Iowa Public Television

 

Fred Kirschenmann on Agriculture Issues and Rural Issues

posted on June 2, 2004

FROM THE STUDIOS OF IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION, THIS IS "IMAGINE IOWA: A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID YEPSEN." THIS EVENING'S GUEST IS FRED KIRSCHENMANN, DIRECTOR OF THE LEOPOLD CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AT IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY. HERE IS "DES MOINES REGISTER" POLITICAL COLUMNIST DAVID YEPSEN.

Yepsen: HELLO, I'M DAVID YEPSEN, AND THIS IS THE THIRD IN OUR SERIES OF PROGRAMS TO IMAGINE IOWA. TONIGHT WE'LL LOOK AT AGRICULTURE ISSUES AND RURAL ISSUES. CERTAINLY THERE'S NO OTHER SECTOR THAT SO DEFINES THE STATE. AGRICULTURE IS AN IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTOR TO THE STATE'S ECONOMY, AND MOST OF US EITHER LIVE ON A FARM OR A SMALL TOWN OR ARE NO MORE THAN A GENERATION AWAY FROM THOSE PLACES. YET AGRICULTURE IN RURAL IOWA HAVE UNDERGONE GREAT CHANGES, MANY OF WHICH HAVE SHAKEN BOTH THE STATE'S ECONOMY AND ITS PSYCHE, BUT THE CONVERGENCE OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES, ECONOMIC DEMANDS, AND POPULATION TRENDS, AND CULTURAL VALUES MAY NOT ALWAYS BE A PROBLEM. IN SOME INSTANCES, RURAL RESIDENTS ARE LEARNING TO ADAPT AND PROSPER. A CASE IN POINT, AS MORGAN HALGREN EXPLAINS, IS THE NORTHWEST IOWA COMMUNITY OF SIOUX CENTER.

Halgren: THIS ENDANGERED SPECIES, A BANTENG, NATIVE TO SOUTHEAST ASIA, WAS THE PRODUCT OF CLONING. THE GENETIC TECHNOLOGY ALSO HAS PRODUCED COWS WHOSE MILK CONTAINS A HUMAN PROTEIN FOR POSSIBLE USE IN MEDICAL TREATMENTS. LIVESTOCK BYPRODUCTS SUCH AS BOVINE TRACHEA AND PIG PANCREAS ARE PROCESSED FOR HEALTH SUPPLEMENTS, AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED GRAIN CONTAINING PROTEINS FOUND IN BREAST MILK HAS A POSSIBLE USE IN INFANT FORMULA. THESE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE AGRICULTURAL-BASED BIOTECHNOLOGY ACTIVITIES OCCURRING AT SEVERAL PRIVATE COMPANIES THAT HAVE SPROUTED UP OVER THE LAST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS IN THE NORTHWEST IOWA COMMUNITY OF SIOUX CENTER. LOCATING IN THIS RURAL COMMUNITY OF 6,500, 40 MILES FROM THE NEAREST METROPOLITAN AREA, WAS A CONSCIOUS DECISION OF EACH COMPANY. THE REASON, THEY SAY, IS BECAUSE THE COMMUNITY HAS A STRONG CONNECTION TO AGRICULTURE AND A LARGE, THRIVING LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY.

Schuiteman: THERE'S STILL AN ATTITUDE THAT LIVESTOCK IS WELCOMED HERE.

Halgren: DR. JAN SCHUITEMAN STARTED OUT AS A VETERINARIAN IN NORTHWEST IOWA. IN 1980 HE AND HIS PARTNERS FOUNDED TRANS OVA GENETICS, AN EMBRYO TRANSFER BUSINESS TO REPLICATE MULTIPLE CALVES FROM VALUABLE BEEF AND DAIRY COWS. THE BUSINESS HAS GROWN TO INCLUDE THE CLONING OF CATTLE FOR CERTAIN PROTEINS THAT CAN BE USED BY THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY. THERE IS ALSO AN OCCASIONAL CLONING JOB FOR A ZOO. ALLAN KRAMER HAS CRAFTED ONE PORTION OF HIS MULTIFACETED BUSINESS FROM ANOTHER INDUSTRY'S BYPRODUCTS. AT 50 TO 85 CENTS A POUND FOR TRACHEA, HE HAS TRUCKLOADS OF THE FROZEN TISSUE ON THE DOCK. HE USES ENZYMES TO DIGEST THE TRACHEA INTO A LIQUID, EXTRACTS THE SUGAR, PROCESSES, AND DRIES IT.

Kramer: IN THE MIDWEST WE ARE BLESSED WITH HAVING A LARGE AMOUNT OF THE TRACHEA. EVERY DAY WE GO THROUGH 40,000 POUNDS OF TRACHEA, WHICH IS ONE-THIRD OF THE U.S. SLAUGHTER CAPACITY OF BOVINE TRACHEA EVERY DAY.

