Colin Johnson is a young Iowa farmer who moved back to the family farm in 2009, started a family and began managing a cow-calf operation. He understands the struggles of young and beginning livestock farmers -- because he is one. He says Iowa farmers and ranchers are independent by nature and sometimes reluctant to seek advice. The day-to-day activities of a livestock operation don’t allow much time to analyze the operation or connect with peers for learning or social interaction.
Livestock producers say they like to learn from other producers. They want to have more discussions and opportunities to interact with their peers -- beyond those in their neighborhood. Johnson said support for young and beginning producers is increasing across Iowa -- from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, commodity groups and agricultural organizations.
Extension and Outreach Response
Johnson also coordinates the Beginning and Young Livestock Producer Network, an Extension and Outreach initiative started in 2012. He is an extension program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and worked with the Iowa Pork Industry Center prior to returning to southeast Iowa. A primary responsibility of these roles is providing education in ways that help producers enjoy more success.
BYLPN targets livestock producers under age 35, as well as aspiring livestock producers. ISU Extension and Outreach’s objective is to develop a network of producer peer groups across Iowa, connect participants with educational and mentor opportunities, and provide support to the groups as members take over leadership responsibilities.
An ISU Extension and Outreach management team is spearheading the effort and working with local commodity groups and county extension councils to establish regional peer groups and develop programs. BYLPN is an Extension and Outreach strategic initiative and receives funding from the Vice President for Extension and Outreach.
As 2013 ends, there are eight peer groups across Iowa ranging in size from 12 to 30 young and beginning producers. Each group is made up of producers from a five to eight county area and determines its focus, whether that is dairy, swine, cow-calf or general livestock production. Organizers suggest groups meet quarterly and schedule dates around seasonal workloads. Meetings are often attended by young producer couples interested in learning together and enjoying the social aspects of the peer group.
Producers Are Seeing Benefits
The northwest Iowa peer group is interested in learning and talking about the business side of livestock production, the economics and financial management, according to Vernon Knaack, Correctionville member. Their meetings have included speakers addressing topics ranging from production practices to risk management and credit access and local tours of allied industries.
The southwest Iowa cow-calf oriented peer group encourages group members to give peer demonstrations and visits to member operations -- because the operations are all different and it gives members a chance to discuss what each producer is doing and why. Randy Dreher, Audubon member, said he always comes away with something he can apply to his own operation.
The northeast dairy peer group members are seeing the benefits of gathering and reviewing farm data against benchmarks, and participating in a variety of financial and production education. Monica and Brian Enyart, Postville, say the peer group is a comfortable group to interact with because members are all at the same stage of life and have the same questions and same problems. Without this interaction, they’d keep doing things the same way and getting the same results. The group allows them to evaluate what they are doing, see what others are doing, and learn about different or better ways of solving their problems.
Dan Loy, ISU animal science professor and Iowa Beef Center director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 515-294-1058