Iowa’s rural economy remains strong

In the 21st century, Iowa’s economy is becoming more diversified. By any measure, however, the agricultural sector is at the heart of what keeps the Hawkeye State prosperous.

Just before Christmas, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey released a detailed analysis of how agriculture in our state fared in 2016.

“Iowa farmers saw record production for both corn and soybeans again in 2016, however, low prices are making profitability a real challenge on both the crop and livestock side,” he said. “Despite the economic challenges, farmers are by nature optimistic and we continue to see investments in the future and new and innovative technologies that will allow them to be even more productive while also reducing environmental impact.”

Here is some of what Northey highlighted in his overview:

• Corn production in 2016 was excellent. As of December 2016, it was forecast to be 2.69 billion bushels. That’s up from 2.51 billion bushels in 2015, which was a record.

• Soybean production was also superb. At year’s end, it was forecast to be 561 million bushels. That would put it a just above the record set in 2015.

• Crop prices were down in 2016. That was also true for livestock prices. Those declines made the year a challenging one for farmers and are a concern for producers.

• Egg production has largely recovered from the crippling pathogenic avian influenza outbreak.

• Land prices were down 5.9 percent in 2016 compared to 2015.

• There has been growth in the availability of blender pumps and storage facilities helping strengthen Iowa’s evolving biofuels industries.

The United States has a huge international trade deficit. Agricultural exports, however, for many years have been a bright spot in what overall is an economic trouble spot for our nation. According to Northey, agricultural exports account for 10 percent of all U.S. exports and support 1 million jobs nationally. He has helped keep the trade picture for agriculture positive by participating in a trade missions designed to stimulate sales of farm products abroad. That work has been invaluable, deserves applause and should continue.

Clean water is vital to all Iowans. Northey reported encouraging progress in that regard. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has expanded its efforts to make water quality improvements and has more initiatives planned. According to Northey, “nearly $350 million in state and federal funds … (were) directed to programs with water quality benefits in Iowa last year.”

Iowa is fortunate to have one of the nation’s most accomplished secretaries of agriculture. His expertise and dedication coupled with the professionalism of his IDALS team are helping keep agriculture in Iowa a trendsetter internationally. The Times-Republican appreciates the contributions Northey and his department are making to our state’s economic well-being. This work deserves strong support. It helps keep Iowa’s economy strong.