Doing what they doo best — producing food

Doing what they do best — producing food
Date September 23, 2005
Section(s) Columnists
By Sen.Dennis Black  
A viable local economy is comprised of many components. Last week, my column discussed local manufacturing, and the fact that Newton’s major manufacturing component was served by men and women who were employed doing what they did best — building appliances. Now, we have the component composed of the rural population doing what they do best — producing food. Eventually, I will get to the component of local manufacturing smaller than Maytag, conventional small-business and the additional component of non-resident dollars accessing the local economy through tourism.

MY POINT WITH all this is to simply get folks thinking about the big picture. Economies are dynamic, and economic vitality comes from diversity, change and improvement. Frankly, I’m not in a “doomsday” mental mode with the Whirlpool buyout of Maytag. Conversely, I’ll not give up attempting to get the Benton Harbor, Mich., folks to recognize that Newton’s location in the center of the nation; our defined transportation and work force assets; and the existence of corporate and factory infrastructure is absolutely advantageous to the bottom line of Whirlpool. Add to these things our schools, colleges, low crime rate, environmental quality and affordable housing, and I would think the pragmatic CEO of Whirlpool, Jeff Fettig, would view Newton, Iowa, as a “slam dunk.”

I regress, so now to the issue of area food production! Ten million metric tons of corn, or approximately 393 million bushels, were purchased by Taiwan during ceremonies in Des Moines on Monday. This calculation is based on an average bushel weighing 56 pounds. The Sully Co-op Exchange along Highway 14, northwest of Newton, has bin-storage capacity of slightly over a million bushels. Thus, the Taiwan purchase of corn covering the next three years is the equivalent of about 390 times SCE’s Newton storage. Absolutely unbelievable! The rough estimate of the purchase is in the neighborhood of $1 billion, although the value of each individual shipment across the Pacific would vary, depending on the per bushel price — spot market.

Another interesting view of Taiwan’s corn purchase comes from comparing it to this year’s Iowa and nation-wide corn production. Iowa’s production for 2005 is projected at two billion bushels. Total U. S. production is ten billion bushels. Thus, the Taiwan purchase becomes one-fifth of Iowa’s annual production, and one twenty-fifth of the national production. However, their purchase covers a three-year period.

I’ve been asked by some constituents how Taiwan will use the grain. All will be for animal feed, utilized by the island’s farmers for chickens, ducks, geese and pork. Poultry is an important staple of the Taiwanese diet, especially ducks and geese, which are raised by the millions.

IOWA FARMERS FEED the world, and a good portion of our statewide economic enhancement and job development initiative should focus on the fact that collectively, our rural residents are doing what they do best — producing food. Food grains, feed grains and grain for energy production of ethanol and biodiesel are in great demand. Frankly, we can sell all we produce. Yet, unlike crude oil, with wide daily fluctuations based on supply and demand, the price of basic food and feed resources is cheap and fairly stable! It’s rather amazing when you realize that a bushel of corn, weighing 56 pounds, is today worth less than a gallon of gasoline! Sixty years ago, during the mid to late ’40s, corn was $3 a bushel, while at the same time, gasoline was generally less than 20 cents a gallon. Farmers are not getting rich from their grain production. It’s a risky business, requiring tremendous inputs, never-ending prayers for rain during the growing season, hope for a bountiful harvest and additional hope for a profit. Their margin is very slim.

I’m anticipating another trade mission from Taiwan soon, with their interest being Iowa’s specialty soybean production for soy milk, flour, tofu and oil. Once the goodies are extracted from the bean, the residual is great animal feed. Huge purchases of our soybeans are processed into oil, now utilized throughout the entire island population and across Asia in cooking. Soy is nature’s perfect bean, truly a magical bean, and soy foods have taken the country by storm. Again, Iowa farmers are doing what they do best — growing food. And since we lead the nation in both corn and soybean production, we enhance our statewide economy by expanding the uses of these grains and ensuring that foreign markets like Taiwan are in demand of our bounty.

Questions of comments? Senator Dennis Black at Box 1271, Newton 50208; or


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