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Iowa State University Extension

March 2008 -- From Jack Payne

Cartoon from

Ode to the Ides

After the vacuum left by the glacial pace of January and February, March stacked up as a month filled with promises, portents and paradoxes. 

  • March 1, Lion or Lamb Day: It’s an ongoing zoological argument over the nature of March’s arrival and departure.
  • March 14, Pi Day: I won’t go there if you won’t.
  • March 15, The Ides of March: The warning to Julius Caesar is a modern metaphor for impending doom, “Beware the Ides of March.”
  • March 15, The Buzzards return to Hinckley, Ohio, Day: They return every year on exactly March 15, seemingly oblivious to the “Ides” warning.
  • March 17, St. Patrick’s Day: People wear a shade of green unfit for most humans and drink too much beer to celebrate banishing the snakes from Ireland.
  • March 20, The Vernal Equinox, aka, the First Day of Spring: Iowans look out the window, see more snow, crawl back into bed and wait for April.
  • March 20, March Madness: The NCAA hoopla sustains us until April.
  • March 23: Easter Sunday. This year is the earliest Easter any of us will ever see the rest of our lives! The next time Easter will be this early will be the year 2228.

Around my house, March was mostly filled with plans and a burgeoning “honey do” list. In between celebrating Pi Day and lying low on the Ides, I seemed to get caught up in cleaning out the nesting boxes for the birds, getting the bikes road-ready, scoping out places for summer outings, addressing the perennial yard issues ... and waiting for April.

Enjoy the rest of March.

Work group to help farmers improve energy conservation, efficiency

tractor in field

With rising energy and fuel costs, Iowa’s agricultural producers are looking for ways to reduce their energy consumption and improve the farm’s bottom line. But to adopt energy conservation and efficiency measures, they need to know and understand their farms’ energy consumption patterns. How will this knowledge influence their operating costs and enhance the financial viability of their farms? The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) is leading a project to answer that question, working with ISU Extension and EnSave, a consulting firm specializing in innovative energy efficiency and resource conservation solutions.

Five representative Iowa farms (beef, pork, dairy, poultry and crop) are undergoing comprehensive energy audits focusing on all energy uses on the farm — electricity, natural gas, propane, diesel fuel and gasoline. The audits also will analyze energy input issues relating to production practices such as fertilizer, said Paul Brown, assistant director of ISU Extension to Agriculture and Natural Resources.

In phase 2, ISU Extension and EnSave will compile existing information and new data from the audits to prepare a comprehensive analysis for educational and outreach opportunities, including a focus group of the five farms, a case study on each and recommended next steps.

IFBF will convene a statewide group of involved and interested participants in phase 3. They’ll analyze appropriate actions for enhancing energy efficiency and conservation efforts, including coordinated information on the Web, support and assistance programs, funding, and policy and advocacy issues.

Brown said in phase 4 IFBF and ISU Extension will begin a statewide educational initiative to increase farmers’ awareness of direct and indirect opportunities for improving efficient use of farm energy resources, to explore alternatives to reduce farm energy demand and to improve their farms’ overall profitability in a rapidly changing energy environment. In addition, Brown said, it is anticipated that farmers will be able to participate in comprehensive farm energy audits.

For more information contact Brown,

Proposal takes agricultural odor mitigation to next level

Gerald Miller

If a proposed odor mitigation research project comes to pass, ISU Extension will work closely with farm groups, local organizations and others to promote and encourage farmer participation, according to Gerald Miller, director of ISU Extension to Agriculture and Natural Resources. The farmer-cooperators would devote their time and facilities to expanding odor mitigation strategies across many different operations and situations.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences developed the proposal for the five-year, $22.8 million project of applied odor mitigation research on livestock operations statewide, Miller said. Last November, an Iowa Legislature Livestock Odor Study Committee recommended that the state Legislature enact the proposal. The proposal has been discussed during the current legislative session, although its future remains uncertain.

If the project were funded, applied research sites would be installed on existing and new livestock farms (swine, beef, dairy, layers and turkeys) across the state to allow testing under different environments. Approximately 300 livestock producers would be recruited to participate in applied research projects led by Iowa State scientists. The producers’ participation would be voluntary and above and beyond any requirements already in place for developing and operating livestock facilities in Iowa, Miller said.

