Global labor issues present a big problem

Balwinder Singh Kang a farmer from India discusses labor struggles he has on his farm.

The pace of this year’s harvest in Iowa combined with the record-setting yields can stress the labor of any farming operation. Making sure that help is available to run equipment and haul grain is important in keeping the wheels of harvest moving.

Recently farmers from around the world met in Des Moines to discuss important issues they face with their farming operations. All agreed that labor issues are a major concern.

Fourteen farmers gathered to take part in the Global Farmers Roundtable and World Food Prize Symposium last week. The farmers from countries spanning five of the seven continents said that farm labor supply, farm labor costs, and labor work ethic can be a limiting factor in the future for their operations.

Levi Wood, a grain farmer from western Saskatchewan, Canada, has difficulties in finding labor due to the pressures that other industries place on the labor force.

“We’re competing against other industries. In Canada, those industries are mining, oil, and gas. It’s a barrier because even people that grew up on a farm or work on a farm can make $80,000 to $100,000 U.S. dollars a year at 18 with no skills,” he said.

In India, low wages have forced laborers to find other jobs to sustain a living. That puts farmers in the difficult position of choosing expensive machinery to do the work or limiting the size of the farm because of the labor shortage.

“We cannot pay wages that are deserved by farmers,” Balwinder Singh Kang, a farmer from India said. “Expenses have increased so it limits how much can be paid. I don’t think $500 a year is enough for a worker to live and feed a family. But even if we are willing to pay more we can’t get the people to come.”

Sarah Sammon of Australia tells other members of the Global Farmers Roundtable that labor is leaving the rural areas of Australia for metro living.

Farmers in Argentina and Australia are facing a pull of labor from small rural towns to the larger cities according to Maria Beatriz Giraudo Gaviglio of Argentina and Sarah Sammon of Australia.

“We lose a lot of our youth to the big city which is four hours away. So we start with a lack of availability for helpers,“ Sammon told the group.

The story is the same in Argentina according to Gaviglio.

“Everybody wants to live in the cities these days,” she said. “We need people living on the farm, but they prefer to live on less money in the city. The government also gives subsidies for people that don’t want to work.”

To help with the problem, she has been proactive in working with other farm groups in Argentina to create training centers in small cities to help train workers that might not have the opportunity to go to universities in the city.

“The problem is limiting our production, and it is a very big problem in my country,” Gaviglio said.

Kees Huizinga, originally from the Netherlands, has farmed in Ukraine for the past 12 years. He told the group that their is a job shortage in the Ukraine with a large workforce. His problem comes in managing his workforce and retaining them.

Kees Huizinga, originally from the Netherlands, has farmed in Ukraine for the past 12 years. He raises soybeans, winter wheat, and other row crops along with 850 dairy cows and 750 sows, farrow to finish. He currently employees 350 people. For his operation, he sees a large labor pool to draw from but he feels the workforce is not motivated to work because of government incentives.

“In Ukraine there is enough labor but there is a shortage of jobs,” he said. “There is an enormous workforce, so it comes down to management. We have to stimulate people to work. We have to spend time teaching people the jobs and then retaining them.”

Kang sees the issue of labor as a crisis in his native country of India with ramifications around the world. He believes that it goes beyond a labor shortage to the willingness of farmers to keep farming.

“In 10 to 15 years no one will be willing to farm if things continue,” he said. “All of these things are problems we are facing. Labor is not there; technology is not there it is all combined together.”


By Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager

Record harvest not expected to stress rail transportation

rail forecast-4824Rail service in the face of a record-setting harvest is up to the challenge according to industry experts. Recent upgrades to rail service combined with soft commodity prices should allow the flow of soybeans and corn from the Midwest to export destinations on the coasts.

“We expect rail service to be good for the 2015 harvest,” Mike Steenhoek, the executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said. “Railroads have invested vigorously over the past year, so they have responded to demand.”

Congestion and delays in previous years are believed to be relieved this year because of several factors. The top seven rail carriers have made infrastructure improvements over the past year, and a drop in petroleum production means less traffic on the rail lines according to Steenhoek.

“Union Pacific plans to spend $4.2 billion on capital investments this year. Of that, we expect to spend about $1.85 billion for infrastructure replacement,” Kristen South of Union Pacific said. “As part of our business planning process, we continuously evaluate how projected volumes fit within the confines of network capacity and make corresponding adjustments to our capital plan as volume and returns dictate.”

South went on to say that Union Pacific is expecting a muted peak season but are ready for the demand if market forces change.

“We have more than 2,000 covered hoppers in storage available to meet unanticipated surges in equipment needs for grain,” She said.

The stronger U.S. dollar and softening export markets have also removed pressure from rail service according to Steenhoek.

“Farmers are holding on to their grain so we are expecting much of the 2015 crop will be stored,” he said. “That means they will impose less of it on the rail network, and they will have adequate capacity to handle what comes their way.”


By Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager

Mississippi Mayors learn about Iowa water quality efforts

Mississippi River Mayors meeting-4654With the river as the backdrop, mayors from cities along the Mississippi River met in Dubuque last week to discuss topics of importance for their cities.

About 25 Mayors from communities along the river participated in the fourth annual Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative (MRCTI) organizational meeting. The MRCTI was created to be a new, influential, and independent voice for the Mississippi River, dramatically increasing demand for effective river protection, restoration, and management according to Colin Wellenkamp, the MRCTI executive director.

Sean McMahon of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) presented to the group about sustainable agriculture and water quality issues being faced in the state of Iowa and across the country.

“The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy brings together the point source and nonpoint source communities to find the most cost-effective ways to improve water quality. It also calls for municipal waste water treatment facilities to make reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus,” McMahon told the government officials gathered. “Increasingly mayors in Iowa realize that they can make those reductions far, far cheaper if they partner with farmers and ag associations.”

McMahon told the mayors that IAWA is working with farmers to promote practices like no-till, strip-till and cover crops to improve soil health and water quality. He told them that those practices need to be combined with economic benefits for the farmers.

“We want farmers to get out of the frame of productivity at all costs,” McMahon said. “We want them to think about maximizing return on investment.”

McMahon said that with the help of precision ag companies fields can be analyzed and determine the profitability of all the acres they farm.

“Studies have shown that between three and 15 percent of the acres (being farmed) are not profitable,” he said. “Farmers are losing big money on those acres, and they are often the same acres that are seeing the most nutrient loss.”

Utilizing that information and combining it with conservation practices will help water quality while improving farmers’ bottom lines according to McMahon.

“This is not a partisan issue. There is not a red way or a blue way to clean up our water,” McMahon told the mayors. “We need to pull together the urban and rural communities to have a one water approach and have a red, white and blue way to improving our water quality future.”

Chris Coleman, the mayor of St. Paul, Minn., recognizes the importance of working on partnerships between the government sector and the ag community. Noting that in Minnesota companies like CHS, General Mills and Cargill are working toward sustainability goals.

“We all recognize that we have a vested interest in protecting the environment,” Coleman said. “Whether that’s buffer strips or cover crops those are all questions that we have to come up with answers together.”

St. Paul draws water from the Mississippi River for drinking water according to Coleman, and he says his city has a visible example of water quality.  The waters from the Minnesota River and Mississippi River converge in the city while contrasting the water quality issues of both rivers.

“It is the most visible example of why we need to act to try and get a broad range of issues taken care of,” Coleman said. “This is not about beating up on the ag industry. It’s trying to figure out what are the most sustainable practices that are also good for the bottom line of the farmer. The economic interest of the farmer doesn’t have to diverge from the environmental interest or the sustainability interest. ”

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize Foundation, also presented at the conference about the importance of sustainability on a global scale.

“China is on a mission, and we are at risk of losing the leadership that Norman Borlaug, George Washington Carver, and Henry Wallace put into place,” he said. “The big question is how can we sustainably feed nine billion people? There has to be more food produced, but there could be ecological impacts.”


Story and photo by Joe Murphy, member communications manager

Crops lost to flash flooding

Farm Flooding-3399Two nights of heavy rain near Bagley caused crop and property damage over the weekend. Flash flooding from the rains caused record setting flooding in the area resulting in localized damage to soybean and corn crops.

In his weekly crops and weather report Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said that seventy-six percent of the corn crop was in the dent stage or beyond, with 10 percent mature, 3 days ahead of last year, but 9 days behind the 5-year average. Corn condition rated 79 percent good to excellent. Ninety-seven percent of soybeans were setting pods or beyond, while 33 percent of soybeans were turning color, 3 days ahead of 2014, but 1 day behind normal. Five percent of soybeans have begun dropping leaves. Soybean condition rated 76 percent good to excellent.

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“We continue to move closer to harvest with ten percent of corn reaching maturity and five percent of soybeans dropping leaves. Some farmers are starting to chop corn for silage and harvest seed corn fields,” Northey said. “Unfortunately, the strong storms that have rolled through the state have caused some flooding damaged and left crops underwater in some areas.”

Equipment sales are a mixed bag at the state fair

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The Iowa State Fair had a record number of people visit but ag retailers weren’t seeing the same numbers in sales. Farm equipment sales were hit and miss this year according to several vendors and they place the blame on low commodity prices that are slowing sales of the new equipment.

“Sales have been considerably slower,” Tony Rockwell of Sully Farm Sales said. “We’ve had less traffic and people are slower to pull the trigger.”

Rockwell sells grain dryers, augers and other farm equipment near the Varied Industries Building on the fairgrounds. He attributes the slower traffic and sales to current grain prices.