Halgren: THE END PRODUCT IS CHONDROITIN SULFATE, A SUBSTANCE USED IN A HUMAN HEALTH SUPPLEMENT TO TREAT JOINT PAIN. DALE DEN HERDER IS THE CEO AND PRESIDENT OF AMERICAN STATE BANK.

Den Herder: YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU HAVE A COMPANY THAT PRODUCES SOMETHING IN LITTLE BOTTLES, YOU KNOW, COUNTRY BANKERS AREN'T USED TO THAT. WE'RE USED TO CATTLE AND HOGS AND COLLATERAL. HOW DO YOU COLLATERALIZE A BUNCH OF BOTTLES OF STUFF?

Halgren: WHATEVER THE INITIAL RISK, IT HAS PAID OFF MANY TIMES OVER. THAT FIRST COMPANY, NOBL LABORATORIES, WAS SOLD IN 1997 TO AN INTERNATIONAL PHARMACEUTICAL GIANT, WHICH HAS KEPT PART OF THE OPERATION IN SIOUX CENTER... ONE WHO PROFITED FROM THE SALE OF NOBL LABS WENT ON TO ESTABLISH TWO OTHER BIOTECH COMPANIES IN TOWN, BRINGING THE TOTAL TO FOUR FIRMS THAT EMPLOY 200 PEOPLE. AND THE FORMER MAYER AND CITY COUNCIL WANT MORE OF THE SAME. THEY UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED THE CITY'S PURCHASE OF 105 ACRES OF FARMLAND JUST NORTH OF TOWN FOR EXISTING BIOTECH COMPANIES TO EXPAND OR TO ENTICE NEW BIOTECH FIRMS TO THE COMMUNITY.

Schuiteman: THE BIOTECHNOLOGY CLUSTER IS A REAL FUTURE OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK AT REALLY VALUE-ADDED AGRICULTURE IN A DIFFERENT WAY.

Yepsen: THE REGION ENJOYS NOT ONLY THE BENEFITS OF BIOTECH AND CONVENTIONAL AGRICULTURE, IT'S ALSO WHERE NEIMAN RANCH PORK IS PROCESSED. THE NATIONALLY LAUDED COMPANY CONTRACTS WITH HUNDREDS OF FARMERS ACROSS THE MIDWEST TO PRODUCE HOGS USING SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLY PRACTICES. WELL, HERE TO TALK WITH US ABOUT IT IS FRED KIRSCHENMANN. FORMERLY OF NORTH DAKOTA, DR. KIRSCHENMANN WAS ONE OF THE EARLY FORCES IN THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT, BOTH AS A FARMER AND DEVELOPER OF ORGANIC STANDARDS. TODAY HE'S DIRECTOR OF THE IOWA STATE-BASED LEOPOLD CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. DR. KIRSCHENMANN, WELCOME TO OUR CONVERSATION.

Kirschenmann: IT'S MY PLEASURE.

Yepsen: THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US. WHAT DO WE DO TO MAKE A BETTER FUTURE FOR IOWA?

Kirschenmann: IN AGRICULTURE?

Yepsen: SURE.