“Their cooperation will help scientists determine the effectiveness of practices, increase confidence in science-based approaches and provide a clear understanding of the economic costs and management required,” Miller said.

For more information, contact Miller,

4-H Day at the Legislature ignites action

4-H Day at the Legislature

Amy Peyton was in eighth grade when she attended her first 4-H Day at the Legislature and heard high school seniors talk about their experience as pages at the state Capitol. This year, she is one of those pages. Serving as a page is only one of many opportunities that 4-H’ers learn about during ISU Extension’s 4-H Day at the Legislature. Nearly 200 4-H’ers participated in the annual event March 26 that increases awareness of and involvement in 4-H out-of-county experiences.

“The more they know about tech team, state council or the national conference, the more they are likely to participate,” said Tricia Rew, 4-H alum and ISU Extension intern in charge of organizing the youth leadership event. “Our overarching goal is to show them how others have been involved in their communities and how they can bring those same things back to their own county and be involved.”

The first 4-H legislative day was held in 2002. Over the next four years, the event grew rapidly to almost 600 participants in 2006. To keep the event manageable, counties were split into two groups, with each group attending the event in alternating years.

Initially, the event concentrated on government and career opportunities. Over time, it has shifted to helping youth become civically involved and increasingly aware of emerging issues in their community and state.

But the focus is squarely on the kids. “That’s where the impact always was,” said Becky Nibe, program coordinator with ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development. “Kids are becoming legislative pages, coming back and understanding that the legislators in Des Moines are just like their parents going to work everyday. It’s real for them.”

Production agriculture vs. outdoor recreation is economic balancing act

child biking and adult walking on a recreation trail

It’s a matter of balance: Iowa’s natural resource base must support both production agriculture as well as an increasingly important outdoor recreation industry. A new Iowa State University study examines both sides of the issue, said Daniel Otto, an ISU Extension economist and lead author of the study. “The Economic Value of Iowa’s Natural Resources” offers an informational framework for identifying economic development strategies that balance the needs of Iowa’s changing population with economic and resource sustainability.

“As Iowa’s production agriculture responds to new opportunities in renewable fuel, it is important that recreational amenities not be displaced or degraded during the process,” Otto said.

The study discusses how the social and environmental benefits of Iowa’s natural resources generate significant economic values for Iowans. Otto and his colleagues demonstrate that measurable expenditure benefits can be calculated to inform economic development policies at the local, regional and state levels. The study examines how outdoor recreation activities generate spending that translates into jobs and payroll totals.

For lakes, state parks, county parks and trails, the researchers estimate spending levels of $2.63 billion and 50 million visits, Otto said. Including multiplier effects implies that the Iowa recreation industry is supporting more than 27,400 jobs and $580 million in income.

“We also consider how improvements to quality of life generated by recreation opportunities and natural resources are important to retaining and attracting skilled workers in the state,” Otto said. “In addition, we address how environmental improvements to Iowa’s natural resources can generate economic benefits.”

The complete study is available online.

Entrepreneurs on farms improve local economies

Peter Korsching

From flower shops and auto repair to bed and breakfasts, substantial numbers of Iowa farm families start and operate businesses in addition to their regular farming operations. If they succeed with their long-range growth plans, they can have a considerable impact on local employment and income, and improve their community’s overall social and economic vitality, says Peter Korsching. The ISU professor of sociology examined information from 144 farmer entrepreneurs who responded to the 2007 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll.

“Some farm families operate businesses for additional income or to take advantage of perceived investment opportunities. Others see it as a way to expand their operations and bring their children into the business,” Korsching said.

The 2007 Survey Report on Farmer Entrepreneurship focuses on responses to a series of questions farmers were asked in the 2007 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll on the nature, problems and prospects of their entrepreneurial activities. This report and others from the poll are available from Extension’s online store.

More than one-half of these businesses have been in operation for more than 20 years, Korsching said. Some were extensions of existing farming enterprises, but many are not. Networking is important to a majority of the business proprietors, especially those expressing a growth trajectory for their businesses.

The farmer entrepreneurs reported that their businesses provide 369 full-time and 201 part-time jobs in their communities. About one-third of the proprietors are interested in growing their businesses to the extent that they will have an impact locally, statewide or even nationally.

