The art of street photography

Living in Iowa it is difficult to practice the art of street photography. There are, of course, opportunities wherever you live to find great street images. But when comparing Des Moines to other major metropolitan cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles you can see the potential for street photography diminishing.

A street poet prepares for inspiration as a woman enjoys a smoke and waits for friends on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans.

A street poet prepares for inspiration as a woman enjoys a smoke and waits for friends on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans.

I’ve always been drawn to the gritty images that street photography offers. There are so many historical masters (ErwittBressonKoudelka) of street photography and there are also many (GildenWebbFree) working the streets today.

That is why when I travel I always make sure to take time and walk the streets where I visit to take photos of the people that are part of those communities.

A woman walks along the road in Belize City, Belize.

A woman walks along the road in Belize City, Belize.

I’ve walked the streets of New York, Chicago, Beijing, and Ho Chi Minh City to name a few. I’ve also utilized the window on a bus in cities like Quito, Manila and Rosario to get some street shots. The photos below are a sampling from my recent travels to Belize City and Cozumel along with some of my favorites from other cities.

U.S. Ambassador Branstad still championing for Iowa agriculture

United States Ambassador Terry Branstad received a standing ovation from Iowa's agricultural groups as he entered a meeting room at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Tuesday.

It was the first event in a historic week of meetings during the all-Iowa agriculture trade mission: one that marks the first time all of the state’s commodity groups have traveled overseas together. The purpose of the trip is to enhance relationships and create new ones between the people of China and Iowa farmers, agricultural groups and elected leaders.


"Welcome to the American Embassy. We are excited to have you here," Branstad told the farmers and agriculture representatives at the start of the meeting.

He said that it had been a busy three weeks in his new position with deep dives into a wide range of information relating to China. Branstad was flanked by the heads of the major departments at the Embassy including Defense, public affairs, agriculture affairs, commercial affairs and political affairs.

While his position as Ambassador offers new opportunities, Branstad won't forget the tactics that made him successful and led to being the nation’s longest-serving governor. He plans to continue the Iowa tradition of visiting every county in the state annually by visiting all of China's regions while conducting meetings with high-ranking government officials.

Governor Reynolds, the head of the all-Iowa agriculture trade mission, thanked the Ambassador for the historic meeting.

"Relationships are especially important in China, and we are fortunate that Governor Branstad welcomed a then-local agricultural official from China over 30 years ago into Iowa named Xi Jinping who is now the nation's president," Reynolds said earlier in the week during tours in Shanghai and Xi'an.

Those relationships have now been enriched and extended with Branstad's new role as U.S. Ambassador.

"It doesn't escape Ambassador Branstad of how important it is that all of the Iowa agriculture groups are here in China," Rolland Schnell, president of the Iowa Soybean Association, said. "We are here as one unit and Branstad recognizes how important that is to Iowa’s economy."

The delegation hopes to further solidify with the leaders of China that we are partners in meeting mutual goals in food security, safety and sustainability.

Department heads at the Embassy gave the agriculture leaders and farmers a snapshot of issues they are working on in China. Several issues discussed were:

  1. China's investment in the United States has now surpassed U.S. investment in China.
  2. Food consumption in China is expected to grow 25 percent from 2015 to 2020.
  3. China doesn't want to be reliant on any one country for goods, but U.S. soybeans are an exception.
  4. The U.S. has over $450 billion in investments in China.
  5. China is pursuing an initiative to increase manufacturing of its own agricultural machinery.
  6. A top priority in China is to be more environmentally friendly.

One question from the Iowa delegation pertained to trade and what some would consider political instability in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Branstad assured the group that trade between the U.S. and China would continue to grow.

"We were assured that agricultural trade is always separate from those other issues," Schnell said. "They need us, they want us, and we don’t need to worry about issues that may come up politically affecting our trade.”

That was good news for all members of the Iowa delegation; especially for those members growing and representing soybeans. China is by far the largest soybean importer in the world and is projected at 83 million metric tons, or a little more than 3 billion bushels. The U.S. markets nearly 1.1 billion bushels annually.

