Farmers Networking Conference

February 22, 2018

Annual Farmers Networking Conference

by Shana Hilgerson, Women in Ag Student Assistant

BFN conference registration

The Iowa State University Beginning Farmers Network (BFN) is a campus club that was created to allow beginning farmers here at Iowa State sharpen their personal skill with an opportunity to network and hear from excellent speakers at monthly meetings.  BFN works closely with ISU Extension and Outreach and our Beginning Farmers Center.  The club is supported strongly by community ag businesses, especially long-time sponsor Syngenta.  Other sponsors for this year’s conference include Comstock, Beck’s Hybrids, and the Farm Service Agency.  All of these sponsors and more were given a booth at the annual Farmers Networking Conference to speak with attendees during breaks.  The conference is held by the club in February every year.  The majority of the attendees are students from ISU, but the conference is open to the community and area businesses as well. 

Registration began at 8:30 am, on Saturday February 10, with time to network over coffee and breakfast treats before the first speaker.  At 9:00, Dr. Matthew Helmers lead off the conference with a discussion on drainage and cover crops. 

According to Dr. Helmers, our main concern today is maintaining the quality of our local ground water.  One of the leading issues in water quality is the run-off and infiltration of nitrogen and phosphorus from farm fields.  To better track and combat run-off pollutants, 172 monitored drainage plots in Iowa allow researchers to collect almost 4000 samples every year.  With this and other research, Dr. Helmers concludes that excess nitrates in the watershed are not due to improper application, but inadequate uptake in corn and soybeans.  Too much rain can leach nitrates before crops can absorb nutrients, and too little nitrogen in the soil leads to other soil health issues, such as more erodible soil.  Dr. Helmers has been studying this issue for a while, and proposes cover crops as a potential solution to nitrogen losses.  Cover crops help to take up excess nitrogen in the soil when cash crops are not in the field.  Other possible solutions include subsurface drainage bioreactors, which consists of a deep pit filled with woodchips that field water filters through on its way out of the water shed.  Microorganisms in the bioreactor feed off the nitrogen in the water and removes the nitrogen from the water.  The third solution we discussed in length involves a structured wetlands.  The wetlands would control drainage from the farm and allow it to sit in a still location long enough to denitrify, as well as supply a habitat location for wildlife.   

Jim Knuth took over the conference after Dr. Helmers’ discussion on water qualtiy.  Knuth is a member of Farm Credit Services, and lead a presentation about the business of farming.  The upcoming generation of farmers are positioned to be very successful in the industry; because of a high average of education, access to technology, and head for business.  In order to take advantage of this position, many new farmers will need financial assistance.  Knuth covered different options, including Farm Service Agency land loans, the Ag Start program, and Magnify, a new accounting software.  In order to afford loans, beginning farmers should secure a steady income off-farm, such as custom farming or obtaining a CDL.  Right now, interest rates are on the low side of normal, so it is a good time to set an interest rate and invest in a loan.  With that, Knuth stressed the idea of amortization, which is the length of repayment.  When given the choice, Knuth advises to take the longest amortization period offered to you, which offers the most flexibility in repayment.  Knuth also shared a few marketing fundamentals; knowing the cost of your production, and always take a profit- even if you just know the price is going to go up- because sometimes you may end up losing.  Knowing your cost of production helps you make smarter decisions and understand where your profit margin is, and helps you create a walk-away price during negotiations.  “Failing to plan is planning to fail,” Jim Knuth says in his summary.

Before lunch, Mike Naig spoke for a few minutes.  Naig is Iowa’s current Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.  Naig says he likes to “listen more than I talk.  When I learn something new, I adjust.”  A few things that he is adjusting to currently are trade negotiations.  Expanding on international trade is critical in the U.S., and trading agreements such as NAFTA and the TPP are being considered to enter more markets.  Naig was also very optimistic on yields in Iowa, based on outstanding success in the past.  The huge yields we have been seeing in Iowa recently are starting to stabilize after their exponential leaps.  The abundance of grain lends to an opportunity to expand livestock production, specifically mentioning broiler production to fill demands from a new Costco processing plant with plans to build in western Iowa in the near future.

Mike Naig finished his update and stayed through lunch to answer any questions.  Lunch lasted a little over an hour to allow more time to network among attendees before resuming with the capstone speaker.  Mike Pearson, from IPTV’s Market to Market, rounded out the conference.  Pearson discussed not only the future of agriculture, but its history.  In the past, markets have spiked every 20 years, and cycles through highs and lows.  At this point in time, margins are tight but not dangerously low.  Pearson believes that the growing global demand for produce mitigates the risk of a crisis situation.  Factors of today that play into market demand are also being evaluated when making these claims.  This is the first time in 10 years that the global economy has been able to sync with local markets, which is a sign that the global economy is improving.  The improved economy is due to a spread of wealth.  Other currencies are being invested in, which makes the dollar weaker, and commodities cheaper.  However, there is an estimated increase in corn prices due to the global market demand.  To wrap-up his capstone address, Pearson echoed much of what our other speakers already discussed:

  • Don’t chase that last dollar.  If the market keeps rallying, keep selling.  You never know when prices will drop, and you will get burned.
  • Be realistic about selling price.  Understand your cost of production to determine when you can turn a profit.
  • Water issues are arising in much of the world.  Protect the resources available in the Midwest in order to remain a leader in agriculture.
  • Be smart in making purchase decisions.  Negotiations always make both parties feel better about the deal, and there’s always time to deeply consider a sale. 

The president of the Beginning Farmers Network thanked the attendees for joining them, and concluded the BFN officersconference around 3pm.  At the 2018 Farmers Networking Conference, roughly 60 individuals were in attendance, including club members, speakers, and industry representatives.  The club hopes to continue to host excellent speakers and grow the conference in the future.