Global labor issues present a big problem

The pace of this year’s harvest in Iowa combined with the record-setting yields can stress the labor of any farming operation. Making sure that help is available to run equipment and haul grain is important in keeping the wheels of harvest moving.

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Recently farmers from around the world met in Des Moines to discuss important issues they face with their farming operations. All agreed that labor issues are a major concern.

Fourteen farmers gathered to take part in the Global Farmers Roundtable and World Food Prize Symposium last week. The farmers from countries spanning five of the seven continents said that farm labor supply, farm labor costs, and labor work ethic can be a limiting factor in the future for their operations.

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Levi Wood, a grain farmer from western Saskatchewan, Canada, has difficulties in finding labor due to the pressures that other industries place on the labor force.

“We’re competing against other industries. In Canada, those industries are mining, oil, and gas. It’s a barrier because even people that grew up on a farm or work on a farm can make $80,000 to $100,000 U.S. dollars a year at 18 with no skills,” he said.

In India, low wages have forced laborers to find other jobs to sustain a living. That puts farmers in the difficult position of choosing expensive machinery to do the work or limiting the size of the farm because of the labor shortage.

“We cannot pay wages that are deserved by farmers,” Balwinder Singh Kang, a farmer from India said. “Expenses have increased so it limits how much can be paid. I don’t think $500 a year is enough for a worker to live and feed a family. But even if we are willing to pay more we can’t get the people to come.”

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Farmers in Argentina and Australia are facing a pull of labor from small rural towns to the larger cities according to Maria Beatriz Giraudo Gaviglio of Argentina and Sarah Sammon of Australia.

“We lose a lot of our youth to the big city which is four hours away. So we start with a lack of availability for helpers,“ Sammon told the group.

The story is the same in Argentina according to Gaviglio.

“Everybody wants to live in the cities these days,” she said. “We need people living on the farm, but they prefer to live on less money in the city. The government also gives subsidies for people that don’t want to work.”

To help with the problem, she has been proactive in working with other farm groups in Argentina to create training centers in small cities to help train workers that might not have the opportunity to go to universities in the city.

“The problem is limiting our production, and it is a very big problem in my country,” Gaviglio said.

Kees Huizinga, originally from the Netherlands, has farmed in Ukraine for the past 12 years. He raises soybeans, winter wheat, and other row crops along with 850 dairy cows and 750 sows, farrow to finish. He currently employees 350 people. For his operation, he sees a large labor pool to draw from but he feels the workforce is not motivated to work because of government incentives.

“In Ukraine there is enough labor but there is a shortage of jobs,” he said. “There is an enormous workforce, so it comes down to management. We have to stimulate people to work. We have to spend time teaching people the jobs and then retaining them.”

Kang sees the issue of labor as a crisis in his native country of India with ramifications around the world. He believes that it goes beyond a labor shortage to the willingness of farmers to keep farming.

“In 10 to 15 years no one will be willing to farm if things continue,” he said. “All of these things are problems we are facing. Labor is not there; technology is not there it is all combined together.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean 

 

Iowa Agriculture Summit features national contenders

By Joseph L. Murphy

Nine potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates met at the first-ever Iowa Agriculture Summit last week in Des Moines to discuss agriculture issues important to the Iowa and national economies.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

The candidates were interviewed one-by-one for 20 minutes to answer questions by Bruce Rastetter, the CEO of The Summit Group, and organizer of the event.

Topics ranging from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and Country of Origin Labeling were all discussed by the candidates during the day-long event.

“Every four years, Iowa becomes an epicenter of American politics, often shaping and almost always reflecting national policy movements. Unfortunately, until now, there has not been a forum solely dedicated to matters that directly affect Iowa farmers who feed and fuel not just the country, but the world,” said Rastetter. “The 2015 Iowa Ag Summit highlighted and promoted agriculture. It allowed elected officials and public policy leaders to have a public discussion on issues that are vital to the Iowa and American economy.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush talks with Bruce Rastetter during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo Joseph L. Murphy)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush talks with Bruce Rastetter during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo Joseph L. Murphy)

The candidate forum also featured speeches by Iowa representatives including Governor Terry Branstad, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst and former Lt. Governor and ag secretary Patty Judge. Judge was the only Democrat to speak during the event.

Ron Heck, an Iowa Soybean Association director, attended the summit to listen to the candidates and gauge their positions on issues impacting his farm and agriculture in the state.

“Energy policies that incentivize all renewable energy sources and implement flexible, market-based mechanisms will allow farmers nationwide to be part of the solution in a manner that is good for our bottom line as well as the natural resources we depend on,” Heck said. “I urge the participants of the Iowa Ag Summit to recognize the importance of renewable energy to a strong and vibrant farming future — both at the summit and on the campaign trail. Finding solutions that support clean energy development should be a priority for policymakers and presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said that they support the RFS. Florida Governor Jeb Bush said that the market would decide the RFS and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former New York Governor George Pataki all opposed energy mandates.

Christie gave the shortest answer to a question during the summit when asked if GMOs should be included on food labels simply saying “No”. All of the candidates in attendance echoed Christie’s thoughts about GMOs saying in their own words that there is no scientific evidence that GMOs negatively impact health so they shouldn’t be included on nutrition labels.

