More than a dozen farm sector representatives, with several from Hawkeye Community College and the Iowa Soybean Association, shared their perspectives at the Iowa Ideas Agriculture Symposium on March 28 at the University of Northern Iowa.
The range of participants’ concerns was evident in the following one-word descriptions of agriculture they provided at the meeting’s outset: challenged, simplified, exciting, innovative, technology, evolving, complex, growing, data-driven, progressive, optimistic, monoculture and divided.
Much of the morning’s discussion centered on efforts to reduce nutrient pollution from farm fields – a lengthy and expensive effort made more difficult by low commodity prices that challenge farmers’ ability to make a profit.
Iowa State University researcher Elke Brandes reported on a recent study that shows significant portions of Iowa farmland lose money in the current era of low commodity prices and high input costs.
Brandes stated that 11.5 percent of Iowa cropland lost at least $40 per acre and leached at least 100 pounds of nitrate into surface water in 2015. Converting those marginal acres to switch grass, she said, would reduce nitrate discharges by 18 percent.
The research, she said, may help farmers make more informed decisions about land use and help them identify farm parcels where conservation practices can be cost-effectively installed.
Following the presentation, participants formed small groups to discuss such priority topics as sustainability, innovation and diversification.
One of the more frequently mentioned “big ideas” to emerge from the discussions was the need for more collaboration and better understanding among farmers, urban residents, ag interest groups and government agencies.