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Agriculture important to Iowa culturally, Northey says

By Jean Caspers-Simmet
simmet@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 04/25/2013 7:05 PM

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CALMAR — Agriculture isn't only important to Iowa economically, it is important culturally, said Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.

Northey spoke at the recent "Partnering for Iowa's Agricultural Future" in the Dairy Center just south of the Northeast Iowa Community College at Calmar.

"We have some of the most productive land in the world, and sometimes we take that for granted," Northey said.

Iowa's agricultural stature is known throughout the world, Northey said. Consumers across the glove buy Iowa corn, soybeans, hogs and other commodities and seek the state's technology that provides genetics, facilities and production systems.

Iowa's 14 million corn acres produce more tons of grain than Canada's 30 million acres of corn, barley and wheat, Northey said. If Iowa were a country, it would be the fourth-largest corn, the fifth-largest soybean and the fifth- or sixth-largest pork producing country in the world.

"Our world impact is amazing," Northey said.

Cash receipts for sales of Iowa crops and livestock grew from $12 billion in 2002 to $30 billion last year, second only to California.

"As important as agriculture is to Iowa's economy, it is important culturally, too," Northey said. "The kinds of folks involved in agriculture, the families, the roots we have here are so important to who we are. It's investing in new facilities, having community colleges, volunteering to work at schools, people who are on school boards and foundation boards. Agriculture involves a lot of hard work, investing long before we know what the results will be."

Agriculture is what fueled settlement in Calmar and Winneshiek County, Northey said. Winneshiek County's population grew from a few hundred in the 1850s and 1860s to 26,000 people in 1870 compared to 22,000 today. Calmar was a railroad hub with 36 trains coming through town each day.

"People came here from everywhere, Norway and New York City and Quebec, and they built churches and roads and schools. They wanted their kids to be educated."

Iowans know that they can't be content with today's knowledge.

"Thank you for your support of this institution and all the other institutions we have in the state," Northey said. "This is such a critical part of what we do, the development of our universities and community colleges. We need to make sure we're doing the kind of things you're doing here."

Northey said his favorite day is when he awards Century and Heritage Farm awards at the Iowa State Fair.

One elderly man trained at the Y so he would be able to walk across stage and get his award, and he died not long after receiving the recognition. A mother and daughter carried a photo of the mother's mother who wanted to be there but died before the ceremony. Another elderly man Northey described as "big, burly and in charge," came on stage with a walker.

"He said he'd waited 15 years for the award, and with damp eyes, he told me that the fifth generation is coming into the farming operation," Northey said. "We don't have many conversations about what family, farm and community mean, but that is part of who we are. You sense that there is something different about Iowans, and I'll argue that part of that is agriculture."