Source: Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers
The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) celebrates its 15th anniversary this year; marking a decade and a half of helping Iowa successfully and responsibly grow its livestock industry.
Farming practices have changed, and so have the challenges faced by livestock producers. Production methods have modernized, producers must adhere to more stringent regulation, and neighbors are often non-farmers. In its 15 years of existence, CSIF has helped more than 4,500 farmers with its no-cost and confidential services.
“We’re seeing operations Grandpa shut down in the ‘80s now being taken up by the new generation. Livestock is a great way to diversify their farm and add income,” says CSIF Executive Director Brian Waddingham.
CSIF was started by farmers for farmers to help them implement best management practices, properly site locations for new barns and feedlots, interpret more than 250 pages of rules and regulations and enhance neighbor relations.
“The rules for livestock production are stringent, but we can work with them and make them work on most farms,” adds Waddingham. “We want our producers to be good neighbors today and tomorrow.”
CSIF was formed as, and remains, a joint partnership of the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation, and Midwest Dairy. More than 100 industry partners and sponsors provide additional funding.
Along with enabling farmers to be proactive instead of reactive by offering unique services specific to each farm, CSIF offers workshops on aquaculture, calving and feeding cattle under roof, and turkey production; and hosts an annual Farming for the Future conference for young farmers. Its Green Farmstead Partner Program promotes landscaping solutions for environmental impact and improved aesthetics.
CSIF also works to tell the story of successful and environmentally sound livestock production in Iowa through on-site facility open house events and the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, an honor bestowed monthly on an Iowa farm that exemplifies best practices.
“When a new barn opens, they invite the community in to celebrate with a ribbon-cutting and encourage friends and neighbors to ask questions,” says Sara Payne, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for the Iowa Farm Bureau. “That kind of transparency creates trust.”
The efforts have paid off in the health of Iowa’s ag economy. One in five Iowa jobs is tied to agriculture; nearly one-third of those involve livestock.
“Iowa’s pork industry is most definitely better because of CSIF,” says Pat McGonegle, chief executive officer of the Iowa Pork Producers Association. “Confinements have grown, as has outdoor production. We’re more focused on bio-security and disease management, as well as animal health and comfort. CSIF has helped producers transition through changes in swine production and seek the opportunities that suit each individual producer.” Iowa leads the nation in pork production.
It’s all about doing things right
CSIF is not a lobbying entity. Its job is to help producers navigate the maze of rules and regulations. “Farmers have more potential than ever to be scrutinized,” says Waddingham. “Livestock farmers want to do it right. They want to farm with minimal environmental impact. Farmers who work with us are going above and beyond to successfully manage changes to their operation and to be positive members in their community.”
“They’re a trusted voice in agriculture,” says McGonegle, “with producers, regulators, local governments and local folks.”
Young producers are returning to the farm in no small part because of livestock production opportunities, and they are determined to succeed in the current regulatory environment. “They want to know what the rules are and figure out how to grow within them,” says Kent Mowrer, CSIF Senior Field Coordinator. Mowrer, along with Assistant Field Specialist Gabrielle Glenister, work closely with farmers making on-site visits and engaging neighbors in the process. “To them everything, including feed and manure, is a resource. They want to capitalize and utilize everything they can to make their operation profitable and sustainable.”
To make its resources more user friendly for the younger producer, CSIF recently redesigned its website to increase mobile optimization and make direct contact easier. Since last fall calls have increased significantly and website traffic has increased 263 percent.
That paints a bright picture for agriculture and livestock production in Iowa for years to come.
The proactive approach
But, it wasn’t always easy. Payne was there in the beginning. “Farming in Iowa, just like the rest of the nation, underwent dramatic changes with the Farm Crisis of the 80’s and into the early 90’s,” she says. “Technology enhancements enabled farm size to increase, creating efficiencies and economies of scale, and those efficiencies were swift.” One of the more visible changes was indoor housing barns.
The swift changes left some conflicted. Opposition groups formed and became more robust. “We saw a lot of farm/neighbor friction,” tells Payne. “When new regulations were made in the late 1990s and early 2000s, livestock farmers were struggling with mounting costs, and the number of nuisance lawsuits began to increase. It was a difficult time.”
In May of 2004, Iowa’s producer groups stepped up and asked ‘How can we help?’
“They wanted to responsibly and successfully help manage the changes by being on the front end of the situation before issues occurred,” says Payne.
CSIF began to work with producers to help interpret regulations and facility siting, going beyond the rule book to take into account wind, topography and the type of neighbors, from traditional farmers to a rural/urban mix. From the beginning, CSIF made neighbor relations a priority even though in the early days communications were often strained.
“We’ve seen an increase of people moving to the country, with less of an understanding of agriculture,” says Mowrer. But the patience, persistence, and proactive approach paid off. “It has taken time, but we’ve made big strides. We’ve approached it case by case and site by site, visiting with neighbors and seizing the opportunity to educate.”
“Most people are accepting as long as we go to them first,” says Waddingham of today’s environment. “They don’t want to hear about it at the coffee shop. They want to hear directly from the producer his plans for a livestock facility and his plans to protect the environment.”
As CSIF looks to the future, it sees more bridge building, more helping livestock producers grow, more doing it the right way.
“CSIF has been and remains a key component in Iowa’s livestock outlook,” says McGonegle. “It’s allowed us to not just grow, but thrive.”
“Livestock is so important to Iowa’s economy and we are committed to helping it flourish for generations to come,” said Waddingham.
The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers will officially celebrate its 15-year milestone with an Anniversary Event at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny on August 14.
The non-profit, non-partisan organization aids farmers at no cost. CSIF does not lobby or develop policy. Farm families wanting a helping hand can contact the coalition at 800.932.2436.
(by Terri Queck-Matzie for CSIF. Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield).