Iowa agriculture leaders

Fresh perspectives

January 5, 2023

For this issue of the Iowa Soybean Review, we’ve asked seven leaders associated with various agriculture groups in the state to weigh in on events of 2022 that will have an impact in 2023 and what they are most looking forward to in the new year. Each leader also shared what they’d like Iowa soybean farmers to know about their industry, project or organization.

Participants include:

Kevin Stiles: CEO and Executive Director of the North Central Poultry Association and the Iowa Egg Council

Craig Floss: CEO of the Iowa Corn Growers Association

Bre Wagner: President of the Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation

Jim Knuth: Senior Vice President of Business Development for Farm Credit Services of America

Pat McGonegle: CEO of the Iowa Pork Producers Association

Lydia Zerby: Consumers Insights & Engagement Manager for the Iowa Soybean Association. Zerby oversees the Iowa Food & Family Project (IFFP)

Brent Johnson: Farmer and President of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation

What event from 2022 will have the greatest impact on your respective business or industry in 2023?

Stiles: The impacts of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza on our industry cannot be denied. 2022 brought HPAI back to the U.S. and while total birds affected nationally are comparable to 2015, we can see the benefits of producer biosecurity and disease preparedness efforts in Iowa. A much larger percentage of wild birds were impacted in 2022, spreading the virus over 40 states. We saw it continue in other parts of the U.S. through the late summer, and its return to Iowa in early November, which also is different than in 2015. While the number of farms and birds affected in Iowa is far less than 2015, those impacted by HPAI is still devastating.

Wagner: 2022 has been a year of transition. In April, Kelly Foss joined the Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation (IALF) as its new executive director. Kelly joined the team after spending 23 years as the director of Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market. In her time there, Kelly developed initiatives and programs in support of Iowa farmers and producers and was awarded the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Leader Award in 2019. Kelly has brought new perspectives, fresh ideas and a spirit of collaboration to the Iowa Ag Literacy Foundation. We’re looking forward to continuing this momentum in 2023.

McGonegle: The October 2022 Supreme Court hearing that the National Pork Producers Council brought against the State of California regarding Proposition 12. The case challenges a California law that requires pork sellers to source from farms that don’t use gestation crates. The ruling is expected in the first quarter of 2023. If the ruling goes against us, it will have a significant impact on the 900,000 sows we have in Iowa. It certainly will have a consumer impact; if it increases costs of production, it will most likely increase the cost of pork to consumers.

Johnson: Looking into 2023 and beyond, the midterm elections will have the most impact. A balance of power among lawmakers as they consider our next farm bill will help keep industry regulation in check. However, our work is not done. More than one-half of the House members have never worked on a farm bill. We will all need to be diligent, active in educating and communicating those issues that are important for the future of agriculture and the continued economic health for all Iowans.

Floss: Market access and increased use of higher blends of biofuels in Iowa and across the country has made a huge impact this year on Iowa farmers. With the help from partners like the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), the Iowa Corn Growers Association lobbied for the Iowa Biofuels Access Bill to expand E15 access to approximately 70% of fuel stations in Iowa by 2024. This bill will increase ethanol demand by 60 million gallons annually, utilizing more than 20 million bushels of corn. From a federal standpoint, the removal of barriers for summertime use of E15 creates more market access and promotes a win-win for farmers and consumers alike with a more-affordable, cleaner-burning and homegrown fuel option at the pump.

Knuth: The dramatic increase in both short-term and long-term interest rates. The Federal Reserve has taken an aggressive stance in their attempt to get inflation under control. The result is that the cost of variable rate debt and new debt is higher than what we have become accustomed to over the past decade.

Zerby: Food prices and supply chain issues are top of mind for Iowans. The effect of rising food costs as well as other goods and services will continue to affect consumer spending and purchasing decisions. The Iowa Food & Family Project’s (Iowa FFP) consumer engagement and education on these topics will be key to maintaining and growing confidence in modern agriculture and the valuable work Iowa farmers do to supply food and fuel.

What’s the most important thing you want soybean farmers to know about your industry or project?

Stiles: Iowa egg farmers and processors are the most innovative and progressive egg producers in the nation. It is this competitiveness that has led to their position as the largest egg-producing state in the country. When not impacted by HPAI, Iowa egg farmers produce about one in every six eggs in the U.S. Many Iowa-produced eggs are sold as liquid, dried or frozen and are used in food formulations, packaged and baked goods. We are also seeing growth in our broiler industry, which we look forward to in the coming years.

Wagner: The IALF serves as a central resource for educators and volunteers who want to teach Iowa’s students about agriculture. Within the programs, publications and resources, IALF highlights the importance of agriculture in our everyday lives, providing food, fuel and fiber. They also highlight ag-related careers for young people to explore. Lessons are available for teachers to access on the IALF website and tie into the Iowa Common Core standards. Because of the support of industry partners and Iowa commodity groups, including the ISA, we can provide fact-based ag lessons to teachers and youth.

