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Iowa State University Extension

November 2009 -- From Jack Payne


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Spring Ahead

We recently set our clocks back, putting daylight-saving time into mothballs for another year. With the “fall back, spring forward,” aphorism in mind, I dutifully set my clocks back and got an extra hour’s much-needed sleep. But it made me think about a question that has come up several times over the past few months, and that is, “If the economy recovered tomorrow, would we go back to the way things were?”

We can’t turn the clocks back to the old future, but we can spring forward and create a new one. Beneath the surface of the budget cuts are more fundamental dynamics that reflect bigger changes in our society. The financial crisis accelerated these changes, but the forces that are moving ISU Extension from an organization of the past to an organization of the future are far more profound than financial matters and reach well beyond the Extension Service.

Mindful of the scope and magnitude of these changes, we visited 15 of the 20 regions the last week in October and hope to visit the remaining five regions within the next month. The primary purpose of these visits was to learn what is going well with the restructuring and what challenges remain, and to gather thoughts and ideas on how we can work better together as we go forward.

We heard many success stories from both staff and council members around the state. A number of regions already have formed regional Extension Councils, with members from each of the respective County Councils. They have been working with staff to create regional ISU Extension programming. One council member in Region 4 stated that she believed that the synergies being created by the regional CYC staff would result in the creation of many new 4-H clubs.

We also heard that staff and council members are ready to learn about the next strategic direction for ISU Extension. Many councils are moving forward aggressively, understanding that it will never be like it was, and that there will be a different and vibrant future. Several council members expressed a desire for training to better prepare themselves for their new responsibilities, such as budget development and personnel policies.

Most of the concerns expressed were less about structure and more about getting needed information and resources to address local and regional issues. Training for county staff members with more visible roles in the county offices also was seen as an important need. We learned that in some parts of the state there is a perception that our ISU Extension county offices are closing. We will continue to communicate heavily that our county offices remain the focal point of ISU Extension in the county.

In these regional meetings we also spent a good amount of time discussing the continuing budget challenges before us. The mandatory furlough across all employee lines, the reduction in retirement benefits and the closing of the university between Christmas and the New Year will greatly reduce the mid-year reversion of state appropriations.

In spite of these budget setbacks and the challenges of dealing with a new structure, I came away from these regional meetings extremely moved by the passion and dedication of our Extension staff, both ISU and county, and our council members. Yes, many challenges and difficulties remain before us, but we all must continue to work together (ISU staff, county staff and council members) to provide invaluable programs that remain important to the people of Iowa, enhancing their quality of life.


Task force to boost farm energy conservation and efficiency efforts in Iowa

Farm energy conservation and efficiency task force

A new task force is coordinating efforts across the state to increase energy conservation and efficiency efforts on Iowa farms. It met for the first time in October at Iowa State University.

The task force will be overseeing the new statewide Farm Energy Conservation and Efficiency educational initiative. The purpose is to increase farmers’ awareness of opportunities for improving efficient use of farm energy. The initiative also will help farmers explore alternatives to reduce farm energy demand and to improve their farms’ overall profitability in a rapidly changing energy environment.

Iowa State University Extension received a grant from the Iowa Energy Center to carry out the initiative. Extension and the Iowa Energy Center are cooperating with Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO), the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives, Consumers Energy, Alliant Energy, MidAmerican Energy, Office of Energy Independence and USDA in the effort.

According to ISU Extension program coordinator Jane Flammang, the energy industry has developed all kinds of materials to help homeowners and manufacturers adopt energy conservation and efficiency measures. But similar materials for agriculture are rare. As part of the initiative, ISU Extension will be creating a “new generation” of educational materials to fill this gap. Targeted to livestock and crop producers, the materials will build awareness about all aspects of energy use on the farm and boost farmers’ “energy literacy.”

The goal is to help Iowa’s agricultural producers make better decisions about managing energy inputs in the farm business and make choices that are sustainable long-term and good for their farm’s bottom line, Flammang said.

As the new educational materials become available, ISU Extension will share them with extension specialists, energy sector personnel and other interested parties who work with farmer clients, Flammang added. The first publication, “How Much Energy Is Being Used on Your Farm? – Farm Energy Series” (PM 2089A) is available from the Extension Online Store.

For more information, contact Flammang at

Extension shares facts about Iowa hunger in Meals from the Heartland Learning Lab

Kim Greder with ISU Extension display

When 15,000 Iowans were packaging 4 million meals for starving people around the world during a September humanitarian effort in Des Moines, they also got an education about hunger right here in Iowa. Meals from the Heartland showed them how to package the life-sustaining meals, but ISU Extension gave them the facts about food insecurity and hunger in the state.

Those facts include 351,000 Iowans who don’t have enough food to eat, said Kim Greder, an ISU Extension family life specialist and associate professor who leads the Iowa Food Insecurity project. In 2008 more than 300,000 Iowans received food assistance — what used to be known as food stamps — a 38 percent increase from 2007. In addition, 2.3 million requests were made to Iowa food pantries and soup kitchens in 2008, a 63 percent increase from 2003.

