Guest Columnist

Iowa farmers are ready to be part of the sustainable future

As a young farmer, I am optimistic about opportunity to improve our water, land and air quality

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig stands in a field of alternating rye and soybean rows grown by Brian (middle) an
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig stands in a field of alternating rye and soybean rows grown by Brian (middle) and Mitchell Hora (right). (Sarah Watson/The Union)

On Aug. 13, I enjoyed a unique experience that left a lot on my mind. Traditionally, that Thursday would have kicked off one of our state’s most hallowed traditions — the Iowa State Fair. 2020, of course, has delivered different plans for those of us involved in agriculture.

Instead of the main concourse bustling with tens of thousands of Iowans celebrating our rural heritage, I spent the day at the State Fairgrounds with a socially distanced crowd listening intently to Vice President Mike Pence deliver remarks on the administration’s vision for agriculture. This all was amid a backdrop of possibly the worst natural disaster our state has seen in recent memory, which spurred a visit from President Donald Trump this past week. Uncertainty is becoming the only thing certain for ag in 2020.

I felt fortunate to have a front-row seat to hear firsthand where the vice president stands on agriculture, but I walked away thinking critically about the vision for farming I’ve developed as a 7th generation Iowa farmer. The vision for agriculture I am passionate about is one where farmers can be economically resilient and environmentally sustainable, but there is no doubt we are going to need our elected leaders standing alongside us, perhaps more than ever before.

The agricultural community is dedicated to continually making our land, the environment and our way of life better. I look forward to solutions put forth by the administration and our leaders in Congress that empower farmers and ranchers to expand sustainable ag systems, while driving innovation and new revenue streams. It is critical that private partnerships and companies continue to get more skin in the game, but the tone needs to be set from our policy makers at the top.

One pathway forward to a more sustainable future increasingly being bandied about is carbon sequestration. For example, there are solutions being put forth in Congress laying out a blueprint for voluntary carbon markets, such as the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act, that would provide producers the technical assistance required to begin participating in these markets and receiving compensation for environmentally positive practices.

In Iowa, while we have a lot of progress left to make, we are at the forefront of nutrient management practices thanks to leadership from the likes of Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, the nutrient reduction strategy, and federal policies championed by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. Encouraging the scaling up of practices to capture carbon in our soil and reduce erosion will pay major dividends down the road. We are already seeing this on my family’s farm where we have been using no-till since the 1980s and are in our fifth year using cover crops.

Make no mistake — being profitable is required, but as a young farmer I am optimistic about the opportunity our generation has in front of us to improve our water, land and air quality, all while preparing to feed and fuel a growing population. I firmly believe our operations can continue being a critical part of the climate puzzle. With technology and networking opportunities at scale, all farms can make improvements and do their part.

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My ask of the administration, and our leaders in Congress, would be to walk alongside us as agriculture takes the next step in sustainability. I can assure them farmers are ready to roll up our sleeves, innovate and plow ahead even as uncertainty rules the day. We’re ready to get to work but we need smart, pragmatic policies out of D.C. to ensure our ag communities are economically resilient and environmentally sustainable for generations to come.

Mitchell Hora is a 7th generation Iowa farmer in Washington County.

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