Celebrating National FFA Week

FFA Week 1-2

Wendy Wiggins and Dane Balzer check a measurement during an experiment in one of their agriculture studies classes at South East Polk High School.

Following in the legacy of George Washington, one of the first agriculturists and prominent farmers in this country, National FFA Week was started 67 years ago to celebrate and advocate ag education.

It also celebrates the work that students do every day to grow by gaining important life skills and building friendships that last far into their careers. Agriculture related classes are at capacity in many schools across the state as students explore the many traditional careers that are associated with agriculture. Pair that with the demand for more technology and biotech careers and organizations like the FFA are increasingly more relevant for students seeking a career path in agriculture.

Matthew Eddy, the South East (SE) Polk FFA advisor and agricultural education teacher, says his classes are nearing capacity at the schools and interest in a wide range of agriculture business careers has never been higher in his classroom.

“I have 200 plus members in my chapter and I can count the number of farm kids on one hand and not use all of my fingers,” he said. “It (FFA) is definitely relevant to every student. Every student can use public speaking skills and develop personal skills that can help them later in life.”

Wendy Wiggins, a sophomore at SE Polk High School, is currently taking an animal science class and hopes to pursue a career as an embryologist or nutritionist, but right now she is happy with the experience she is getting from being in the school’s FFA chapter and the friendships that have been discovered along the way.

“I live on a farm and have cattle so I think it is fun to learn here at school and take it home and put it into practice,” Wiggins said. “You meet a lot of people at events and then get to see them again at other events. It’s great to build friendships.”

Eddy believes that the classes offered at his department in the school gives students interested in agriculture the tools they need to explore different careers associated with agriculture.

FFA Week 2-2

Matthew Eddy describes an equation to students trying to discover the amount of moisture in a feed ration during a class at South East Polk High School.

The curriculum is a purposeful way to teach STEM concepts but with an agricultural twist,” he said. “We’re doing the same things you would find in any math or science class but with an agriculture twist.”

Eddy went on to say that the relevance to the curriculum for the students is raising their interest and rigor.

“The more interest you have in things the more you’re willing to work to learn more about it. We’re using ag as kind of a teaser hook to get them interested in other things,” he said.

Eddy said that the SE Polk FFA chapter holds an annual flower sale to raise money for the chapter and the students are learning about aquaculture by raising Baramundi seabass. They also participate in several community service projects every year including raising potted flowers for Altoona’s main street.

He is excited for the futures of his students. He hopes that work he is doing in the classroom and their involvement in FFA is preparing them for ag and technology jobs that will be available in 10 to 20 years. He uses the new ag technology corridor that is being developed between Ames and Des Moines along Interstate 35 as an example of new opportunities for the students.

“I want kids to be able to live in SE Polk and work at Pioneer, John Deere, Nationwide Ag and all of the different agriculture entities that have offices here in Polk County,” Eddy said. “There are a plethora of agriculture employment opportunities and students need to understand the great opportunities that are here.”

By Joe Murphy, Member Communications Manager

Experts weigh in on land investments

Donald TRump for blog

Donald Trump is interviewed by Ken Root during his appearance at the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines.

You can add a new name to the ledger of Iowa farmland owners. On Friday, Donald Trump spoke to a capacity crowd of 600 farmers and ag-business professionals during the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines.

Trump talked politics and investment strategies with the business leaders while hinting at a run for the presidency. In the end, he was given a deed to an acre of Iowa farm ground as a present for his visit to the conference.

“Farmers in some cases are great real-estate people,” Trump said. “Farms have a tremendous, tremendous future but are very much a bull-bust market. I’ve known some farmers that have had tremendous times and some terrible times. I’ve known some farmers that have gone through hell and some of those same farmers have done very well later on. So you have a boom-bust mentality.”

The eighth annual conference also featured several breakout sessions and keynote speakers from around the world talking about subjects ranging from climate risks to African agriculture. The goal of the conference is to connect policy experts, climate specialists, economists, institutional investors with farm producers, land managers and others operating in agriculture.

