Britt Farmers Market

A vendor fills a bowl with onions during a Britt Farmers Market in 2016.

ALLISON ULLMANN, THE NEWS TRIBUNE

Q: How do you approach public policy when it comes to production agriculture?

A: According to the 2012 USDA’s Census of Agriculture, taken every five years, the value of Iowa agricultural products reached $30.8 billion, ranking Iowa second nationally in total value of sales. Iowa is America’s leading producer of pork, corn, soybeans and eggs. Our state is home to 88,637 farms.

Agriculture anchors the state economy, creating jobs and economic growth from manufacturers to retailers on Main Street. When hammering out public policy on the farm bill every five years or so, I’ve remarked that some lawmakers in Congress barely have farm land in their congressional districts. Even fewer seem to have dirt underneath their fingernails from growing food or raising livestock.

As a lifelong family farmer, I bring a reality check to the policymaking tables on behalf of Rural America and all those whose livelihoods depend on a strong farm economy. What’s more, food security is crucial for national security and humanitarianism. From trade to taxes, crop insurance, conservation, energy and the environment, I work to secure policies that strengthen the farm economy all along the food chain so that Rural Americans have the opportunity to achieve prosperity, people have affordable, nutritious food to eat and clean, renewable energy helps lower utility bills and fuel economic growth.

America’s farmers understand there’s a lot that rests on the whims of Mother Nature and the marketplace before dinner is served. As a long-time champion for American agriculture, I don’t hesitate to speak up for the family farm and stand strong for policies that strengthen food security, energy security and national security.

As the number of farms shrinks, the average age of an Iowa farmer climbs, the price of land fluctuates and the size of farms changes, I’m aware of the challenges facing beginning farmers, as well. Family farmers are laborers, managers and owners rolled into one. They handle business planning and marketing, do the chores and get the crops in and out.

It’s important for the taxpaying public to help farmers avert financial disaster and weather downturns with effective risk management tools and a safety net geared towards small and mid-sized farms. Prosperity in the countryside translates to vitality on Main Street as farmers trade up equipment for new machinery and can afford to invest in the latest innovation in seed, fertilizer and equipment. As Congress considers the federal budget for fiscal year 2018, I’ll make my voice heard on behalf of family farmers and American agriculture.

Q: What’s your take on the growing popularity of farmers markets?

A: Iowa’s rich agrarian heritage goes back for generations and includes food production and food processing. For as long as I can remember, roadside stands and back-of-the-truck sales crop up to sell sweet corn, melons and other fresh-picked produce to passers-by every growing season.

Before row-crop production took root, Iowa was a top apple, grape and popcorn-producing state. It also once led the world in canned sweet corn production with 58 canneries in 36 counties. In recent years, the locavore movement has surged in popularity. It’s changing the agricultural landscape in Iowa and other states.

One study ranks Iowa in the top 10 for farmers markets per capita. Although 94 percent of harvested cropland in Iowa is field corn and soybeans, Iowa’s orchards, berry patches, vegetable farms and vineyards are also thriving. Their growth supports a vibrant network of farmers’ markets and farm stands in communities across the state.

Consumer demand is driving crop diversification and the marketing of homegrown produce. In fact, new data compiled by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship reports that 882 farmers generated more than $48 million in horticultural sales in 2015 that also fostered an additional $32 million in value-added commerce in local communities. Horticulture encompasses the production and sale of fruit, vegetables and flowers.

It’s good to see a growing number of entrepreneurs fill the need in the marketplace to “grow local, buy local and eat local.” Iowa’s natural resources and growing climate make our state ripe for entrepreneurs to capitalize on the demand for fresh, locally grown foods.

From early spring and well into the fall, farmers markets across the state offer consumers the cream of the crop, including fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, homemade jams, jellies, flowers and baked goods. Beyond providing wholesome, affordable, locally sourced food, farmers markets are boosting the local economy and enriching the rural-urban connections among Iowans.

To find a local farm stand or farmers market close to home, look under directories at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship website at www.iowaagriculture.gov.

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