2018: The Year in Pictures

As the year comes to a close, I like to take stock of the ground that was covered over 365 days. I have the unique opportunity to scroll through the photos taken day by day of farmers cultivating the soil, athletes competing at the highest level and the beauty that is Iowa. As a photographer, I thrive on the opportunity to document the lives and issues that shape society. I also cherish the chance to look back at a collection of images that one by one evoke memories, illustrate emotions, speak to larger social issues and add clarity to our world. The following pictures are a small selection of my favorite photos from 2018.

2018: The year in pictures

Chinese crusher positions itself on the new Silk Road

The Chinese government would like the historic Silk Road to be prominent once again, and U.S. soybeans could play an important role.


Shaanxi Shiyang Group established its soybean crushing business in Xi'an, a city far from the Chinese coasts and other competitors. Preferring to rely on a strong transportation network that includes roads, river and rail the company believes it will be best for their business to be near their customers.

Sound familiar? It did to Governor Kim Reynolds and other members of an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) trade mission last week as they visited the company.

"We have a lot in common," Reynolds told the CEO while pointing to the state of Iowa on a map on the back of an ISA business card. "We are in the center of the country far from the coasts too."

Chang Qingshan, CEO of the Shaanxi Shiyang Group, hopes the strategic position will capitalize on the reemergence of the Silk Road.

The Silk Road was an ancient trade route between China and the West during the Roman Empire. It’s how silk from the orients make it to Europe and how China received western goods in return.

China President Xi Jinping announced in 2013 a new $900 billion trade corridor would reopen channels between China and Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The new Silk Road will be on land and sea with experts saying it will be a way for China to continue to boost global trade.

"They don’t have as much competition in the central part of China. If you look at the re-establishment of the silk road going north and west out of China there’s a lot of advantages logistically," Kirk Leeds, ISA CEO, said after touring Shaanxi Shiyang Group's facility.


Shiyang Group was first established in 1992 and transformed into a joint stock limited company in 1999. The Group focuses mainly on farming, breeding and processing but it also has integrated into other areas like the sale of soybean cooking oil. The CEO told the ISA delegation and Governor Reynolds that 35 percent of the beans they crush is from the United States.

"They told us that 35 percent of their soybeans come from the U.S., but that leaves 65 percent that didn’t," Leeds said. "You have to listen to customers, but at the end of the day when you look at the total value of soybeans, consistency, on-time delivery and financing, they know there is an advantage in buying from the U.S."

Qingshan told the Iowa delegation he continues to be concerned with foreign material in shipments coming from the U.S., but as the Iowa group drilled into the numbers, they found the percentage was below the allowable rate for the beans they had purchased.

Currently, one out of every four rows of soybeans are exported to China. The country is by far the largest soybean importer projected at 83 million metric tons, or a little more than 3 billion bushels.

Jeff Jorgenson, an ISA director from Sidney, and other U.S. farmers would like that number to increase as large surpluses drag commodity prices down.

“There’s no better opportunity to sell soybeans than right now," Jorgenson said. "There is affordability, and we have plenty of supply, so obviously we see that in the markets. There is no better opportunity than having the folks we have in China with  Ambassador Branstad, with the United States Soybean Export Council and our Governor that we shouldn’t be able to make strides in moving more soybeans to China.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Read more articles at www.iasoybeans.com.


Experts weigh in on land investments

By Joseph L. Murphy

You can add a new name to the ledger of Iowa farmland owners. On Friday, Donald Trump spoke to a capacity crowd of 600 farmers and ag-business professionals during the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines.

Donald Trump is interviewed by Ken Root during his appearance at the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Donald Trump is interviewed by Ken Root during his appearance at the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Trump talked politics and investment strategies with the business leaders while hinting at a run for the presidency. In the end, he was given a deed to an acre of Iowa farm ground as a present for his visit to the conference.

“Farmers in some cases are great real-estate people,” Trump said. “Farms have a tremendous, tremendous future but are very much a bull-bust market. I’ve known some farmers that have had tremendous times and some terrible times. I’ve known some farmers that have gone through hell and some of those same farmers have done very well later on. So you have a boom-bust mentality.”

The eighth annual conference also featured several breakout sessions and keynote speakers from around the world talking about subjects ranging from climate risks to African agriculture. The goal of the conference is to connect policy experts, climate specialists, economists, institutional investors with farm producers, land managers and others operating in agriculture.

Land values

Jim Knuth, senior vice president of Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica) spoke during one of the breakout sessions and gave timely information about land values, interest rates and what he thinks will impact Iowa agriculture in 2015.

Using the concept of benchmark farms, FCSAmerica was able to capture data showing trends concerning land values in the state. According to Knuth, the survey is the most comprehensive agriculture real estate database in Iowa and used nearly 3,400 real estate transactions and 64 benchmark farms in the four state region of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming to find trends.

The trends showed that a general reduction in cropland value was somewhat offset by gains in pasture values, and the strongest demand is still for quality cropland tracts.

“At the end of the day land prices are reacting to lower grain and commodity prices,” Knuth said. “Iowa benchmark values declined 6.9 percent in 2014, with 6.1 percent going in the last six months of the year.”

Out of 21 benchmark farms in Iowa one increased in value, 15 farms decreased and five remained unchanged. The data also showed that local is the name of the game when it comes to purchasing land.

“Farmers are the largest buyers of Iowa farmland by a wide margin. When you combine that with local investors you get about 90 percent of the market,” he said. “The trend is clear, local capital and local competition is driving this market. Not Wall Street, not east or west coast money.”

There is an expectation that in future years land values will react to lower grain production margins. Knuth said that is a normal expectation in this part of the cycle.

“Purchasing farm ground should be a long-term investment decision, and it should be from a position of financial strength,” he said.

In closing, he told the packed room that uncertainty shouldn’t stop progress.

“The wrong reaction is to freeze. I believe we should be in a time of proactive adjustments as we face uncertainty,” Knuth said. “The ultimate question becomes, ‘How do you position the operation with the benefits that are coming?’”

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