Northey: 2015 included several challenges for Iowa farmers

Iowa Ag Secretary also notes continued progress on water quality, conservation efforts

DES MOINES – Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey on Dec. 31 provided a review of the top ag issues in Iowa in 2015.

“Many farmers saw the best ever yields in 2015 as it was a year of record production for both corn and soybeans in Iowa. Unfortunately there were several challenges as well.  Iowa was at the center of the highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak this spring.  Also, a significant drop in crop and livestock prices have created real challenges economically for farmers,” Northey said. “However, farmers are optimistic and are looking forward to 2016 and new opportunities.”

Avian influenza: The USDA has described the H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak of 2015 as the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history.  Nationwide there were 223 detections of HPAI from Dec. 19, 2015 through June 17, 2015.  There were 48 million birds in 21 states affected, but Iowa and Minnesota were the most severely impacted.

In Iowa, there were a total of 77 premises in 17 counties and 31.5 million birds were affected with the disease. This includes 35 commercial turkey flocks, 22 commercial egg production flocks, 13 pullet flocks, 1 chicken breeding flock, 1 mail order hatchery, and 5 backyard flocks.

As of early December, all HPAI quarantines have been lifted. Iowa poultry producers are resilient, with all but one of the 72 commercial poultry farms that had quarantines on their facilities having begun the restocking process or are fully restocked. To lift the quarantine, all sites completed the cleaning and disinfection process and had negative environmental tests. They also underwent a 21 day fallow period following disinfection.

The Iowa response operated under a Unified Command involving the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services.

The Department had responsibility for maintaining safe movement of poultry and poultry products from farms that were affected by HPAI. IDALS issued a total of 3,700 movement permits to 42 states and the Virgin Islands. This includes 2,323 permits issued for movements within Iowa and 1,377 permits have been issued for movements out of state.

Iowa Water Quality Initiative: The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is continuing to expand efforts to work with all Iowans to make water quality improvements.

Earlier this year Northey announced that 1,800 farmers committed $3.5 million in cost share funds to install nutrient reduction practices in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.  The practices that were eligible for this funding are cover crops, no-till or strip till, or using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Participants include 980 farmers using a practice for the first time and more than 830 past users that are trying cover crops again and are receiving a reduced-rate of cost share.  Farmer using cost share funding contribute 50 percent or more to the total cost of the practice.

In addition, 29 demonstration projects are currently located across the state to help implement and demonstrate water quality practices.  This includes 16 targeted watershed projects, 4 projects focused on expanding the use and innovative delivery of water quality practices and 9 urban water quality demonstration projects.  More than 100 organizations are participating in these projects.  These partners will provide $16.72 million dollars to go with the $11.11 million in state funding going to these projects.

Northey also highlighted that more than $325 million in state and federal funds have been directed to programs with water quality benefits in Iowa last year. This total does not include the cost share amount that farmers pay to match state and federal programs and funds spent to build practices built without government assistance.

More information about the initiative can be found at www.CleanWaterIowa.org.

 Record production, economic challenges:

A near ideal growing season in much of the state saw Iowa farmers produce record corn and soybean crops.  The 2.49 billion bushel corn crop is 5 percent above the 2014 production and tops the previous record, set in 2009, by 4 percent.  A record yield of 189 bushels per acre is 11 bushels above last year and exceeds the previous record of 181 bushels per acre set in 2004 and 2009.

Iowa farmers produced a record 550 million bushels of soybeans, up 10 percent from 2014 and 5 percent above the previous record of 525 million bushels produced in 2005. The yield of 56 bushels per acre is 5.0 bushels above 2014 and 3.5 bushels above the previous record yield, set in 2005.

However, crop prices have continued to fall as a result of large crop production worldwide, softening global demand and a strong dollar.  Average statewide corn prices fell from $3.76 to $3.48 from Dec. 2014 to Dec. 2015 and statewide average soybean prices fell from $9.89 to $8.17 over the same period.

The livestock industry faced challenges as the prices they have received have fallen as well.  Fed cattle have seen the price drop from $161 per hundred weight down to $116. Hogs are down from $76 to $49 per hundred weight.

The tighter margins seen on the farm are starting to ripple through the economy.  Land prices are down 3.9 percent.  There have been several announcements of layoffs at manufactures, machinery providers, seed companies, and other business that serve the agriculture industry.

Despite the challenges, opportunities remain.  In general, exports remain strong.  Agricultural exports account for 10 percent of the U.S. exports and supports nearly one million jobs across the country.  Value added products such as ethanol and meat products have made up the largest share of agricultural exports at approximately 63 percent.

Iowa is a leading producer and exporter of agricultural products, ranking 2nd among the 50 U.S. states in the value of its agricultural exports in USDA’s most recent calculations. Iowa’s exports help boost farm prices and income, while supporting about 77,300 jobs both on the farm and in related industries such as food processing, transportation, and manufacturing.

To help continue to grow exports, Northey participated in trade missions with the Iowa Economic Development Authority, USDA and Iowa Agriculture organizations to Malaysia, the Philippines, China and Japan.

 

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