Kirschenmann: WELL, YOU KNOW, IOWA OBVIOUSLY HAS ENORMOUS ASSETS IN AGRICULTURE, AS WE ALL KNOW. IT'S ONE OF THE RICHEST AGRICULTURAL STATES IN THE UNION, SO IT HAS ENORMOUS POSSIBILITIES. I THINK THAT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT'S HAPPENED IN AGRICULTURE IS THAT WE HAVE BEEN ABLE, OVER THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS OR SO, TO MAKE AGRICULTURE VERY PRODUCTIVE BY SPECIALIZING. AND SO, AS YOU KNOW, IN IOWA NOW, WE'RE BASICALLY DOWN TO THREE COMMODITIES: CORN, SOYBEANS, AND HOGS. AND THAT'S WORKED VERY WELL IN THE PAST -- IN THE PAST HUNDRED YEARS. AND ONE OF THE REASONS THAT IT WORKED VERY WELL IS THAT WE'VE HAD TWO RESOURCES THAT WERE READILY AVAILABLE TO US, AND ONE WAS, OF COURSE, THE NATURAL RESOURCES, INCLUDING FOSSIL FUELS AND VIRGIN SOILS AND PLENTY OF WATER. AND THE OTHER RESOURCES WAS NATURAL SINKS WITHIN NATURE TO ABSORB THE WASTE OF THOSE SPECIALIZED SYSTEMS. WE'RE NOW REACHING A POINT AT WHICH BOTH OF THOSE RESOURCES ARE BEGINNING TO BE IN SHORT SUPPLY. WE -- THE FOSSIL FUEL, OF COURSE, WE'RE NOW AT A POINT WHERE THE EFFICIENCY OF EXTRACTING FOSSIL FUELS FROM NATURE IS DECREASING BECAUSE IT'S -- WE'RE NOW, AS OIL ANALYSTS LIKE TO TELL US, PUMPING OUT OF THE SECOND HALF OF THE BARREL, SO IT TAKES MORE ENERGY TO EXTRACT THE ENERGY. SO OUR COSTS ARE GOING TO GO UP. AND OUR SPECIALIZED AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS ARE ENORMOUSLY FOSSIL-FUEL DEPENDENT. ALMOST EVERY PLACE YOU TOUCH IT -- FERTILIZERS, PESTICIDES, FARM EQUIPMENT, TRACTION FUEL -- IT ALL IS BASED ON FOSSIL FUELS. SO WE'RE GOING TO -- WE'RE GOING TO RUN INTO SOME DIFFICULTIES THERE IN TERMS OF MAINTAINING THE COST. AND THEN WE ALSO -- OUR SINKS ARE ALSO FULL. WE ARE NOW PRODUCING MORE NITROGEN THROUGH HUMAN ACTIVITY THAN ALL OF NATURE'S NITROGEN PRODUCTION COMBINED. SO AS A RESULT, THAT'S NOW STARTING TO SHOW UP. WE HAVE IN THE GULF OF MEXICO NOW ONE OF THE LARGEST HYPOXIC ZONES ON THE PLANET, REACHING A MAXIMUM OF 8,200 SQUARE MILES. AND OF COURSE, THE SHRIMPERS IN LOUISIANA ARE NOT VERY HAPPY ABOUT THAT. SO WE NEED TO START NEGOTIATING HOW WE DEAL WITH THOSE ISSUES. SO THOSE ARE SOME OF THE ISSUES THAT ARE GOING TO DRIVE THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE IN IOWA.

Yepsen: I'VE ASKED YOU ABOUT AGRICULTURE. THINK MORE BROADLY ABOUT RURAL IOWA IN GENERAL.

Kirschenmann: RIGHT, RIGHT.

Yepsen: WHAT'S YOUR VISION FOR WHAT RURAL IOWA COULD BECOME?

Kirschenmann: WELL, AND THIS IS LINKED TO OUR SPECIALIZATION, BECAUSE THROUGH THE SPECIALIZATION, YOU KNOW, OUR FARMERS HAVE ESSENTIALLY COME AND OUR RURAL COMMUNITIES HAVE ESSENTIALLY BECOME SUPPLIERS OF RAW MATERIALS. AND AS YOU KNOW, RAW MATERIALS DON'T ACCUMULATE MUCH WEALTH. IN OUR ECONOMY, WE WANT OUR RAW MATERIALS AS CHEAPLY AS POSSIBLE, SO WE EXPORT THE VALUE OF OUR RAW MATERIALS OUT OF IOWA, FOR THE MOST PART. AND THEN BECAUSE WE PUT SO MUCH OF OUR ENERGY INTO EXPORTING OUR RAW MATERIALS, WE IMPORT ALL OF THE VALUE-ADDED PRODUCTS, WHICH WE OURSELVES CONSUME. IT'S ALWAYS BEEN SORT OF AMUSING IN AN IRONIC SORT OF WAY THAT IN IOWA, WHICH IS THE RICHEST AGRICULTURE NATION IN THE -- THE RICHEST AGRICULTURAL STATE IN THE NATION AND WE IMPORT OVER 80 PERCENT OF THE FOOD THAT WE CONSUME, BUT IT'S PART OF THAT SYSTEM. ONE OF THE THINGS I THINK THAT WE CAN START TO IMAGINE IN THE FUTURE IS, GIVEN, YOU KNOW, THESE CHANGES WHICH ARE COMING AT US, WHAT WOULD BE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE AGRICULTURE? NOW, CERTAINLY WE'RE ALWAYS GOING TO PRODUCE MORE THAN WE'RE GOING TO CONSUME. BUT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT'S HAPPENING IN THE FOOD MARKET IS THAT, INCREASINGLY, PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW WHERE THEIR FOOD COMES FROM. THEY WANT TO HAVE SOME CONNECTION. IT'S ONE OF THE REASONS THAT FARMERS MARKETS AND CSAs AND THESE OTHER DIRECT MARKETING SCHEMES THAT FARMERS AND OTHERS HAVE DEVELOPED HAVE BECOME SO POPULAR. THEY'RE STILL A TINY, TINY PART OF THE FOOD SYSTEM OBVIOUSLY. BUT THE GROWTH HAS BEEN VERY RAPID, AND PART OF IT IS BECAUSE OF THAT ROMANCE, THAT WANTING TO KNOW WHERE THE FOOD COMES FROM, PREFERABLY SHAKE THE HANDS OF THE FARMER THAT GREW IT. SO HOW CAN WE BEGIN TO THINK ABOUT THOSE DYNAMICS OF AGRICULTURE, AND USE THAT AS PART -- NOT FOR ALL BUT FOR A PART OF THE AGRICULTURAL SYSTEM IN IOWA IN THE FUTURE?