More than 1,000 agricultural producers responded to the 2007 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, voicing their opinions related to entrepreneurship, the bioeconomy, bias among sources of information about ethanol, grain storage and transportation, alternative energy, land use issues and farming plans.

For more information contact J. Arbuckle, ISU Extension sociologist and co-director of the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll,

e-85 Inc. plants stimulate economic growth in southwest Iowa

sign at location of e-85 plant

What began with one phone call to ISU Extension in spring 2006 has resulted in the construction of two new e-85 Inc. ethanol plants in southwest Iowa. Farmers National Company and Nex-Gen Bio-Fuels Inc. called Steve Adams, ISU Extension community and economic development specialist, for help in locating possible sites for ethanol and biodiesel plants in Iowa. More than 40 potential sites later, two sites were picked in Red Oak and in Mills County close to Council Bluffs. Groundbreaking took place in fall 2007. The plants are scheduled to begin operations in early 2009.

The two e-85 Inc. dry mill corn processing ethanol plants will be built on a total of 400 acres and will be capable of producing 220 million gallons of ethanol annually. The natural gas and electrically powered plants will use approximately 100 million bushels of corn annually and create 300,000 tons of dried distillers grain and solubles to be used as high value livestock feed.

Capital investment in the construction of these two plants is expected to exceed $300 million and create 95 first-year jobs with an estimated annual payroll of $3.8 million.

Partners in this project included the Glenwood/Mills County Economic Development Foundation, Red Oak Industrial Foundation, Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, Mid-American Energy and the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

E85, which consists of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent unleaded gasoline, is an alternative fuel for use in flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). Currently an estimated 4 million FFVs are in use in the United States, and this figure is expected to increase steadily.

For more information contact Steve Adams,

Iowa’s CARET representatives meet with Sen. Harkin

Iowa's CARET group

ISU Extension staff and Iowa’s representatives to the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching (CARET) met with all members of the Iowa congressional delegation during a March visit to Washington, D.C. From left are Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Donald Latham, Latham Seed Company; Terri Carstensen, cattle and crop producer; Sen. Tom Harkin; Sally Stutsman, Johnson County supervisor; and Jack Payne, vice president for ISU Extension and Outreach.

CARET is a national grassroots organization created in 1982 by the Division of Agriculture in the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC). CARET includes representatives from the 50 states, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia. CARET offers testimony in support of land-grant agricultural programs of research, extension and teaching to Congressional committees and Executive Branch agencies. It also works with national agricultural organizations to tell agriculture’s “story.” For more information, contact Mark Settle, director of ISU Extension Communications and External Relations,

Extension looks at the future of the bioeconomy in Greene County

Greene Team: Haddad, Anderson, Hertel

What should Greene County do to minimize the negative impacts and maximize the positive impacts of the bioeconomy? When Greene County residents asked this question, ISU Extension’s “Greene Team” responded —with a pilot study using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to conduct a feedstocks potential assessment, a transportation infrastructure spatial analysis and a Web-based survey. Based on the results, the team made recommendations to assist elected officials and business leaders in strategic planning.

Members of the team are Monica Haddad, assistant professor of community and regional planning; Paul Anderson, professor of landscape architecture; Craig Hertel, ISU Extension education director for Greene County; and four graduate and one undergraduate research assistants.

The feedstocks potential assessment showed that with four operating ethanol plants, four ethanol plants under construction and two operating biodiesel plants, the number of biorefineries in and around Greene County may soon reach the saturation point. However, more than 72 percent of the 203 survey respondents support increasing the number of biofuel manufacturing facilities. The survey results also indicate that Greene County residents support the expansion of livestock production.

The team recommended that Greene County should not allow new biorefinery construction to avoid future problems of corn and soybean supply. Other recommendations included repairing and reconstructing specific areas in the transportation infrastructure, conducting a suitability analysis to explore changing the types of agricultural crops grown in the county and educating residents on the importance of landscape conservation.

The complete results of the pilot study are published in the report, “A Participatory Approach to Assess the Future of the Bioeconomy in Greene County: A Pilot Study for Iowa.” For additional information regarding the study, contact Haddad,; Anderson,; or Hertel,