Letter to the Editor

Planting season yields more than corn, soybeans

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

For farmers, spring planting is a time of great optimism. Each acre is full of potential and as they travel across the field they look forward to harvest.

Challenges will certainly come during the growing season, they do every year. It can be too much rain or lack of moisture, extreme heat or cool temperatures, strong winds or damaging hail, or, unfortunately, all of the above.

But, regardless of the challenges, Iowa farmers continue to lead the nation in production of corn and soybeans. That is due to a wide variety of factors, but mainly because we have great soil, accommodating weather and some of the best farmers on the planet.

It is easy for both farmers and non-farmers to lose sight of why what is going on in fields all across the state is so important. Looking forward to harvest helps us gain some perspective.

Harvest will include the corn and soybeans from the 23 million acres of cropland in Iowa, but it will also feed a $10 billion livestock industry. That industry is vital to the farmers growing the crops and to our state's entire economy. These animals take the crops we grow and turn them into safe, affordable, high-quality and delicious foods.

Because we lead the nation in the production of corn and soybeans, we also lead the nation in the production of pork and eggs, are in the top 10 in production of beef and turkey, and in the top 15 in dairy products. Iowa exports $1.5 billion worth of live animals and meat products each year -- again leading the nation. And the good news is we are continuing to see growth in a variety of livestock sectors.

Since May is National Egg Month and National Beef Month, here is a quick snapshot of these two vital industries here in Iowa.

Iowa has about 60 million layers that will produce 15 billion eggs this year. If Iowa were its own country, we'd be near the top-10 among egg producing nations. As a result, the egg industry contributes $1.8 billion to the Iowa economy and directly or indirectly supports 7,600 jobs that provide $281 million in wages.

The importance of Iowa's egg industry became much more real to me after I visited a farm here in Iowa that produces eggs for McDonalds. I found out that one farm provides McDonalds with 630 million eggs a year, both whole and liquid eggs, that supply all of the McDonalds west of the Mississippi, including Hawaii and Guam.

A look at the Iowa cattle industry tells a similar story. It generates $5.1 billion in total direct and indirect economic activity to support Iowa's economy. The cattle industry is also critically important to Iowa's corn and soybean farmers since it consumes 148 million bushels of Iowa corn and over 78 million bushels of Iowa grown soybeans.

The importance of what is happening in the fields across the state this spring go well beyond Iowa as well since Iowa farmers are helping feed the world. For example, I was recently able to travel to Japan on a trade mission with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack. While we were there we were able to see pork products from right here in Iowa.

Countries like Japan lack the land and other natural resources to grow all the food their population needs and as a result they too are counting on Iowa farmers for the food they need.

It is also important to point out that our farmers could not feed us in Iowa and people around the world if they did not provide the best possible care for their animals. Farmers want to do it right when caring for their animals and have found that modern housing systems are one option to provide for consistent food, water and temperature for their animals.

So, this spring as you travel around the state I hope you'll keep in mind all the food that's growing right around you!

Bill Northey

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture