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Martha Stewart dishes on compost and farming at Land Investment Expo

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Martha Stewart was the keynote speaker for the 2019 Land Investment Expo held in Des Moines. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Joseph L. Murphy, ISA senior communications manager

About 850 people attended the Peoples Company Land Investment Expo in Des Moines Jan. 25. The 12th annual event featured valuable information about agriculture, real estate and business.

Martha Stewart was the keynote speaker at the daylong event. She drew on her experiences as a successful media entrepreneur and farmer. The latter might surprise some but for Stewart, her years of growing vegetables, raising poultry and building soil health by utilizing compost is near to her heart.

"I do get dirty, I do help clean out the chicken coops," Stewart told the crowd. "I love to grow everything. That learning has become the teaching. It's all about the information and how to."

When she isn't tending to her 150-acre estate and farm in upstate New York, Stewart is at the helm of her media business. She is an Emmy Award-winning television show host, entrepreneur and author. Her brand reaches an estimated 100 million consumers across all media and merchandising platforms each month. Products with her brand are in an estimated 70 million households and have a growing retail presence with thousands of locations.

"I call it black gold," Stewart said of her composting efforts and the soil health she has built on her farm over the years. "We make beautiful compost. We have turned waste into goodness, and we try not to throw goodness away. It has made amazing soil."

Stewart delivered information about her farm and media empire to those in attendance, but she also touched on why it is essential for brands like hers to provide information about agriculture even if it doesn't match the scale of farm operations in Iowa.

"I'm always astonished, especially in the cities that people don't know how carrots are grown," she said. "They have no idea how broccoli is grown. I think we have not done a good job in educating Americans about where our food comes from. All the fabulous farmers in this room should promote more about how it happens."

The Land Investment Expo has become an event to get to know national personalities like Stewart and how they intersect with Iowa agriculture, technology and land management. Past speakers have included President Donald Trump, Ben Stein, Kevin O'Leary and T. Boone Pickens to name a few.

"Our goal with the Land Expo is to bring people together and challenge the status quo," Steve Bruere, president of Peoples Company said. "We try to give insights that might not be readily available to those of us who are only in agricultural circles."

One might ask why nationally known celebrities and business leaders would come to Iowa for this event. Bruere said the answer is at the heart of Iowa's DNA.

"Consistently the answer is Iowa is the epicenter of agriculture and we want to come to see what Iowa is all about," he said.

He added that it is becoming incredibly difficult to find a speaker that appeals to the diverse attendees of the expo.

"When we look for a keynote speaker we are looking for someone who is a household name that has relevance to agriculture and is a speaker most attendees otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to hear," he said. "We have identified several potential speakers for 2020 and will start trying to procure someone immediately."

Peter Zeihan, geopolitical strategist, told attendees that the U.S. is in a good position when it comes to the world stage. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Geopolitics and the future

Attendees also heard from experts like Peter Zeihan, a geopolitical strategist that combines demography, economics, energy, politics and technology to paint a picture of what the world could look like in the future.

According to Zeihan, the U.S. has five main benefits that point to future prosperity.

  1. Trade - In 2016 about 12 percent of the GDP came from exports. Half of that was from NAFTA. We can have a regional trade system and not be reliant on a global trade system. That is important if strife in global markets continues.
  2. Energy - We've had breakthroughs in water management, engineering and other technologies. Functionally we are energy independent now and technically we will probably be there in 10-16 months.
  3. Demography – Today, courtesy of the boomers, the U.S. is the top investment power and, because of the millennials, the top consuming power. In 11 years the U.S. will be the only investment power and the only consuming power due to world demographics.
  4. Geography - The greater Midwest is the only single contiguous, arable, temperate, high-quality farmland in the world. The inland waterways are essential. We are condemned to be an agricultural, industrial, financial and military superpower.
  5. Military - The U.S. is the only country that theoretically can hold global order. But it is also the country that isn't interested in it.

Zeihan also examined Brazil's agriculture system and transportation system for the crowd.

“It is the most expensive input cycle for agriculture anywhere in the world," he said. "Think of Brazil as a table with two legs knocked off. Any product shipped can't be on a navigable waterway. It has to go by truck to the top and then zigzag down switchbacks to the coast. They have the highest transport costs for agriculture in the world."

He believes those factors — along with the current government, social and economic conditions — will lead to a decline of Brazil's agriculture system.

"We are in the final years of facing Brazil as an agriculture competitor," he said.

Look for more stories from the Land Investment Expo in upcoming weeks.

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.

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