Land values

Jim Knuth, senior vice president of Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica) spoke during one of the breakout sessions and gave timely information about land values, interest rates and what he thinks will impact Iowa agriculture in 2015.

Using the concept of benchmark farms, FCSAmerica was able to capture data showing trends concerning land values in the state. According to Knuth, the survey is the most comprehensive agriculture real estate database in Iowa and used nearly 3,400 real estate transactions and 64 benchmark farms in the four state region of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming to find trends.

The trends showed that a general reduction in cropland value was somewhat offset by gains in pasture values, and the strongest demand is still for quality cropland tracts.

“At the end of the day land prices are reacting to lower grain and commodity prices,” Knuth said. “Iowa benchmark values declined 6.9 percent in 2014, with 6.1 percent going in the last six months of the year.”

Out of 21 benchmark farms in Iowa one increased in value, 15 farms decreased and five remained unchanged. The data also showed that local is the name of the game when it comes to purchasing land.

“Farmers are the largest buyers of Iowa farmland by a wide margin. When you combine that with local investors you get about 90 percent of the market,” he said. “The trend is clear, local capital and local competition is driving this market. Not Wall Street, not east or west coast money.”

There is an expectation that in future years land values will react to lower grain production margins. Knuth said that is a normal expectation in this part of the cycle.

“Purchasing farm ground should be a long-term investment decision, and it should be from a position of financial strength,” he said.

In closing, he told the packed room that uncertainty shouldn’t stop progress.

“The wrong reaction is to freeze. I believe we should be in a time of proactive adjustments as we face uncertainty,” Knuth said. “The ultimate question becomes, ‘How do you position the operation with the benefits that are coming?’”

By Joe Murphy, Member Communications Manager


Subzero temps impact Iowa farms

DSC03990Jim Koch rolls hay onto the ground for cattle to feed on near their Van Meter home.

With fresh snow on the ground and a steady polar wind blowing from the north, cattle contently fed on hay recently spread on the ground. Jim Koch, an Iowa Soybean Association member from Van Meter, worked with determination alongside his son Jeff while the subzero winter winds battered their faces. Jim Koch, now in his eighties, has seen weather like this many times during his farming career and that taught him how important food and water are to livestock on days like this.

“When it’s this cold the cattle need a lot of food to keep warm,” Jeff Koch said. “We check the water a couple times a day during the cold weather because it freezes over time.”


Jim Koch walks through the cattle making sure that they are doing okay.

This scene was repeated at hundreds of farms across the state today as farmers worked through bitter conditions to make sure that their livestock were safe.

“It is cold out here but at least we can get inside when we’re done,” Jim Koch said while bracing from the wind. “That’s why we are more concerned about the cattle. We watch them closely to make sure they have everything they need to get through the weather.”


Jim Koch braces himself as a strong north wind blows across the field.


Jim and Jeff Koch make sure their is plenty of water for the cattle before finishing their chores.

Story and photos by Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager



Looking back at 2014

Looking Back at 2014-13

As we prepare to welcome 2015 I thought I would share some of the moments that made 2014 special. As the New Year approaches may you find yourself surrounded by friends and family who would be ready to be by your side through thick and thin. Follow this link to see some of the images I captured in 2014: Looking back at 2014

Story and photos by Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager

The welder


If only the lines and scars on his hands could talk. Underneath the oil and dirt a diary of 43 years of lines would tell quite a story. Stories of hard work would be the easiest to see but after talking to Hartford Cooper for awhile earlier this fall those stories would just be the beginning.

Cooper, a long time fixture of Nodaway, IA, has owned a repair and welding shop off of Birch Avenue for over 30 years. The 78 year-old has welded a variety of projects during his 43 year career.

Continue reading here and click to see more photos. https://www.storehouse.co/stories/o49hv-the-welder

Story and photos by Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager



From farm fields to NYC—Telling my story

By Mark Jackson

“I want to tell you how billions of lives continue to be enriched by the life giving nutrition of the American farmer,” I, an Iowa farmer, told a crowded room of Unilever executives, imploring them for help in telling the story of modern agriculture.. “Let me explain the importance of realizing how changing perspectives can lead to a much brighter future.”