Yepsen: WELL, ANSWER SOME OF THE QUESTIONS THAT YOU'VE JUST RAISED. I MEAN HOW CAN WE DEVELOP THAT?

Kirschenmann: WELL, INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, THERE'S AN ENORMOUS OPPORTUNITY RIGHT NOW -- WHAT'S HAPPENED AS A RESULT OF THE DIRECTION THAT WE'VE GONE IS THAT OUR WHOLE FOOD SYSTEM HAS BECOME KIND OF BIPOLARIZED, SO WE HAVE DIRECT MARKETS IN ONE END AND THEN WE HAVE THE HIGHLY CONSOLIDATED COMMODITY MARKETS AT THE OTHER END. AND THOSE COMMODITY MARKETS INCREASINGLY ARE BECOMING LARGER. FARMERS HAVE TO GET BIGGER IN ORDER TO HAVE ANY KIND OF ECONOMIC POWER IN THE MARKETPLACE. WHAT'S HAPPENING IS THAT THERE ISN'T ANYTHING IN THE MIDDLE. AND THE MIDDLE IS WHAT HAS TRADITIONALLY BEEN THE HEART OF IOWA AGRICULTURE. IT'S BEEN THE INDEPENDENT FAMILY FARM, YOU KNOW, 2-, 300 ACRES. AND THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT WE'RE EVER GOING TO GO BACK TO THAT, BUT WHAT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW IS THAT THERE IS A HUGE DEMAND FOR DIFFERENTIATED FOOD PRODUCTS IN THE MARKETPLACE, AND ESPECIALLY IN THE FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY. THE PRESIDENT OF THE SYSCO CORPORATION WHO, INCIDENTALLY, IS AN IOWAN -- HIS NAME IS RICK SCHNIEDERS -- IS TELLING ME THAT JUST IN FLOUR NOW IN THE FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY, THERE'S A DEMAND FOR OVER A HUNDRED VARIETIES OF FLOUR. WELL, THE COMMODITY SYSTEM CAN'T VERY WELL DELIVER THAT BECAUSE THAT'S ALL GEARED TO MASS PRODUCTION OF A UNIFORM COMMODITY IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO ACHIEVE THOSE MARGINS OF PROFIT. AND SO HE'S CONCERNED ABOUT WHERE ARE THE FARMERS GOING TO BE THAT ARE GOING TO BE ABLE TO SPECIALIZE SUFFICIENTLY TO DEVELOP THESE UNIQUE PRODUCTS THAT HE NEEDS. AND THIS IS A HUGE MARKET. SO ONE OF THE THINGS WE'RE WORKING AT IS CAN WE BEGIN TO CREATE NETWORKS OF FARMERS LIKE THE NEIMAN RANCH EXAMPLE THAT YOU MENTIONED EARLIER, THAT PRODUCES A UNIQUE PRODUCT FOR A SPECIAL MARKET WITHIN THE MARKETPLACE. I THINK THAT'S GOING TO BE PART OF THE FUTURE OF AGRICULTURE FOR IOWA.

Yepsen: TALK WITH US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. JUST WHAT IS THAT?

Kirschenmann: WELL, OF COURSE, THERE HAVE BEEN ALL KINDS OF DEFINITIONS AROUND. MY DEFINITION IS PRETTY SIMPLE AND THAT'S TO MAINTAIN PRODUCTIVITY. IF YOU MAINTAIN PRODUCTIVITY, THEN YOU'RE ATTAINABLE. NOW, MAINTAINING PRODUCTIVITY, OF COURSE, INVOLVES A NUMBER OF THINGS. AND THE THREE, SORT OF, LEGS OF THE MILK STOOL WHICH PEOPLE HAVE USED AS AN ANALOGY FOR SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE IS THAT IT HAS TO BE ECONOMICALLY VIABLE, IT HAS TO BE ECOLOGICALLY SOUND, AND IT HAS TO BE SOCIALLY RESILIENT. AND I THINK THOSE ARE GOOD COMPONENTS BECAUSE IF YOU'RE GOING TO MAINTAIN PRODUCTIVITY, YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE NATURAL -- YOU HAVE TO MAINTAIN THE NATURAL RESOURCES THAT CREATE THAT PRODUCTIVITY. IF YOU LOSE YOUR SOIL, YOU CAN'T DO IT. YOU ALSO HAVE TO HAVE HEALTHY COMMUNITIES BECAUSE IF OUR COMMUNITIES DETERIORATE, THEN PRETTY SOON THE PUBLIC SERVICES THAT FARMERS DEPEND ON FOR, LIKE, PUBLIC ROADS TO HAUL THEIR PRODUCTS TO MARKET BEGIN TO DETERIORATE, THEN IT EATS INTO THE ECONOMIC VIABILITY. SO WE REALLY NEED TO LOOK AT ALL THREE.

