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The face of agriculture is changing and many Iowa farmers are learning the importance of value-added agriculture in global and domestic markets. Progressive Farmer recently hosted their annual farm tour for participants who converged from around the country. Participants were able to see first-hand the variety of practices used in 21st century agriculture in Northeastern Iowa.


Iowa farmers no longer focus solely on corn; they produce everything from boutique wines (including rhubarb wine) to specialty lean beef, ethanol and alternative soy products. As U.S. farmers draw closer to harvesting one of the largest crops of corn and soybeans in U.S. history, many question what to do with their crops. One answer: value-added agriculture.

In Iowa, farmers searching for new markets have found their niche markets - corn used for ethanol production, soybeans used for producing biodiesel, commercial sealant products and organic food products and lean beef markets for cattle producers.


The need for new corn markets led to the establishment of Sunshine Energy Cooperative in Benton County, Iowa. The cooperative produces approximately 15,000 gallons of ethanol every day from wet corn grown by farmers in a 40-mile radius of the plant. Farmers from the area benefit because the high moisture corn can be trucked directly from their field to Sunrise with no drying or storage costs - saving growers 60 cents per bushel.

The ethanol process produces about 120 tons of high-protein stillage which is used at the co-op owned feedlot, which houses nearly 1,400 beef cattle. According to Iowa State Animal Scientist Dr. Allen Trenkle, the stillage is 120 percent better than corn, since only the nutrients and proteins remain after processing.


Bill Ballard of Watkins, Iowa enhanced his grain elevator and seed company by developing alternative uses for soy oil that is extruded at the elevator. Ballard created Natural Soy Products, Inc., which produces four biodegradable, environmentally-friendly commercial products. The products include crop adjuvants and soy-based sealants for fresh concrete, concrete form and wood patios.


Laurass Lean Beef is for those consumers who usually eat chicken and fish, but will eat red meat once a month or cook meat for special occasions, says Charlie Peters, son of Floyd Peters, who, with Charlie's brother, Steve, produce beef for specialty markets that demand leaner cuts of beef. These cattle receive no hormones or antibiotics and are only given a respiratory vaccine and parasite products. Laura's Lean Beef cattle are fed to about 1,100 pounds and have earned the Peters' up to $50-per-head premiums.


Many would be surprised to learn Iowa was once sixth in the nation in wine production. The Iowa Department of Economic Development and several farmers are working hard to regain that status in the winemaking industry. Tabor Home Vineyards and Winery is a pioneer in promoting grape production in Iowa and owner, Paul Tabor, hopes to increase his production to 20,000 gallons of wine a year from the 6,000 gallons his farm currently produces. The Tabor Home Wines won two international awards in 1999.


New markets are not the only changes in the family farm. A father and son team in Waterloo, Iowa is also setting the standard for agriculturists that want to run a farm like a well-oiled machine. Father and son, Curtis and Blake Hollis, jointly own 4,000 acres on which they produce 28,000 market hogs, 2,000 acres of corn and 1,800 acres of soybeans, but are two separate corporations under the name Lanehaven Farm, Inc. The Hollises have also created individual entities for their machinery, the hog operation, and the feed mill.

The Hollises believe segregation allows them to trace all profits and split costs efficiently, as well as take advantage of additional acreage through government subsidies. The entities also allow the Hollises to loan farm equipment to neighbors.


Iowa is breaking away from its traditional corn and soybean production roots. Many farmers see value-added agriculture as "survival of the fittest" in an ever-changing world. With new technology and changing markets, traditional agriculture will be forced to mainstream just like the rest of the world - and value-added agriculture is a big step in the right direction. AM


Bekah Reddick is the Internet news editor for in St. Louis, Mo.

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