The farm bill and farm stress

John Lawrence’s message from Dec. 2, 2019

Since mid-November our farm management specialists and local USDA Farm Service Agency representatives have been holding public meetings to provide an overview of the 2018 Farm Bill. Farmers, landowners and ag professionals have been gathering in extension offices, community centers and other venues, as they do most years when there’s a new farm bill, to learn about decision points and program rules and regulations that pertain to each part of the state. But that’s not all they’re learning about this year.

Did you know? In general, farmers are entering this farm bill with more financial stress and less operating capital than in 2014, when commodity prices were still high. The financial stress has the potential to impact not only the future of the farm, but also the health of the operator. That’s why at each farm bill meeting, a human sciences specialist in family life is presenting “Stress on the Farm: Strategies to Help Each Other.” This 40-minute, scenario-based, suicide prevention training reviews the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, as well as protective factors and a strategy for how to intervene.

Our farm bill meetings – more than 60 altogether – will continue through January. We will continue to educate Iowans about Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage to help them deal with the farm bill that affects their livelihood. But we’ll also continue to promote healthy strategies to help each other recognize and cope with the stress that impacts daily life.

ICM Conference

The Integrated Crop Management Conference is another way we help farmers and the ag industry prepare for 2020 and beyond. Nearly 900 attendees will gather for the Dec. 4-5 conference in Ames. Now in its 31st year, the annual event is a great opportunity for farmers, industry, ag retailers, agronomists and educators to network with each other, interact with university specialists, and learn about the latest in crop research and technology. ISU Extension and Outreach and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences host the conference.

More notes

  • The public seminar by Jay Harmon, candidate for Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach and ISU Extension Program Director for Agriculture and Natural Resources, is Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. in 0013 Curtiss Hall and via Zoom, at https://zoom.us/j/415857802. Learn about his strategy for leading our ANR program. The seminar will be recorded and available for viewing beginning Dec. 4. The question and answer session will not be recorded.
  • Our Growing Together volunteers harvested and donated approximately 115,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables throughout the 2019 growing season. That’s nearly 345,000 servings of fresh produce to fight hunger in Iowa. Learn more about this and other programs in the December Program Update from the leadership team.
  • A committee has begun developing a new Memorandum of Understanding between Extension Districts and Iowa State that incorporates the Structured for Success plan for our future. The MOU will be ready for councils to review and begin signing in early spring 2020. (It must be signed by June 1, 2020.) The MOU will cover three years, July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2023. We expect there will be one overarching MOU and three separate operating agreements depending on which model a council selects.
  • Congratulations to Van Buren County, the first county to submit its 2019 stakeholder report. The reports are due Jan. 1 and will be available from the County Services website. You can use your county stakeholder report throughout the year to build awareness of programs, demonstrate impact and outcomes, and show return on investment. Thank you to everyone who contributes to these reports. Sharing our extension stories helps people know how we are working in your county and throughout the state to build a strong Iowa.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

County fairs

John Lawrence’s message from July 17, 2017

Picture this: a summer day, hot and humid, with no discernable breeze. Do you know where your county extension professionals are? On any given day between mid-June and mid-September, they can be found at their county fairgrounds. That’s not surprising, since the Association of Iowa Fairs membership includes 106 Iowa county and district fairs plus local festivals and related activities. Our partnership with county fairs is part of our history and tradition. R.K. Bliss wrote that “from the first the Extension Service was called upon to give help to fairs during the fair season … The principal contribution of extension to fairs in the early years of the Extension Service was to make them more educational.” Our county fair contribution continues, as we provide education and build partnerships to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future.

4-H Youth Program Specialist Mitch Hoyer probably has lost track of how many times he’s heard fairgoers say, “I didn’t know you could do that in 4-H!” (He’s superintendent of the 4-H Exhibits Building at the Iowa State Fair.) Iowa 4-H’ers’ fair exhibits represent the broad scope of our 4-H Youth Development program, covering animals, ag and natural resources, creative arts, family and consumer sciences, personal development and STEM. 4-H youth also participate in communication events, educational presentations and working exhibits. 4-H at the fair is far more than cows and cooking, though there are plenty of these exhibits too. The Association of Iowa Fairs gathers statistics from the financial reports that all fairs are required to file. For 2016, did you know?

  • 17,139 4-H and FFA livestock exhibitors brought 70,311 livestock entries to their county fairs.
  • 14,885 4-H and FFA building exhibitors showed 66,814 exhibits.
  • 4-H/FFA premiums totaled $533,324.

However, more important than the money, ribbons and competition, is the education that occurs. Fairs give 4-H’ers an opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned. The evaluation they receive helps them measure their progress toward meeting their goals and against standards of excellence. They also gain encouragement and inspiration to expand their project interest and activity. In addition, their families get to work together and the public gets to see what it means to be involved in 4-H. The whole county fair experience is one more way 4-H meets the needs of Iowa youth.

County Fair Memorandum of Understanding

Our county extension councils have great partnerships with Iowa’s county fair boards. About 60 counties even have a written, signed MOU that lists each group’s responsibilities for making their fair successful. That’s a great idea that we’d like to expand statewide. So we’ve started a committee with representation from fair boards, FFA, and ISU Extension and Outreach. They’re thinking about the key aspects that make a great fair and developing a template that other counties can use to write their own MOUs. We hope to have a draft ready for extension councils and fair boards to review this fall, with a finished template available in December.

With turnover on county fair boards, within FFA programs and in our county extension offices, it makes sense to capture some county fair best practices and get them down in writing. If you have any insights you’d like to share, please contact a regional director, Bob Dodds or yours truly.

One more thing: The Black Hawk, Polk and Jefferson County Extension Councils are partnering with College of Human Sciences researchers in the next round of the Engaged Scholarship Funding Program. It’s a great opportunity for councils to invest in new research with Iowa State and partner with ISU Extension and Outreach to bring educational programs to county residents.

 — John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Interim Vice President for Extension and Outreach

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