Yepsen: IS SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE ORGANIC AGRICULTURE?

Kirschenmann: NO. THERE IS SOME ORGANIC AGRICULTURE THAT'S MOVING TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY. SOME I WOULD ARGUE IS NOT BECAUSE NOT ALL ORGANIC AGRICULTURE PAYS CLOSE ATTENTION TO THOSE THREE COMPONENTS. SOME DOES AND THERE'S SOME AGRICULTURE THAT'S NOT ORGANIC THAT ALSO PAYS ATTENTION TO THOSE THREE COMPONENTS.

Yepsen: WHY IS SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE THE WAY TO GO. WHY IS THAT GOING TO BE GOOD FOR IOWA'S FUTURE?

Kirschenmann: WELL, THE SIMPLE ANSWER TO THAT IS DO YOU WANT TO BE UNSUSTAINABLE. I MEAN NOBODY WANTS TO BE UNSUSTAINABLE. THE REAL QUESTION IS WHAT IS -- WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY. AND A NUMBER OF PEOPLE ARGUE, WITH GOOD REASON, THAT THE FACT THAT WE HAVE MAINTAINED PRODUCTIVITY MEANS THAT WE ARE SUSTAINABLE. AND AGAIN, GIVEN THE RESOURCES THAT WE'VE HAD IN THE PAST, I THINK THAT'S TRUE. THE QUESTION IS CAN WE CONTINUE TO BE SUSTAINABLE, GIVEN THE CHANGES THAT ARE COMING AT US, GIVEN THE INCREASE OF COST OF FOSSIL FUELS, GIVEN THE FACT THAT OUR SINKS ARE FULL. AND ANOTHER ONE WE HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO IS CLIMATE CHANGE. YOU KNOW, THERE ARE A GROUP OF SCIENTISTS AT THE AGRONOMY DEPARTMENT AT IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY THAT DID A COMPUTER MODELING STUDY, WHICH WAS PUBLISHED HERE A FEW MONTHS AGO, AND SIMPLY ASKED THE QUESTION, HOW WILL CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECT AGRICULTURE IN IOWA, SAY, OVER THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS. AND THE RESULTS FROM THAT COMPUTER MODELING WERE VERY SOBERING. THEY INDICATED THAT WE WILL PROBABLY SEE A 21-PERCENT INCREASE IN PRECIPITATION IN IOWA, AND MOST OF THAT PRECIPITATION WILL COME IN THE FORMS OF MORE VIOLENT STORMS -- SO FASTER RAINS -- AND THAT THAT IN TURN MEANT PROBABLY A 51-PERCENT INCREASE IN SURFACE RUNOFF. NOW, THAT'S A DRAMATIC CHANGE, AND THIS WILL HAPPEN BY THE YEAR 2040, ACCORDING TO COMPUTER MODELS. SO WHAT KIND OF AGRICULTURE, YOU KNOW, CAN WE CREATE FOR THE FUTURE OF IOWA THAT TAKES THESE CHANGES, WHICH WILL COME IN THE NEXT TWENTY-FIVE TO THIRTY YEARS, INTO ACCOUNT?

Yepsen: WHAT ROLE DO YOU SEE FOR GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS? THEY SEEM TO BE ACCEPTABLE HERE IN THE UNITED STATES, BUT ABROAD ELSEWHERE, THERE'S A LOT OF CONTROVERSY ABOUT THEM. IS THAT THE WAY TO GO OR NOT?