Branstad told the group that during meetings with President Trump last week in Washington, D.C. he presented a plan to bring top business leaders to China to discuss trade barriers and possibly sign contracts.

Soybeans, of which Iowa often leads the nation in production of, are a primary feed ingredient for pigs. China, which wasn’t in the market for soybeans 15 years ago, currently accounts for 60 percent of global soybean imports – and growing. One of every four rows of soybeans grown in Iowa is destined for China.

It is apparent that Branstad still intends to champion Iowa agriculture in his new position, telling the leaders gathered that he hopes to get more U.S. products into the embassy and China.

"I met with Tom Vilsack (currently president and CEO of the US Dairy Export Council) to talk about the vague rules concerning dairy imports into China. The milk we drink in the Embassy is from Australia," He said. "I'd like to see it come from the U.S."

Schnell was honored to have the opportunity to visit with Ambassador Branstad in his new role in China.

“It is overwhelming when you step back and think about it,” Schnell said about meeting with a U.S. Ambassador in China. “Most farmers don’t get an opportunity to do this; to be there and see all the things that are going on at the ground level, all the work that is being done to support agriculture. I don’t think the general farming public realizes what is involved and what it takes to make the excellent trade programs we have and how they translate into dollars in farmers’ pockets."

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

Aquaculture tour shows power of the soybean checkoff

United States soy meal is finding an ever expanding market south of the border thanks to aquaculture.

This week about 50 growers, state soybean staff and United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) employees spent the week in Villahermosa, Mexico learning about existing opportunities and future expansion of the industry.

Tim Bardole, ISA director from Rippey, feeds a pen of tilapia at the Regal Springs Tilapia farm in Mexico.  

Tim Bardole, ISA director from Rippey, feeds a pen of tilapia at the Regal Springs Tilapia farm in Mexico. 

“We’re here to help show the soybean farmers in the U.S. where their checkoff dollars are being invested, how they are being invested and ultimately where much of their soybean meal ends up,” Colby Sutter, marketing director for the global aquaculture program with USSEC, said while leading a tour at Regal Springs Tilapia. “It’s crucial to be able to see first-hand how relationships have been forged in international marketing programs where ultimately we are creating a preference and demand for U.S. soy.”

Regal Springs Tilapia is a company that specializes in 100 percent lake grown fish with farms in southern Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Indonesia. The fish are raised in deep water lakes in large floating nets that take advantage of water currents to maintain fresh water and give the fish a more natural habitat.

According to Geraldo Martinez, production manager for Regal Springs Tilapia, the company will produce 30,000 pounds of fish out of two lakes in Mexico per year. That equates to 30 million fish weighing about one kilogram each. The secret ingredient to the success of their business is the soybean meal used in the formulated diets of the fish.

“For one kilo of fish we will need 1.95 kilos of feed,” Martinez said. “So if you are talking 30,000 tons of fish you will need just short of 60,000 tons of feed in a year.”

Martinez said that about 25 to 30 percent of the feed ration was made using soy meal. He sights free trade agreements with the U.S. as an incentive in buying soy grown and crushed in America.

The company exports 75 percent of their fish to customers outside of Mexico. Of that, 95 percent of the fish are exported to the U.S. and the other five percent go to European markets. Costco is one of the major retailers in the U.S. that sells the tilapia.

April Hemmes and Tim Bardole, both directors for the Iowa Soybean Association, attended the aquaculture educational opportunity and were impressed with how U.S. soy meal is being used.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for me as a soy producer in the United States,” Bardole said. “It’s a win, win. There’s a growing market out there for fish and we grow soybeans. We can help supply the soybeans and the some of the expertise to get feeds just right. And to see that back on the shelves in the U.S. shows that the soybean checkoff has done great things for the U.S. farmer and the public.”

Hemmes agreed with Bardole and found the tour of the aquaculture facility important with her new roles in the soybean community. She said that as a new USB director and a new ISA director it was important to see companies like Regal Springs to learn how the checkoff is helping to open new markets.

