ELLSWORTH, Iowa — When traveling around Iowa recently, Brian Donaldson was struck by the fact that many of the state’s farms are still family operations
“One of the most positive aspects for me has been that the family farm has survived,” Donaldson said after spending three days with a group of agricultural journalists touring the state.
It was just one of several ideas that stuck with Donaldson and others in a group of international agricultural reporters hailing from places as diverse as Japan, South Africa, Australia and Germany. The group was touring the state before heading north to Minnesota for a meeting of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ).
Donaldson, agricultural editor at The Impartial Reporter and Farmers Journal in Northern Ireland, said farmers from around the world are struggling to keep family farm operations alive.
Satoru Mizuguch, vice president of the Japanese Forum of Environmental Journalists and a member of the Japan National Press Club, was impressed by the idea of century farms, farms that have been owned by the same family for over 100 years.
“The sustainability of farms is a big issue in Japan,” he said, adding the fact that families had managed to continue a farm business for over 100 years gives him hope for his own country.
But several journalists said while there is much to admire about Iowa agriculture, there are also concerns.
“I would say our farms in my part of Australia are more diversified,” said Kallee Buchanan, a rural reporter for ABC Wide Bay in Australia.
Many farms in her area include sugar, corn, soybeans, avocados and fruit trees. That diversification would appear to be more environmentally friendly, she said. But she also said it exists in part as a way to reduce risk because the farmers there do not have government-subsidized multi-peril crop insurance.
Others agreed with her assessment.
“(The monoculture of corn and beans) is quite worrying,” said Liza Bohlmann, a reporter from South Africa.
The farmers here are not bad people or bad farmers, both Bohlmann and Buchanan stressed. But they said the government agricultural programs here discourage crop diversity.
Global climate change is also a concern to people around the world, they say, and it is a special concern for those involved in agriculture.
Still, Donaldson said, the land here is beautiful and productive. And the people are friendly.
“We’ve learned all about Iowa nice,” Buchanan said.