Kirschenmann: WELL, MY OWN VIEW IS THAT WE ARE VERY EARLY IN THIS TECHNOLOGY. AND MANY GENETICISTS ARE NOW SAYING THAT THIS SINGLE GENE, SINGLE PROTEIN, YOU KNOW, INSERTING ONE GENE FOR A PARTICULAR EFFECT, IS NOT GOING TO GET US VERY FAR BECAUSE WHAT WE'RE DISCOVERING IS THAT AS WE LOOK AT THE WHOLE GENOME, IT'S A VERY COMPLEX SYSTEM THAT WE'RE DEALING WITH. AND WE THOUGHT, FOR EXAMPLE, IN THE HUMAN GENOME, WE WERE GOING TO FIND ABOUT 100,000 GENES. AND, GUESS WHAT, WE ONLY FOUND 30,000. AND, YET, THE SAME GENES -- ALMOST ALL THE SAME GENES THAT WE HAVE ARE THE GENES THAT WE HAVE FOR CHIMPANZEES, THE GENES THAT WE HAVE FOR MICE, AND YET THERE'S A LOT OF DIFFERENCE IN WHAT WE LOOK LIKE AND WHAT CHIMPANZEES AND MICE LOOK LIKE. AND THE REASON FOR THAT IS BECAUSE THERE ARE ALL THESE COMPLEX INTERACTIONS. SO HERE'S WHAT A NUMBER OF SCIENTISTS ARE NOW SAYING, THAT AS WE LOOK AT THE WHOLE GENOME AND UNDERSTAND ALL OF THOSE COMPLEX INTERACTIONS WITHIN THE GENOME, THAT WILL BE THE PRIMARY RESOURCES THAT WILL HELP US TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO USE THOSE RESOURCES FOR THE FUTURE RATHER THAN SIMPLY LOOKING AT THE SINGLE GENE TECHNOLOGY. SO I THINK THERE IS, YOU KNOW, GENETIC RESEARCH WILL PLAY A KEY ROLE IN AGRICULTURE, BUT IT WILL PROBABLY LOOK A LOT DIFFERENT TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW THAN FROM WHAT WE'RE USING NOW.

Yepsen: LIVESTOCK... YEARS AGO OUR ANCESTORS FIGURED OUT THAT THE BEST WAY TO ADD VALUE TO ALL THOSE CORN AND SOYBEANS WAS TO RUN IT THROUGH CRITTERS --

Kirschenmann: YEAH, SURE.

Yepsen: -- HOGS, CATTLE. YET TODAY THERE'S A LOT OF CONTROVERSY ABOUT LIVESTOCK CONFINEMENTS, RUNOFF, ODOR. WHAT'S THE FUTURE OF THE LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY?

Kirschenmann: WELL, I THINK THE FUTURE FOR LIVESTOCK IS VERY BRIGHT. BUT IT'S PROBABLY, AGAIN, GOING TO LOOK DIFFERENT AS WE MOVE INTO THE FUTURE THAN IT DOES NOW. AGAIN, THE CONCENTRATION OF LIVESTOCK IS SIMILAR TO THE CONCENTRATION AND SPECIALIZATION IN OUR CROPPING SYSTEM, AND SO WE GAINED SOME THINGS THROUGH THAT. WE OBVIOUSLY GAINED SOME EFFICIENCIES, BUT WE ALSO LOST SOME THINGS. YOU KNOW, WE LOST, FOR EXAMPLE, SOME OF THE BENEFIT FROM MULTISPECIES SYSTEMS. YOU KNOW, ONE OF MY FAVORITE EXAMPLES OF WHAT I WOULD CALL POST-MODERN AGRICULTURE IS A FARMER IN JAPAN WHO WAS AN INDUSTRIAL SPECIAL RICE PRODUCER, LIKE MOST MODERN FARMERS ARE. AND BACK IN 1987, AS MANY FARMERS HERE, YOU KNOW, HE STOOD BACK ONE DAY AND SAID, "YOU KNOW, EVERYTHING THAT I EARN EVERY YEAR, I'VE GOT TO PUT BACK INTO NEXT YEAR'S CROP. I DON'T GET TO KEEP ANYTHING. SOMETHING IS WRONG HERE." SO HE STARTED TO LOOK AT THE WISDOM OF THE PAST AND THEN MARRIED THAT WITH THE BEST SCIENCE THAT WE HAVE TODAY. AND NOW HE'S PUT TOGETHER A VERY COMPLEX MULTISPECIES SYSTEM IN HIS RICE AND FISH AND DUCKS AND EVEN USES WHAT FARMERS CALL A WEED WITHIN HIS SYSTEM, WHICH IS AN AZOLLA PLANT, THAT PRODUCES NITROGEN. SO NOW IN HIS SYSTEM, HE'S NOT JUST PRODUCING RICE, HE'S PRODUCING DUCK MEAT AND FISH MEAT AND DUCK EGGS AND RICE AND FRUIT, WHICH HE GROWS ON THE PERIPHERY OF THE RICE PADDIES, ALL WITHOUT ANY PURCHASED INPUTS BECAUSE ALL OF THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE SPECIES WITHIN THE SYSTEM PROVIDES HIM WITH ALL OF THE INPUTS THAT HE NEEDS. SO NOW HE'S GETTING TO KEEP A LOT OF THE MONEY THAT HE MAKES, PLUS HE'S PRODUCING A LOT OF PRODUCTS OFF OF THOSE -- OFF THAT SAME ACREAGE AND WHERE HE PREVIOUSLY WAS JUST PRODUCING RICE, PLUS HIS RICE YIELDS HAVE NOW INCREASED.