“To hear that there are ten percent increases each year in some of these countries producing aquaculture is huge and a great potential for soybeans,” Hemmes said. “I see it (aquaculture) as a very important market and a way that we can increase exports and uses for soybeans in a neighboring country.”

She went on to say that seeing the fish pens, hatchery and packaging facility gave her an appreciation of the detail Regal Springs uses to produce high-quality tilapia for their customers.

“What was amazing was to see the tiny fish eggs hatching before our eyes and talking with a feed expert about how precise the feed has to be,” Hemmes said.  You see these little fish the size of a pinhead, and you realize that they have to get everything they need in one little bite and how precise that needs to be for them to grow and survive.”

Panama - For richer or poorer

Wealth and poverty. It is all on display in the small Central American country of Panama. During a recent trip to see the Panama Canal and gauge the progress of its expansion, wealth and poverty were the stark contrasts, a situation that is shared by many other Latin American countries.

The flight into Panama City reveals what most wouldn’t expect in Central and South America. Skyscrapers and a bustling modern metropolitan area. A tour guide boasted that Panama City has 109 skyscrapers — more than other major South American cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It even has more skyscrapers than Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, and Houston. But like many cities, the gleam of the skyscrapers doesn't always illuminate the struggles that are happening on the streets below.

The main economic driver of the country is the canal — a system of locks that have allowed large ships to navigate a north and south route stretching 51 miles through Panama safely. The route that shaves time and saves money for precious cargo. For instance, ships sailing from New York to San Francisco can save 7,872 miles instead of going around Cape Horn in South America.

Much of the cargo is either destined for or originates from the United States. In fact, 70 percent of the cargo passing through the canal falls in that category.

It is often said that money breeds money and in Panama's case that is just the beginning. The 109 skyscrapers are a result of foreign investments in the country since Manuel Noriega’s dictatorship ended in 1989 and the Panama-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2012. More than 100 branches of multinational enterprises including Caterpillar, BASF, Philips, Adidas and Trump International call the country home.

But life stays stagnant for the people in the shadows of the skyscrapers. Neighborhoods near Casco Viejo, the historical beginning of Panama City founded by the Spanish in 1673, can’t hide the poverty that is prevalent. It's a place that is optimistic for change but content with life. In many ways the situation of the people mirrors the geography of their neighborhoods. Stuck between the old city center of Panama and the booming skyscrapers across the bay. With wealth just out of reach.


What will help the poorest of the poor in Panama? The outside fortunes of investments continue to help, and a stable government with leaders that are focused on helping all citizens of Panama can go a long way. As I watched shipments of grain pass through the locks of the Panama Canal, I know that the American farmer is doing their part by utilizing the waterway to move their 600 million bushels of soybeans every year.

The toll money paid to the Panamanians for the service of the canal continues to churn a democratic economy that is lately turning its attention to not only expanding the canal for the future but also to helping citizens that have yet to see the benefits of the strong economy. With the more than $5.25 billion investment for the expansion of the canal, the Panamanian government has also dedicated money to improve conditions in provinces like Colon that have seen economic declines and rising poverty for much of the past 50 years. Colon is the port and canal entrance on the Caribbean or Atlantic side of Panama. The area is part of a massive restoration project that began in 2014. The focus is in restoring historic buildings, roads, parks and building housing.

There’s economic evidence that things are getting better for the citizens of Panama. According to Trading Economics, the unemployment rate decreased to 2.50 percent in 2015 from 4.10 percent in 2013. The highest recorded rate was at 16.30 percent during the time period between 1982 and 2015.

Will the light of Panama's economy shine through the shadows and illuminate the country? If the successful expansion of the canal is an indication Panama's economy will continue to thrive and so will their democracy. With some experts predicting unemployment rates trending around 2.06 percent in 2020. The combination of the expanded canal as an economic driver and low unemployment rates will help all of Panama's citizens enjoy the wealth it creates.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association

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.



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.


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.”



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