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Amazing times in agriculture, Hill says

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 12/27/2012 8:41 AM

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DES MOINES —Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Hill reflected on his first year in office last week following the organization's annual meeting in Des Moines.

"In agriculture we're living in amazing times," said Hill, a Milo farmer. "Never before has Iowa, at once, experienced so much prosperity and so much progress. To be president of Iowa Farm Bureau at this time is very interesting."

Hill cautions that everyone must be conscious of cycles in agriculture and how to protect economic opportunity.

"We have to protect demand through trade and through fuel or the RFS," Hill said. "We have to protect all those demand features and protect opportunities for farmers so we're not hamstrung with regulations that aren't of value," Hill said. "There are some battles to be fought, but it's a wondrous time to date."

The lingering drought is causing anxiety among farmers.

"We do have a window of time before it freezes up, and it could be a year when we don't freeze tight, the snow melts, and we do replenish soil moisture through the winter," Hill said. "We have to get caught up, and the bank has to be recharged sometime before spring."

Things can change fast, Hill said. When it comes time to plant next spring, farmers may be complaining that it's too wet. On the other hand, sometimes droughts persist for a couple of years.

"No one can prognosticate what we'll have," Hill said. "I think a lot of crop insurance will be bought for next year. Whenever you follow a drought, you have an increase in sales. We'll get what Mother Nature hands us, but we are so much more durable today, we're resilient. We can take adversity of weather that we were never able to because of new genetics and new techniques."

Farm Bureau members responded positively to Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which was discussed during an educational session, Hill said.

"The EPA kind of dropped the gauntlet and said, 'You will develop some voluntary measures to mitigate these nutrients traveling down the river,' " Hill said. "Hypoxia is the big thing that everyone is concerned about including point and non-point source pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus."

Iowa became engaged through the leadership of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. The governor's office and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also were involved. The goal is to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loads and to do that cost effectively through voluntary measures employed by farmers.

"It will be a big undertaking," Hill said. "There will be a lot of education and a lot of research required. Some things we do on farms that we think are helping solve this problem are not working, and some things are working very well. We have to diagnose what things are working on your farm."

Every practice whether it's wetlands, buffers, the way a farm is drained, tillage or application methods has a different affect based on soil type, watershed and conditions.

"It's a very dynamic, biological complex that we are working with," Hill said.

He said farmers should study the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and comment on it before Jan. 4.