How did I end up in that boardroom? Well, I’m like most farmers who make a living taking care of crops while working alongside my family. I take great pride in raising corn and soybeans on my farm near Rose Hill, a small town in Mahaska County.  I also represent soybean farmers as a director on the Iowa Soybean Association and American Soybean Association boards. These organizations are funded by farmers and promote soybeans  grown in 32 states across the U.S. Nearly half of the world’s soybeans are grown in this country by farmers like myself, who represent less than one percent of the US population. Soybeans are the largest ag export from the U.S., to the tune of $30 billion in recent years and are the reason why I was in New York City at a meeting with Unilever.

Last year Unilever was attempting a first of its kind effort incorporating sustainably grown soy oil in one of their major branded products, Hellmann’s mayonnaise. That effort gave me a unique global platform to talk to executives from Unilever and to eventually give a TED talk that will be broadcast around the world.

My perspective as a farmer for sustainability was shaped fifty years ago by Norman Borlaug. Today, the modern agriculture I and many other U.S. farmers practice is based on a tradition handed down from parents to children for generations and revolves around being socially and environmentally responsible while maintaining an economic balance—just as Borlaug modeled. With an eye to future food demands, the U.S. farmer struggles with misleading information or overreaching regulation often based on emotion rather than sound science.

That is why I stood up in the crowded meeting in New York and that is why I recently told my story during the TED@Unilever in the middle of Manhattan. The TED@Unilever event showcased people from around the world that are working to initiate change. The ideas were meant to inspire leaders at every level and featured healthy food projects to public health campaigns and my own speech called “Hands across Generations.”

Hands across Generations showcased the hard work and change that farmers accomplish everyday across the U.S. to produce food for an ever-growing world. The importance of the harness and horse for my great grandfather has now changed to the precision of planters that use GPS to place nutrients in the right place to be utilized in the best way for plants while helping the environment.

That is a legacy I can be proud of and I’m also proud to be chosen as spokesperson for agriculture during such an important event and time in the discussion. Without an open and honest discussion I believe modern agriculture will be hampered from helping those who need it the most.

Quality through the seasons

DSC_5343Several snowflakes had already filled the air when Corey Jacobsen of Alexander stepped out of his shop. The forecast called for near blizzard conditions in several hours, but he was expecting an important shipment that would impact his upcoming growing season.

 For Jacobsen and many other farmers the start of the growing season begins when seeds are delivered to their farms. Jacobsen, a valued customer of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, knew that a new growing season was just around the corner when he received the shipment of seeds. Even if the weather didn’t indicate spring was near.

Farmers know the power of seeds. Without high-quality seeds, crops can be impacted by weather, pests and a host of other agronomic variables. That is why Jacobsen grows Latham Seeds, a trusted name in the business since 1947.

The quality Latham seeds that were carefully inspected and processed in Alexander would now be planted and grown by Jacobsen to be sold and used as livestock feed, biofuel and worldwide exports.

I had the opportunity to track those seeds from the time they were loaded at the Latham Seeds facility in Alexander to planting and then harvest season. Below are some photos from that journey.

For more photos of the growing season click here: https://www.storehouse.co/stories/o2ano-latham-seeds

Story and photos by Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager


Taking stock of Rock Creek


With a chill in the air a group of researchers gathered along a gravel road in Mitchell County. The researchers donned hip waders and grabbed kits from their trucks while preparing for the day’s work. With tools, charts and binders in hand, they walked across a field of hip-high prairie grass while making their way towards the banks of Rock Creek.

Rock Creek, a small stream that flows through Mitchell County near Osage, meanders through the countryside and eventually drains into the Cedar River. The lower reaches of the stream features limestone outcroppings, wooded hillsides and many forms of insects and aquatic life. Taking an inventory of the diversity and types of life found in the stream was the job of the researchers for the day.

Follow this link for a photo essay and the rest of the story: https://www.storehouse.co/stories/o7tug-taking-stock

Story and photos by Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager