Arvid in Agriculture Wonderland

As a teenager in rural Iowa I earned money each summer working for area farmers. The last year I worked on a farm was 1965.

Over subsequent years I have attempted to stay abreast of agricultural matters. I listen to WHO Radio’s farm broadcasters regularly and attempt to read farm news in newspapers and magazines.

After 49 years, however, I was sorely out of touch with modern Iowa agriculture.

The last (and only) Farm Progress Show I attended was in 1962 when it was held on a farm a dozen miles from our town in Hamilton County. A whole lot of corn has passed through the auger since then.

You can imagine, then, what I was thinking as I walked through the Farm Progress Show near Boone recently. It was an Arvid in Agriculture Wonderland experience.

My visit to the show was precipitated by an opportunity to raise money for my Rotary Club. The organizers of the show contract with area service clubs to have members conduct research interviews with visiting farmers. Payment for the work goes to the clubs.

A fellow Rotarian, her husband and I drove through heavy rain early that morning and parked as directed in a muddy hay field. The rain-saturated ground was solid enough to handle the vehicle traffic but walking through the mud to a hard surfaced road was a slippery trick. I nearly fell early in the walk but after a fancy ballet dance stayed upright.

While waiting for our marching orders in the Wallace’s Farmer Hospitality Tent we had an opportunity to watch farm broadcaster Max Armstrong record a segment of television’s This Week In AgriBusiness which he co-hosts with the legendary Orion Samuelson.

Having been given interview forms and instructions on how to conduct the interviews we were sent out into the midst of the big show.

My first interview was with a middle-aged couple from northern Kentucky. They said they had previously traveled through Iowa on I-80 but this was their first visit away from the busy highway. They marveled at Iowa’s beautiful landscape.

I responded that I have visited Kentucky several times and found it to be a beautiful state, as well. The husband smiled and said, “That’s true, but I’m a corn farmer and Iowa’s cornfields are beautiful to me.”

They indicated they also raise about 60 acres of tobacco. When I asked how the anti-smoking crusades have affected their tobacco production the farmer explained that they grow tobacco for medical purposes.

He told me that the new vaccine used recently for two American Ebola patients was produced by tobacco. Genes for the desired antibodies, he explained, are fused to genes for a natural tobacco virus. The resulting infection produces antibodies inside the plant which is eventually ground up and the antibody is extracted.

The individuals I interviewed that day farmed a wide variety of acres, from 14 to 16,000. The 14-acre farmer was a young western Iowa fellow just out of school and getting started with the help of his father.

I visited with a dairy farmer from Wisconsin, a cattle feeder from Nebraska, corn growers from Missouri and Indiana and a wide variety of young, middle-aged and older farmers from Iowa. Several older farmers said they are trying to retire but finding it difficult to do so.

I approached one individual who quickly called for his friend. This individual, I quickly learned from his friend, was a farmer from Columbia in South America. Their English was better than my Spanish but not sufficiently so. I wished them both “buenas tardes” and looked for another interviewee.

Over the course of the day I heard people conversing in Spanish, German and several African languages.

By quitting time I was exhausted, but it had been a great day of meeting new people and learning much more about modern Midwestern agriculture.

It truly was a case of Arvid in Agricultural Wonderland.