Senator Ted Cruz answers questions from a group of national journalists after his appearance at the Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Senator Ted Cruz answers questions from a group of national journalists after his appearance at the Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

About 1,000 people attended the summit and 250 media credentials were issued to cover the event according to event organizers.

“I was impressed by the preparation of all 20 speakers,” Heck said. “Of course Grassley, Branstad, and many others are always prepared for ag issues, but I believe the most important success of the summit was that the national figures had all obviously taken the time and effort to educate themselves on ag issues. The Summit was a success before it even started, because the national speakers had taken note of issues that are important to agriculture.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news

Not your typical dinner party

By Joseph L. Murphy

The tables were set, the guests were mingling and everything was in place for a beautiful evening.

But the location for this dinner event was far from ordinary. In fact, the white linen dining experience was situated four miles north of Jefferson in a pasture surrounded by soybean fields.

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That’s the setting envisioned by David Ausberger, a soybean farmer from Jefferson, IA. “Agvocacy” was the theme for the evening and Ausberger’s farm provided the perfect back drop for nearly 40 guests to learn about the great care that he takes to make his farm successful while protecting the environment.

Surrounded by neighbors, city councilmen, board of supervisors and state legislators, Ausberger related his passions for all things farming. As the sun dipped towards the horizon conversations continued that ranged from farming, to the environment, to the local happenings in Jefferson.

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It’s an event Ausberger had always hoped to host – a unique opportunity to share his passion for farmers and what farm families throughout Iowa are doing for the environment and food safety every day.

“I think that we have 35 or 40 new advocates for agriculture after tonight,” Ausberger said. “Judging by the conversations, people are coming away from the night with a positive feeling. The fact that we were able to eat great food in a beautiful location was the icing on the cake.”

Shannon Black, a neighbor of the Ausberger’s and member of the Jefferson City Council, enjoyed the evening.

“Being a city council person in Jefferson I think it is important for all of us, even as city folk, to know what is going on outside of town,” she said.  “It is important to know that our neighbors are being good stewards of the land so that we know are waters are safe and land is protected.”

Andy Krieger, a greenhouse owner in Jefferson, has seen big growth in his sales relating to locally grown items so he enjoyed talking to Ausberger about food production on a larger scale.

“I’m proud of agriculture. I’m proud of being able to provide good healthy items to customers that want to be connected to what they are eating and events like this help showcase it,” Krieger said. “Events like this can show the future of agriculture. We are environmentally sustainable and we are offering good healthy crops not only for us but for the world and this is the perfect showcase to prove we are moving in the right direction.”

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For Ausberger and his family the night was a success and he hopes that community members that attended the dinner will spread the message about the care that he takes in farming and the environment. He hopes to do it again next year while welcoming more and more people to his farm. The night ended with conversations about technology in farming as guests visited around a bonfire while crickets chirped in a nearby pasture.

“In the 15 minutes I’ve been here, we’ve talked about machinery and how buffer strips are in place to help protect the streams,” State Representative Chip Baltimore said. “There are a lot of different topics we’re going to talk about in a relaxed casual atmosphere and I hope that I can carry those messages back to Des Moines.”

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Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news

 

EPA tours Boone River Watershed

By Joseph L. Murphy

A combine unloads corn into a trailer near Webster City. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and others toured farms and conservation areas near Webster City recently. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

A combine unloads corn into a trailer near Webster City. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and others toured farms and conservation areas near Webster City recently. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) staff, members and partners hosted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Washington, DC, staff on a Boone River Watershed tour, earlier this week. Acting Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Water Nancy Stoner and two colleagues arrived early for the 3-day Hypoxia Task Force meeting held in Ames, this week, in order to see what Iowa farmers and ag retailers are doing to improve Iowa’s soil and water quality.

Arlo and Claudia Van Diest, who farm near Webster City and participate in ISA’s Environmental Programs and Services (EPS), welcomed Stoner and her staff to their home, where they described their family farm—how and why they grew their operation, planning for the next generation, and how conservation is integral to their success.  The EPA visitors got to see the Van Diests’ strip till equipment and hear how Arlo became an innovator, sharing the benefits of conservation tillage with neighbors and helping disseminate the practice locally. Stoner rode in the combine to get a feel for harvesting corn, and Van Diest pointed out the mellowness of his soil and the winter rye cover crop emerging in the stubble.

ISA EPS Director Roger Wolf, who organized the tour, demonstrated management of one of Van Diest’s bioreactors, installed to remove nitrate from tile drainage water. Along with Van Diest’s description of his nitrogen management efficiency improvements, tillage reduction, and cover crops, the visitors got to see integrated solutions for nutrient reduction in an agricultural landscape.

Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance (ACWA) President Harry Ahrenholtz and ISA EPS Operations Manager and Watershed Coordinator Todd Sutphin took the tour group to see water monitoring sites, funded primarily by ACWA and the Nature Conservancy, and described how EPA’s funding had been used to help advance implementation of solutions in Lyons Creek Watershed, within the Boone. Sutphin had worked with local leaders to write a watershed plan for Lyons Creek, leading to the IDNR-EPA grant, and wrote similar plans for other local watersheds, paving the way for significant USDA cost share funds to the area.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news