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Iowa ag focuses on food diversity

Iowa ag focuses on food diversity

By Andi Anderson

The Iowa Food System Coalition has announced a new plan aimed at increasing the state's production of food rather than focusing on ethanol and animal feed.

The plan, known as "Setting the Table for All Iowans," was unveiled at a news conference and outlines policy goals to promote locally grown food, attract more young people to farming, and provide financial support to farmers.

Chris Schwartz, the coalition's executive director, emphasized the plan's potential to positively impact farmers, the economy, and local communities.

“There’s room to grow and strengthen our agricultural tradition as well as our collective health and our economy,” Schwartz stated during the news conference.

Tommy Hexter, director of Grinnell Farm to Table food hub, highlighted the struggles of commodity farmers who see most of their profits going to middlemen like seed, equipment, and marketing companies.

Hexter pointed out that selling produce locally reduces the need for middlemen, allowing more money to go directly to farmers. “Setting the Table for All Iowans provides an opportunity to build that system where Iowa’s farmers and small business owners can truly thrive,” Hexter said.

A significant portion of Iowa’s corn production, about 50%-70%, is used to make ethanol, compared to the national average of 35%-40%.

Iowa accounts for nearly 30% of the nation’s ethanol production, producing about 4.6 billion gallons in 2023. The coalition's plan aims to shift some of this focus toward food production.

The plan also emphasizes the importance of attracting and retaining farming talent in Iowa. This includes investments in refrigerated trucks, increasing the number of rural grocery stores, and providing essential equipment to small businesses.

“This plan provides us a pathway to collaborate and really support one another,” said Giselle Bruskewitz, senior program director at Iowa Valley RC&D.

Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union and a fifth-generation family farmer, stressed the need for such investments. He pointed out that there are more farmers over 65 than under 35 in Iowa.

“We need to invest in those opportunities for a more diverse and younger set of leadership opportunities for people in farming,” Lehman said.

Over the past two years, the Iowa Food System Coalition has organized a Food and Farm Day at the Iowa Capitol and invited legislators and state agencies to a food policy summit.

The coalition's next step is to educate legislators about the plan to guide the creation of state policies, according to Schwartz.

This new initiative represents a significant shift in Iowa's agricultural focus, aiming to build a more sustainable and diverse farming future.

Photo Credit: gettyimages-valentinrussanov

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Categories: Iowa, Rural Lifestyle

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