I trust you Charlie. I know you're doing the right thing, but it's those other guys that are the bad guys. So can one person's voice make a difference or is there a critical mass by having all these voices together to build this message out?
Charlie Arnot: Yeah, it's a both and answer because people are much more likely to trust an individual, but if we want to amplify and multiply our impact, it's going to require a lot of individuals to be engaged in that conversation. Because I can relate to the values of a person much more easily than I can relate to the values of an entity or an organization. But one voice in the wilderness is not going to be sufficient. We need a lot of people being willing to engage in that conversation because as I said before, consumers are crowdsourcing knowledge. So if I'm going to six or eight or 10 different sources, I should see a farmer voice at least in half of those, if not more. That's going to require more people to be engaged, to be dedicated and committed to being a part of that conversation. I realize that can feel burdensome and it can feel uncomfortable at times because number one, it's another demand on time that people don't have. And we always run the risk of getting into conversations that are going to be uncomfortable. If we choose not to be engaged in that conversation, then we're giving up that opportunity to influence the outcome. We're leaving that opportunity to those who may not have agriculture's interest at heart. And so, it's important to realize as I'm making investments in my equipment, in my farming strategy, in my marketing strategy, I also need to make investments in building trust and who we are and what we do for the long-term future of my farm and for agriculture collectively.
Tom Block: Sure. And a lot of these things are being driven, like you say, the millennials are voting with their pocketbook, but there's also kind of from the top down from the restaurant chains and things like that. And tell me about the dynamic that a little bit.
Charlie Arnot: Yeah, it's really interesting because we have such a competitive environment, right? The restaurant industry is relatively stagnant and people are always looking for what's that next competitive differentiator? Roughly as many restaurants open each year as close. And so you're always looking for something different. Something that will distinguish me from my competitors. And so as alternative proteins became kind of the hot topic, the hot option in 2019 and 2020, that became a popular way for people to differentiate themselves. Doesn't necessarily mean it's going to stick. Because what we've seen, if you look at recently with Burger King reducing the price of their Impossible Whopper, it's an indication that the demand is softening. But it's always going to be the restaurants and others are going to be looking for what is that next new opportunity for me to differentiate from my competitors. So we'll continue to see that next new opportunity. Whatever it is, right? I mean, maybe it's, maybe ostrich will come back on the menu, who knows? But today it's alternative proteins, but they aren't going to supplant and replace animal proteins. They're going to continue to be a segment of what people are looking.
Delaney Howell: We can all take a breath. I feel better. I don't know about you. I think the best news from that interview is the fact that most people like real meat, milk and eggs. They have an emotional connection to those products and they want to hear from real farmers like you about their food. Speaking of real farmers, earlier in this episode, I told you that a group of Iowa Farm Bureau members recently traveled to northern and central Brazil for a firsthand look at one of us, agriculture's biggest competitors. Spokesman Editor Dirck Steimel was on that trip as well. And he grabbed a couple farmers at the airport afterwards to hear their biggest takeaways from the trip. We'll start with Beth Badler of Adair County sharing some of her impressions.
Beth Badler: Lots of different things I guess come to mind. You know, probably starting out, the whole progression of crop movement from, we really started at the end of it where the export process was happening, but we worked our way backwards to the production side and even saw a place that was creating their own seed corn. And so as we worked our way back to finally the farming side, you know, I think of fields and rows in Iowa, but it's really fields for miles in Brazil. And so seeing those fields for miles and that realization that really corn wasn't worth anything at one point in time and bringing the ethanol plants and ethanol process to Mato Grosso has made a huge impact on their second crop corn. That in turn is bringing the livestock, the cattle feedlots into the area. So I think it's some things that they've learned from us in the States. But then at the same time there's some things that we can pick up from what the Brazilians are doing as well as far as using every part of what they're doing whether it's they're utilizing soybeans, corn, cotton, and then taking the corn. We met with a producer who was actually creating his own ethanol plant to then use those byproducts in the cattle side as well as the cotton seed holes, cotton residue to make the product of beef and then make money off of that. So the Brazilians are really good at integrating all those processes together for the greater good of not only their farm, but their country.
Delaney Howell: Terry Murray of Buena Vista County added that he was impressed by Brazil's use of ag technology.
Terry Murray: They're not far behind us on adopting technology and their scale of operations is much larger than ours. But they do look at the whole system. They don't look at just one phase. We specialize a lot. They vertically integrate because of the lack of infrastructure. They've gained a lot on the infrastructure. It's still not adequate to their goals.
Delaney Howell: Jeff Ellis of Lee County also had his eye on the infrastructure he was seeing.
Jeff Ellis: You know, the infrastructure, you know, they tell us it's bad. At the end of the day, I almost thought it was a little better than what they tell you. But with that being said, the big soybean highway, it's a black top, but it's rough. You know they've got plans and the caveat there is they've had plans and they still have plans for a railroad that basically goes from this Mato Grosso area all the way up to the northeast ports along the Atlantic. That I think is going to be one of our biggest issues is when they get that railroad done that will increase their ability to move product and so that'll lower their transportation costs and will probably make them want to raise more beans.
Delaney Howell: Jeff was also struck by the presence of regulation that he wasn't expecting before the trip.
Jeff Ellis: That's one of the biggest things. There's more government regulation, which from a Midwesterner standpoint I think is good for our operations because they have the environmental issues, it's not all free range and do whatever they want and that's kind of the perception that you're given at some points in time. I find a little relief in that. Now at the same time they have a government at the moment that's on their side and that's another thing is agriculture is 20-25% of the GDP of this country. Even the people in the cities. or you know, the governments, they understand that. And they're pro farmer.
Delaney Howell: Eric Nelson of Woodbury County noted that while many farms in Iowa have been family owned for generations, that's often not the case in Brazil.
Eric Nelson: In Iowa, in the United States agriculture, you have, you know, now fourth or fifth or sixth generation farmers. And really the folks that are operating down here, they're the first generation in a large scale. And so it would seem to me that they practice very high level management and especially their allocation of capital assets in having, really a year-round, especially as you go north, being able to use those capital assets, you know, for multiple crops is a tremendous advantage. Of course they have disadvantages and freight, which they're aggressively working on, but it would still appear that they're going to have some increase in acres that are going to be brought into production, you know, and so, you know, like American farmers who have had to do for generations, you know, we've got to go home, sharpen our pencils try to actually kind of, I think we need to wipe away some preconceived notions that we have. We need to get introspective, figure out some new uses, new crops. We really need to kind of broaden out our rotation, corn, soybeans the monoculture that we have. Somehow we're going to have to sharpen our pencil because they have some advantages down here that they're levering.
Delaney Howell: Thanks to all the farmers who contributed insights into the Brazil trip for this episode. And that's just a taste of the action. You can read more about the market study tour in the March 11th edition of the Spokesman newspaper on Iowafarmbureau.com. Well, that's it for another episode of The Spokesman Speaks. I'm Delaney Howell. And if you've enjoyed this episode, I hope you'll hit the subscribe button and join us for our next episode on April 6th until then, I hope that each day gives you an opportunity to learn something new and improve your farm, not only for your generation, but for those to come. Thanks for reading the Spokesman, and thanks for listening to The Spokesman Speaks.
Narrator: Thank you for listening to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from The Spokesman at IowaFarmBureau.com/Spokesman. You can also find and subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at Podcast@ifbf.org.
About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast
Since 1934, The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or Radio.com.
We release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 36 will be released on April 6, 2020.
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