“Our big seller during the fair is grain handling augers and portable augers and they still have time to buy the equipment before harvest so I’m optimistic the sales will come,” he said.

Gene Willis, an Ag Sales Territory Manager for Van Wall Equipment in Story City, says that only 15 to 20 percent of the traffic for the dealer is farmers.

“We’re trying to entice more than just the ag market. The farmer doesn’t come here to view equipment, they go to the two big ag shows,” Willis said.

According to Willis, that’s why they brought more compact utilities and lawn equipment to the fair and changed their exhibit to entice large yard and acreage owners.

“There are some people that are gun-shy to pull the trigger right now. But we still see a lot of interest, especially with the cattle people,” Cali Arnold, the office manager of EBY Trailers in Story City said.

Arnold added that they have customers that will trade every two years, regardless of the economy. But she said in most cases the customers they see this year are trading into something newer. She doesn’t see that changing much in the near future.

“There might be some hesitancy, and people might not be as aggressive as a year ago, but there still is a lot of interest and sales have been good,” Tom Olin with Stronghold manufacturing said.

He has noticed that fewer people are “Kicking the tires” and foot traffic through his display was less this year, but the people stopping and talking were serious about buying.

“We get a lot of traffic because we’ve been around, and people know us. We are celebrating our 50th year in Clarion, and we plan on selling great products for 50 more years,” Olin said..

By Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager

Tradition and family values shine at Warren County Fair

Warren County Fair-3409Tucked away in several stalls in building number one of the Warren County Fair a family moved with determination to get their steers ready for a show. They moved from steer to steer with a precision that has been learned over the years.

The Moffitt family, Iowa Soybean Association members from Indianola, has a five-generation tradition of participating and attending the Warren County Fair. During that time, they and many other families that participate in fairs across Iowa have embodied the tradition, family values, and spirit of competition that can only be found at Iowa’s great county fairs.

Each year a thriving community forms in the barns and the grounds of county fairs across the state made up of 4-H and FFA youth and their families. The fairs offer them a place to compete against others with the livestock they’ve raised, and it also gives them the chance to visit with friends and neighbors.

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Kurt Moffitt is proud that the experiences and competition he experienced showing at the Warren County Fair while growing up is already being passed to his three children.

“It’s a lot of hard work. Maybe even more hard work than when we were kids,” Moffitt said as he watched his sons and daughter work with a calf. “We have a lot of livestock here and I’m trying to let them do their thing and meet new people.”

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He went on to say the routine of getting up every morning to do chores for the 22 animals they brought to the fair has made his kids more responsible.

“At the end of the week hopefully it will be a decent check for them and a good experience,” he said. “At the very least it is a way for them to meet new people and connect with others while staying off their electronics for a week.”

Maurice Moffitt, Kurt’s father, has seen many changes during his five-plus decades at the Warren County Fair. As the board president for 20 years he was a part of improving the buildings and grounds so the fair could offer participants great facilities to show off their projects.

“The fair was the highlight of the summer when it came around,” Maurice Moffitt said while remembering his years of showing at the fair in the early sixties. “It was hard work and you were busy. It was a competition, and I remember the hard work paid off.”

Cynthia Moffitt, Kurt’s wife, feels the fair offers a chance for people not directly involved in agriculture to experience it firsthand.

“Iowa is an agricultural state, but there’s a lot of people that aren’t directly connected to it, so county fairs provide an opportunity for those folks to learn and understand a big part of our economy,” she said. “If we as farming families can help connect those other families with agriculture, then we feel like we’ve done our job.”

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Working at the fair is a year-round passion for Jo Reynolds, the Warren County Fair manager.

“People say ‘I’ll bet you’re glad fair week is over,’ and I always say no I work all year for this week. It’s a love, it’s a passion, it’s a sickness,” he said, smiling. “But it’s the people that make this.”

She went on to say the history and tradition of family farms are about families coming together. That’s why she believes it’s important for fairs to showcase their dedication and hard work.

“I’ve always said we are raising kids, not livestock,” she said. “The livestock have always been a vessel to help children or exhibitors learn responsibility and some of those things in life. I think it’s tradition, heritage and the history that makes these fairs special.”

Even with her hectic schedule during the fair you can see her visit with exhibitors and visitors she bumps into at the fair.

“I would hope people would come to (the fair) be educated. To learn that milk doesn’t come from the grocery store and pork comes from the pig itself,” she said. “I’m trying to provide more education so we can continue being the state that feeds the world, and with that we want to provide the entertainment to fairgoers because the entertainment brings the people. But education is our big goal.”

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To see more photos click here.


By Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager



11 thoughts from ISA’s Water Quality Open House

Water Quality Open House-02488Last year, Iowa soybean farmers invested more than $1.2 million in checkoff funds to improving water quality through projects, practices and initiatives across the state. At the Water Quality Open House held on July 1, Iowa Soybean Association opened its doors to more than 90 community leaders, elected officials and area residents to learn about the impact those dollars made.

As the atrium flooded with curiosity and conversation, we asked participants to share their thoughts: 

  1. Water quality is exciting.

“I’m excited about water quality. I just want to do what’s right for the soil. I’m going to try to get my students excited about water quality. We’re a farming community and I have a lot of farm boys in my 8th grade class. This is something that would be really interesting to them.” — Margaret Hogan, science teacher, Beckman Catholic High School


  1. We need to find the right tone.

 “I find that it’s important that we find the right tone throughout the state in talking about water quality because there are many concerns on all sides of this issue. I think the correct decisions and correct procedure will rise to the top with a balance and good respect for both the environment and keeping agriculture strong throughout the state of Iowa. This was a good opportunity to talk to farmers who actually put these conservation practices into place on their farms. It’s good to know the nuts and bolts and know the actual practices that are being put in place to protect all Iowans.” — State Representative Dan Kelly, House District 29

  1. People are interested.

“I think there is an interest in what farmers are doing. It’s important to remind our urban friends that farmers are doing things to improve water quality. I think the interchange and being able to talk one on one is valuable.” — Tim Smith, farmer

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  1. Perspective is important.

“I have an interest in this issue from at least a couple different perspectives. I’m the Mayor of Johnston and the residents in Johnston receive their water from the Des Moines Waterworks. So I’ve been following that discussion and those issues. On the other side, I grew up near Sac City on a farm and my family still has farmland in Sac County. One of these days I’ll probably take responsibility for managing that farm and I need to make sure that we are doing what we need to do on the farm to address some of these issues. So this was a learning opportunity for me from that perspective as well.” — Paula Dierenfeld, mayor, City of Johnston

  1. The Iowa way.

“It’s important as we look at production agriculture, what is the impact on natural resources and are we being good stewards. Water quality is an important part of that and it’s important to all of us, whether you’re in the urban areas or rural areas, to work together and continue to look at those issues. I think the most important thing is making sure you get all the various players at the table and try to find that common ground and common ground solutions. Really that’s the Iowa way.” — Jay Byers, CEO, Greater Des Moines Partnership


  1. Not so easy-peasy.

 “The fact is you have to have nitrogen to grow crops. Solving Iowa’s water quality problems is not as simple as reducing nitrogen or not applying nitrogen, especially with a growing population. It’s really not as simple as most people think and that’s what makes it the most difficult problem to solve.” — Logan Putz, student at Iowa State University

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  1. Farmers need to pick.

“With my work for the City of Johnston, we definitely have an interest in water quality. What stood out to me was the wide variety of options available for people looking to improve the quality of water. Allowing producers to voluntarily pick the options that work best for them is really the right approach.” — Tom Cope, Johnston City Council member


  1. There is diversity in water issues across the state.

 “With these water quality issues up my way, I really want to make sure that I understand, when I go out and talk to people, exactly what is going on and I know that the ISA is extremely involved in that. It was really interesting to see the differences in issues across the state. Just looking at that map tells you volumes about what’s going on and why.” — State Representative Helen Miller, House District 9

  1. In agriculture we trust.

“As farmers we like to complain that consumers and our constituents don’t understand us. Having this open house tells people in the neighborhood and really all of Iowa what we’re doing at the ISA and that we do care about the environment. I think the right message to share with consumers is that we are being proactive. It’s important to share what is possible in agriculture but also that there are challenges. Nothing is certain in agriculture.” — Ray Gaesser, farmer

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  1. By golly, I’m going to try it.

“We didn’t just start this last year. We, the ACWA and ISA have been at this for a good number of years. Now, where we need to go from here is a much broader understanding from urban and rural counterparts as well as a broader adoption of these things that we know can and will work. That’s why something like this [Water Quality Open House] is so important: so people have an understanding of what can be done and then hopefully there’s some folks here that go home and say, ‘Yeah, I’m a farmer. I’m a producer. I haven’t done this yet but by golly, I’m going to learn more and I’m going to try it.'” — Harry Ahrenholtz, chairman of Agriculture Clean Water Alliance


  1. Practices are scaling up.

“I think it’s very important to inform the general public on the various efforts that are occurring that will help improve the state’s water quality. We have a number of conservation practices we will be scaling up that have made good progress to date but we recognize that’s really an incomplete picture and we have a lot further to go. I’m looking forward to talking about the complexities of water quality challenges we face in Iowa. It’s taken a century and a half of ag impacts in water quality to get here and we’re not going to solve it overnight but we’re taking important steps.” — Sean McMahon, executive director, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance

By: Easton Kuboushek, ISA communications specialist and Joe Murphy, ISA member communications manager