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Northey emphasizes Iowa’s ag strengths at summit

Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 11:07 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:26 p.m. CDT
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey describes the strength of Iowa's impact on agriculture during a presentation Monday night at Southwestern Community College. More than 130 people attended the annual farmer's summit for a night of educational lectures and entertainment centered around agriculture.

Iowa’s contribution to the world’s agricultural sector is dominant.

Only three countries — the United States, China and Brazil — produce more bushels of corn than the state of Iowa. The state’s soybeans are exported all over the world, helping support the livestock industry with protein-rich soybean meal.

At any moment, there are more than 21 million hogs in Iowa, seven times more than the state’s human population.

But is the future and prices for Iowa’s agriculture going to stay consistent?

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey said he is working to ensure that and continue to improve Iowa’s contribution to the global market during a farmer’s summit at Southwestern Community College Monday.

“When you look at that scale of production, it is kind of hard to believe sometimes,” Northey said.

This is the fourth year for the summit, which is sponsored by First National Bank and AgriVision. More than 130 people attended the event, which included Northey, Dave Baker with the Iowa State Extension office and entertainment from Jesse White and Don and Jean Sheridan.

China’s impact

One of the biggest factor’s in Iowa’s success is the amount of trading done with China.

“Sixty percent of all soybeans traded go to China,” Northey said. “The next biggest is about 10 percent. Why do they need so many soybeans? For them, it is soybean meal, it is a protein for livestock.”

Northey said as China starts to sophisticate their industry, it will solidify the country’s need for efficient feed. More than half of the world’s hogs live in China and will need soybeans for feed from places like Iowa.

“They are the dominating force as far as the buying side,” Northey said. “It sure feels like China’s demand is solid.”

China’s growth came at the same time the United States and Iowa saw growth in the ethanol industry, helping raise the price of corn to more than $7 for a bushel.

Northey said the least expensive liquid fuel is from ethanol made from corn. The growth of the ethanol industry is uncertain, but Northey said he is looking at E15 as an outlet for the growing corn production.

Egg production

Besides cash crops, Northey gave a summary of Iowa’s livestock production and how he is working to protect the state’s exports.

A referendum was passed in California that said the cages for laying hens needed to be doubled in size to give the chickens more room. This caused an increase in the price of eggs for Californians.

“They realized not all Californians were going to buy those eggs,” Northey said. “They would buy less expensive eggs. Now, the only eggs that can be sold in California must come from layers in those kind of same (cage) configurations (starting Jan. 1, 2015).”

Northey said the referendum was not passed because other state’s eggs are unsafe, it was to protect California egg producers, which is stretching the boundaries of the nation’s commerce clause.

“It doesn’t sound like a huge stretch, but it is a huge stretch,” Northey said. “What it is saying is that Iowa producers that are now selling eggs into California ... now have to change the way they are producing it, even though our customers are completely happy, even though they are legal.”

If the referendum sticks, Northey said it could be the starting momentum for regulations on the way other livestock is raised or the production of biotech crops.

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