These tough statistics were included in the Meals from the Heartland Learning Lab, a mobile semi-truck trailer that ISU Extension outfitted with educational displays about “who’s really hungry and why” in Iowa, Greder said.

The Meals from the Heartland meal-packaging project began in 2007, feeding the hungry overseas. The nonprofit organization also collects food to distribute to Iowa families. By 2009, organizers felt that although their volunteers understood the need to fight hunger around the world, they didn’t fully recognize the needs in Iowa. So they called on ISU Extension for help, Greder explained.

Meals from the Heartland provided the trailer, and ISU Extension developed self-guided educational displays to help Iowans learn about food insecurity and hunger in Iowa, Greder said. “A key part is to help people see how they can make a difference individually and collectively in lessening food insecurity and hunger.”

Food insecurity is a complex problem and affects people’s health, worker productivity, growth and development of children, sense of well-being and quality of life. Just giving people food won’t solve the problem of hunger in Iowa, Greder said. “It takes people to become involved and get to know people who are in poverty — and involving them in finding solutions.”

Cox named assistant dean for economic development

Ron Cox

Ron Cox has been named assistant dean for economic development for the Iowa State University College of Engineering. Cox, the director of the ISU Extension Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS), will retain his position at CIRAS, with a partial appointment in the engineering college. As a member of the college’s leadership team, Cox will build and manage relationships between the college, ISU Extension, industry and state agencies. Learn more about Cox’s appointment.

CIRAS links Metalcraft to ISU research — and a better radio-frequency identification tag

mockup of RFID tag

Sometimes a label is more than a label — when it’s a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag. Attached to a metal shipping container, an RFID tag is like a tiny computer, loaded with data about the object to which it’s attached. With help from ISU Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS), an Iowa company embraced the technology and made it better.

Since 1950, Metalcraft has devised innovative solutions for its business customers’ labeling needs, from adhesive labels to bar codes. When RFID tags radically changed the labeling market, the Mason City company quickly embraced that technology as well.

RFID tags can be read wirelessly via radio signals, transferring their data automatically to an inventory management program. They also have a much longer reading range than optical bar codes and can be reprogrammed. However, they’re hard to read when attached to metal surfaces. Metal interferes with the radio signal, especially when the tags are read at longer distances.

Build a better RFID tag and Metalcraft would be a leader in tags applied to metal surfaces, thought John Henry, Metalcraft’s research and development and technical manager. He contacted CIRAS specialist Derek Thompson, who enlisted the ISU Institute for Physical Research and Technology (IPRT) Company Assistance.

IPRT helped set up a research project to develop a method that would allow an RFID tag to work on metal. Two years of research later, Metalcraft had prototypes for two new RFID antenna designs that ensure the RFID tags work even when mounted on metal surfaces.

“One of the benefits of working with CIRAS and IPRT on this project has been the capability of accessing the knowledge and proficiency of Iowa State faculty members in an area that is related to our technology but is not our primary proficiency at Metalcraft,” Henry said. “We certainly could not afford to hire someone for our staff who had this expertise. IPRT allows us to ‘pick the brains’ of people on campus who have good things to share with us.”

Metalcraft signed a license with the ISU Research Foundation to license the new intellectual property in December 2008. Patent applications are also pending. “We plan to commercialize the technology this year,” Henry said.

Study shows volunteering through 4-H benefits volunteers too

4-H volunteers

Iowa 4-H Youth Development programs are delivered primarily through caring adult volunteers, and these volunteers make a positive difference in the lives of Iowa’s young people. However, an Iowa study shows volunteering with 4-H also has a positive influence on the volunteers, whether they’re leading 4-H clubs, helping youth with 4-H projects or sharing their expertise as a mentor.

Iowa 4-H volunteers were surveyed last year as part of a larger study of 4-H volunteers in Midwestern states, said Judy Levings, the ISU Extension 4-H youth development specialist who led the Iowa portion of the study. Volunteers reported that through volunteering with 4-H, they had improved their organizational and management skills, their ability to speak in public and their ability to lead and teach others.

“They felt like valued members of a community and that they belonged to something bigger than themselves,” Levings said.

The following comments are from Iowa 4-H volunteers.

• “My volunteer experience has helped me both professionally and with my family.”

• “It has given me the chance to make many friends and meet some really neat and talented young people, and encourages me to keep giving back to my community.”

• “I realized I had knowledge to give about things I never considered before.”

• “I have learned just as much from the kids as I feel that I teach the kids.”

Iowa 4-H has a substantial core of long-term volunteers and a growing population of shorter-term volunteers, Levings said. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents volunteer 10 to 12 months per year. Overall, volunteers are volunteering from one to 26 or more hours per week. They’re working directly with youth, as well as making phone calls, sending e-mails, traveling and collecting supplies and donations for 4-H.

Fifty-two percent of respondents were age 42 to 51 and another 15 percent were age 32 to 41, but volunteers range in age from 19 to 62 and older. Ten percent had a high school diploma or GED, 19 percent had some college experience, 34 percent had a bachelor’s degree and 15 percent held a graduate degree.

To learn how to become a 4-H volunteer, contact your ISU Extension county office.