Panelists speculate on future of farming

Stephanie Veldman

A panel of experts shared their vision of where the future of farming in Iowa is headed and also covered many controversial topics that people in the industry are facing at the first-ever “Future of Farming Forum.”

The forum, which was sponsored by the Ag Business Club and the ISU Agricultural Foundation, was held Tuesday in Room 127 of Curtiss Hall. About 130 people attended.

“I came up with the idea for the [forum] when we were brainstorming for activities to do this semester,” said Matt Bormann, junior in agricultural business. “I wanted to have a panel where we can get farmers in and talk about where things are moving in the future for small farmers.”

The panel consisted of five speakers: Reg Clause, a farmer from Jefferson; John Fischer, farmer and vice president of Farmer & Merchants State Bank in Neola; Varel Bailey, president of Precision Beef Alliance and a farmer from Anita; and Paul and Andrea Brown, farmers from New Providence.

Clause concentrated on new ideas in the industry and the attitudes farmers have toward them.

“In ag, we speak clearly about change, but have murky ideas of what change really is,” Clause said. “You can resist change if you are an Iowa farmer, but you better be able to afford it.”

Speakers Paul and Andrea Brown are in the minority of farmers in Iowa because many of their farming methods are unconventional. For example, they use a pasture farrowing unit for their swine, which means that all their sows are outside in pasture from the spring to the fall instead of in a confinement building.

“What helped us the most was the low-operating costs of the pasture farrowing unit,” Andrea Brown said. “It is a very inexpensive way to get into hog production.”

The Browns also expressed the difficulties of starting a farm operation, and how they built theirs up to what it is today.

“We have worked to keep our family cost low. Most of the money the farm brings in goes back into the farm,” Andrea Brown said.

The Browns also gave advice on how farmers can start from scratch.

“There are some opportunities out there for those who have no farm ties to get into farming,” Andrea Brown said. “There are programs like Farm On which match up young farmers and retirees to keep the farm going.”

Fischer said many farmers are forced to pick up a “sideline” job such as working in the trucking industry.

“When the cash flow from the farm becomes so soft, farmers are forced to look to outside areas for money,” Fischer said.

Fischer also spoke about the transition from generation to generation in family farming. He said as farmers get older, their earnings and efficiency levels lessen.

“We need to level out the peaks and valleys between generations,” Fischer said. “What works well is transferring assets from one generation to the next so there is no dip in the earnings and in the efficiency level.”

Bailey encouraged the students in the audience to keep an open mind to education even after they graduate. He said four driving forces — the Internet, biotechnology, globalization and consumer power — are included in the education process that farmers need to acknowledge to shape the future.

“The [Internet] is a whole new way of thinking, and it is a whole new platform for doing business anywhere in the world,” Bailey said.