McGonegle: Pork producers are appreciative of the cooperative spirit and collaboration with the ISA. Support of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) and the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA) are just two examples of the collaboration between soybean farmers, the soybean checkoff and the pork industry.

Johnson: The future of agriculture is very bright. As we all exit a couple of hard years, I see that consumers are more interested in food production, local leaders are excited to engage again with a renewed vigor, and we have great enthusiasm for our policy process. Our programs are as strong as ever and our education and messaging continue to reach more people.

Floss: We know that most Iowa farmers grow both corn and soybeans which is why we partner with the ISA on many projects and programs that impact Iowa’s farmers. The IAWA is a prime example. Through our partnership, we continue to work toward accelerating the adoption of science-based practices proven to have environmental benefits for water quality improvements across our great state.

Knuth: We can help you with your new financing needs. The cost of debt will be higher, which means loan structure, amortization, down payment and other financing considerations will be more important than ever. We do not believe current profit margins are sustainable long term, which means it is important to structure debt so you can afford your payments in a more normal margin scenario.

Zerby: Most Iowa consumers are interested in learning more about farming and agriculture. With so few Iowans farming or closely connected to farming, it’s vital for farmers to help tell the story of modern agriculture. When consumers can relate to farmers and realize the hard work they put in day in and day out, trust and a mutual respect can be formed. In this modern-day world, there is so much information being fed to consumers. It’s up to us as an agriculture industry to provide facts and explanations that separate truth from fiction.

What are you most looking forward to in 2023?

Stiles: Our poultry and egg community looks forward to rebounding from HPAI and returning to full production capacity. Prior to COVID, egg consumption was on a tremendous trajectory, and we believe we will see that again in the coming years. Eggs have an unmatched nutrition profile and are economical, easy to prepare, accessible, sustainable and on trend. Our producers are innovative, dedicated and resilient and are eager to be back at full capacity and bring ample quantities of high-quality eggs to consumers across the country and around the world.

Wagner: IALF has been busy working on new materials, which will launch this year. There’s a new edition of the Iowa Ag Today publication, which is a magazine exploring the connection between students and agriculture geared toward elementary and middle school students. In February, IALF will launch the Read Across Iowa program, where we’ll mail six ag-related books to 1,000 Iowa teachers to use in their  classrooms. Also in 2023, IALF will host teacher professional development workshops where teachers will learn ways to incorporate ag learning into their math, science, social studies and nutrition curriculum. In 2022, 145 Iowa teachers representing kindergarten through 12th grade completed the workshops. We’re looking forward to reaching more teachers and students in 2023.

McGonegle: We’ve had some unique times, and it’s starting to look more normal. I'm most interested and looking forward to growing pork export markets in cooperation with the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Mexico and Colombia are strong markets for the pork industry, increasing the pace and value of exports year over year. We have an opportunity to diversify our markets in other countries across the globe, in particular Vietnam, where we’re seeing increased demand for pork shoulder, hams and other cuts.

Johnson: I am looking forward to getting back to business as usual. Travel, both domestic and international, is getting back to normal and will allow us to reestablish lost connections and build new networks. At the same time, the technology advancements and innovation that were needed can continue to be utilized, now in more creative ways. I am excited to explore the opportunities that lay ahead for agriculture and Iowa’s farmers.

Floss: The Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) and Iowa Corn Growers Association recently adopted a new strategic plan with a specific focus on new uses, sustainability and advocacy. As we embark on 2023, I look forward to the implementation of this plan as we work toward long-term profitability for Iowa’s corn farmers. The ICPB is building demand for corn in all forms, whether that is here in the U.S. or around the world. Our top markets continue to be ethanol and livestock feed. For the first time, the chair of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is a corn and livestock farmer representing the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Dean Meyer. As a partner with USMEF, the goal is to support our livestock customers by finding new markets for corn-fed red meat as our global population continues to demand high-quality protein. I look forward to working to build demand for corn-fed meats as well as corn and ethanol export opportunities in partnership with the U.S. Grains Council. Lastly, I’m excited for the potential to create new uses to increase corn grind, whether it be for biochemicals, bioplastics or a variety of other uses, the ICPB is dedicated to researching and finding new products made from corn.

Knuth: Profitability for grain production agriculture. It appears we will have excellent pricing opportunities again in 2023. A good risk management plan, understanding your costs and break-evens and developing a proactive marketing plan are the keys to making this trend work for your operation.

Zerby: Looking at the year ahead, I’m excited to build upon Iowa FFP’s relationships with Iowa commodity and healthy living partners. There are so many great things happening in the organizations that Iowa FFP collaborates with, and I can’t wait to tell their stories through Fresh Pickings magazine and eNewsletter, as well as social media networks. The feature story possibilities are endless, and consumers are hungry for uplifting and truthful content. I look forward to maximizing the relationships Iowa FFP has built and forming new ones that will take us forward into the next year.