Yepsen: SO HE'S DIVERSE AND HE'S SUSTAINABLE.

Kirschenmann: THAT'S RIGHT, YEAH. AND SO THE QUESTION IS WHAT'S THE ANALOG FOR IOWA. THAT'S WHAT WE NEED TO DO SOME RESEARCH ON. AND I THINK THAT IS CLEARLY GOING TO INCLUDE ANIMALS, BUT IT WILL PROBABLY INCLUDE MORE DIVERSE SPECIES OF ANIMALS THAT WILL BE MORE DISPERSED THROUGHOUT THE SYSTEM BECAUSE WE'RE GOING TO SEE THE CONTRIBUTION THAT THEY MAKE TO OUR CROPPING SYSTEM AS WELL AS -- AS WELL AS THE LIVESTOCK SYSTEM.

Yepsen: WHAT ABOUT LIVESTOCK ODOR AND RUNOFF? IS THERE SOMETHING MORE MAYBE IN THE MORE IMMEDIATE TERM THAT WE CAN DO TO MINIMIZE THESE ODORS? I MEAN AS A SOCIAL ISSUE, HOG ODORS ARE JUST RIPPING THIS STATE APART. IS THERE SOMETHING MORE EITHER AT IOWA STATE OR AT THE PRIVATE SECTOR THAT CAN BE DONE TO MINIMIZE THE SMELL OF THESE THINGS?

Kirschenmann: YEAH, SURE. I THINK THAT, AGAIN, THERE WILL BE SOME TECHNOLOGICAL SHORT-TERM SOLUTIONS TO THAT. BUT AGAIN, IF WE THINK ABOUT THIS FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF NATURE, YOU KNOW, THERE'S A SORT OF AN ECOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE. WHEN SOMETHING SMELLS BAD IN NATURE, SOMETHING IS WRONG. SO THE QUESTION, THEN, IS WHAT'S WRONG. AND AGAIN, I THINK THAT, AGAIN, THIS IS NO REFLECTION ON THE INDUSTRY. I THINK WHAT THE INDUSTRY HAS DONE IS RESPONDED TO THE ECONOMIC SYSTEMS AND THE POLICY SYSTEMS THAT WE'VE CREATED, BUT WE NOW HAVE THESE VERY -- THESE HUGE CONCENTRATIONS OF ANIMALS IN A VERY SMALL SPACE. AND SO THE QUESTION THEN BECOMES IS THAT SUSTAINABLE INTO THE LONG-TERM FUTURE. I WOULD ARGUE, AGAIN, GIVEN THE CHANGES THAT ARE COMING AT US, IT'S PROBABLY NOT SUSTAINABLE IN THE LONG-TERM. SO THE QUESTION THEN IS HOW DO WE BEGIN TO IMAGINE A DIFFERENT FUTURE THAT'S ECONOMICALLY EFFICIENT, THAT IS ECOLOGICALLY SOUND, AND THAT IS SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE. AND THIS SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE IS PART OF, YOU KNOW, HAVING FARMING SYSTEMS THAT PEOPLE LIVING IN RURAL COMMUNITIES CAN SUPPORT. AND I -- I'M CONVINCED THAT WE CAN FIND THOSE SOLUTIONS, BUT IT'S PROBABLY GOING TO BE A SOMEWHAT MORE DISPERSED KIND OF ANIMAL SYSTEM RATHER THAN A HIGHLY CONCENTRATED ONE.

Yepsen: GO BACK TO YOUR EXAMPLE OF THE CEO AT SYSCO WHO TOLD YOU THE DEMAND FOR DIFFERENT KINDS OF FLOURS IS OUT THERE. I TALK TO A LOT OF FARMERS WHO -- THEY'RE NOT CONVINCED THIS IS THE WAY TO GO. THEY'RE USED TO MASS PRODUCTION. AND ONE GUY ONCE TOLD ME, YOU KNOW, THE NICHE AGRICULTURE IS FINE BUT WE ALL CAN'T SELL GARLIC TO EACH OTHER.

Kirschenmann: THAT'S RIGHT.

Yepsen: NOW, WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE PRODUCERS?

