Growing Iowa Agriculture:
New Study Offers a Business Approach
What will it take to increase the size and scope of Iowa agriculture over the next two decades?
A new project, Iowa AgriScope 2030, explores this question to formulate a comprehensive plan that incorporates all the key players in agriculture: growers, commodity groups, government, scientists, educators and agribusiness.
“The main difference between this plan and others is that we concentrated on a very business-focused, bottom-line approach,” explains Becky Doyle, senior associate with The Context Network, which conducted
“This is not a plan to deal with the social, housing, or jobs aspects of rural Iowa,” she continues. “It is specifically about the business aspects, about what we can do to assure growth from today until 2030.”
“Context looked at all the pieces of the puzzle,” says Kirk Leeds, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) chief executive officer, who served on the project’s steering committee. “It looks at areas in agriculture that we in Iowa could capture or increase, at components we need to emphasize, or pieces we need to grow.”
The resulting document details the areas of focus that will be most essential to achieve the goal of growth.
Expansion will require a rock-solid foundation that protects Iowa’s competitive advantages, improves the business climate, and encourages innovation.
From that foundation, the study sees potential to grow Iowa agriculture by building production of base commodities like soybeans, corn, and pork, and by expanding exports, value-added products, and new sectors like locally sourced and organic crops.
It then goes on to elaborate specific strategies and responsibilities for each area of focus, including six priorities: protecting soil and water, reasonable regulations and taxes, world class research and education, building Iowa’s agricultural base, adding value, and expanding exports.
The research process included extensive interviews with 20 steering committee members and 100 other sources who could provide insights into specific aspects of Iowa’s agriculture, food, fiber, alternative energy, and support service sectors.
“We talked a lot about what a huge engine agriculture is for economic development in the state going forward,” reports Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, also a member of the steering committee.
“That may change some of the things we do at IDALS. For example, we may benefit from making more of an effort to work with the economic development people.”
Northey also applauds the study’s emphasis on protecting and improving Iowa’s soil and water: “We need to stay in front of this issue, at how we can make [our soils] more productive over time.
“That’s not easy because we’re dealing with a fairly fragile surface, as we’ve seen this year with the flood damage in western Iowa,” Northey said.
The study doesn’t recommend any earthshaking new steps to take, according to Ron Litterer, the Iowa Corn Growers (ICGA) representative on the committee.
“The focus is on continuing to do what we already do and to do it well,” said Litterer. “It supports a focus on maintaining the strong base we have with our land. Iowa’s combination of soil and climate is hard to duplicate anywhere in the world. We need to maintain and improve it for our future.”
Litterer also highlighted the study’s emphasis on research and the links between research and education to produce a workforce with the skills agriculture will need.
“We may need to refocus more attention on fundamental research, especially at Iowa State University, and on training job seekers for the changing roles agriculture will need to have filled in the bioeconomy,” he said.
Released in mid-November, Iowa AgriScope 2030 has since been presented in detail to sponsoring groups like the ISA, ICGA, and Iowa Pork Producers Association and to key decision makers, including key leaders
of the Iowa legislature and Governor Branstad.
“The transportation and infrastructure aspects of the report resonated especially well with the governor,” reports Leeds.
Litterer notes, “This study is very specific that it is going to take the cooperation of industry, government, farmers, and educators to make this succeed, so there has to be a commitment from the commodity groups, IDALS, agribusiness, ISU, and the state to work together.
“We may not all agree with every detail, but everyone has to get engaged to make this process work.”
“There’s nothing revolutionary in the report,” says Leeds. “What’s new is its disciplined approach to expanding the scope and size of our agriculture. There will be lots of next steps as we brief people on it.
“The question now is ‘How do we encourage people to accept responsibilities outlined in the report?’”
To access a copy of the Iowa agriScope 2030 report visit http://iasoy.us/Zke.