This article is from the Spring 2007 edition of the Extension Connection newsletter.
Iowa State University Extension started a bio-discussion during the last two weeks of March that is generating a lot of talk, and thought, in every Iowa county. Extension invited community leaders with an active interest in community vitality to share their perceptions of the bioeconomy’s opportunities and challenges.
Economic development directors and extension council members joined co-op and elevator managers, mayors, long-time ag producers, bankers, water/soil conservation technicians, educators and agribusiness people in discussions following a pre-recorded educational presentation. Their thoughts, hopes and concerns were gathered; to be reported back to Extension and ISU administration.
“This local input will help Extension and Iowa State University craft its bioeconomy agenda,” said Jack Payne, vice president for ISU Extension and Outreach.
The conversations centered on a set of questions, facilitated by Extension, including:
- What are the major opportunities of the bioeconomy for this state?
- What are the major challenges or drawbacks?
- Looking ahead to 2010, what actions should our communities take to maximize the benefits and minimize the potential drawbacks of the bioeconomy?
- To accomplish these actions, what assistance will our communities need?
- What should ISU Extension be doing right now? In the future?
They didn’t talk just about ethanol plants. The assembly of local leaders raised a number of bioeconomy related topics that typically don’t make the nightly news or newspaper headlines. Contemplating the future of their communities and state, they wanted to know:
- How can we interest youth in new agricultural careers, ones that are just being developed?
- What are the potential spin-off industries that will use biofuel coproducts?
- How can we work together — high schools, community colleges, universities and Extension — to educate the workforce and general population?
- What does research say about crop and disease management, about biofuel plant locations and feasibility of success?
- How will this change our communities — shifts in jobs available in rural Iowa, demands on families and schools, infrastructure needs and funds to meet them, and available financing and farm management?
- Can we get research to identify the processes and technology options that will be the most viable for our community?
Extension, while not proclaiming to have the answers to these questions, wanted to know what was uppermost on people’s minds. It was apparent, and stated directly at many sites, that Iowans expect Extension to deliver relevant Iowa State University research to the communities in a timely fashion, so that good decisions can be made locally.
“It isn’t Extension’s job to change our opinion about the bioeconomy,” said one participant. “It’s Extension’s job to present data that people can use to form good decisions and opinions. And they need to keep the people in this room talking.”
There was no denying it: The bioeconomy – the coming together of agriculture and manufacturing – is changing the Iowa landscape as they have known it. These people were asking Extension to provide unbiased information and to continue facilitating community education and discussions.
The conversations were scheduled to last 90 minutes. Most went longer. People who don’t normally enter into bioeconomy conversations with each other were talking; talking in a way they hadn’t before. The meetings ended, but the conversations continue. Extension is listening, taking notes and preparing to deliver.