Kirschenmann: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT ALL OF AGRICULTURE GOING TO THESE NICHE MARKETS. WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT IS FILLING A MARKET DEMAND THAT'S CURRENTLY THERE. BUT IF YOU LOOK AT THE DEMOGRAPHICS, THEY GET INTERESTING. YOU KNOW, ABOUT 10 PERCENT, A LITTLE LESS THAN 10 PERCENT OF OUR FARMERS TODAY PRODUCE OVER 60 PERCENT OF THE COMMODITIES. AND THEY CAN -- AND WE'LL PROBABLY HAVE LESS FARMERS PRODUCING MORE OF THOSE COMMODITIES. THE POINT IS THAT THAT MARKET IS SATURATED. THE REASON THAT FARMERS CAN'T CAPTURE THEIR COST OF PRODUCTION IS BECAUSE WE'RE OVERSUPPLYING ALL OF THESE COMMODITIES. SO HERE WE HAVE 90 PERCENT OF THE FARMERS WHO ARE IN THIS MIDDLE AREA BETWEEN THE DIRECT MARKETS AND THE COMMODITY MARKETS WHO ARE EITHER GOING TO BE DRIVEN OUT OF BUSINESS OR WE FIND ANOTHER MARKET FOR THEM. BUT THE MARKET IS ALREADY THERE, SO WHY NOT HAVE SOME OF THOSE FARMERS BEGIN TO TRANSITION TO PRODUCING THESE DIFFERENTIATED COMMODITIES RATHER THAN -- THESE DIFFERENTIATED PRODUCTS RATHER THAN COMMODITIES. AND I'M NOT SAYING THAT, YOU KNOW, FARMERS WHO ARE, YOU KNOW, IN THEIR FIFTIES AND SIXTIES OUGHT TO THINK ABOUT DOING THIS. YOU KNOW, NONE OF US WANT TO MAKE THOSE KIND OF CHANGES IN OUR LIVES. BUT WE'VE GOT AT ANY TIME PROBABLY 200 YOUNG STUDENTS AT IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY WHO ARE GRADUATING WHO WANT TO FARM, AND THEY LOOK AT THE COMMODITY SYSTEM AND THE KIND OF ACREAGE WHICH THEY HAVE TO HAVE NOW, THE KIND OF CAPITAL EXPENDITURE, AND NO RETURN ON INVESTMENT, I MEAN THEY'RE NOT GOING TO DO THIS. WHY NOT BEGIN TO PROVIDE THOSE OPPORTUNITIES FOR BEGINNING FARMERS? AND THEN FOR THOSE FARMERS IN THEIR THIRTIES AND FORTIES WHO DON'T SEE A FUTURE IN THE COMMODITY AGRICULTURE, THEY COULD TRANSITION TO PRODUCING THESE UNIQUE PRODUCTS.

Yepsen: WE'VE GOT JUST A COUPLE MINUTES LEFT. TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE NONFARM SECTOR OF RURAL IOWA, SMALL COMMUNITIES. WHAT DO YOU THINK SMALL TOWNS HAVE TO DO TO SURVIVE.

Kirschenmann: WELL, I THINK THAT, YOU KNOW, WE HAVE TO LOOK AT LOCAL ECONOMIES. AND THEY'VE GOT TO BE ECONOMIES THAT CAPTURE AND RETAIN WEALTH WITHIN THE COMMUNITIES. AND HERE AGAIN, I THINK THERE'S AN ENORMOUS OPPORTUNITY. THESE UNIQUE PRODUCTS, THESE NICHE PRODUCTS THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT, THEY'RE GOING TO REQUIRE SMALLER, MICROENTERPRISES FOR PROCESSING THOSE PRODUCTS. WHAT BETTER OPPORTUNITY FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FOR SOME OF OUR SMALL TOWNS THAN TO HAVE SOME OF THESE, BECAUSE THESE PRODUCTS -- THE IDENTITY OF THESE PRODUCTS ALL HAVE TO BE MAINTAINED THROUGH THE SYSTEM. AND THE LARGE PACKING PLANTS CAN'T AFFORD TO DO THAT. THEY CAN'T SHUT DOWN TO RUN A FEW ANIMALS OF A UNIQUE PRODUCT. SO NEIMAN RANCH, AGAIN, YOUR EXAMPLE, YOU KNOW, THEY'VE HAD TO FIND SMALLER PROCESSING, PACKING PLANTS IN RURAL COMMUNITIES IN IOWA AND OTHER PLACES. SO THERE'S AN OPPORTUNITY THERE, I THINK, FOR AT LEAST SOME COMMUNITIES TO CAPTURE SOME OF THAT VALUE.

Yepsen: BUT WE'VE TALKED ABOUT THAT VALUE ADDED IN THIS STATE FOR AS LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER. FOR SOME REASON IT DOESN'T SEEM TO BE HAPPENING. WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO TO MAKE MORE OF THIS HAPPEN?

Kirschenmann: WELL, I THINK, FIRST OF ALL, THERE'S A COUPLE OF THINGS ABOUT -- WE'VE TALKED ABOUT VALUE ADDED. WE HAVEN'T ASKED THE QUESTION VERY OFTEN WHERE DOES THE VALUE GET ADDED, AND THAT'S IMPORTANT. YOU KNOW, FARMERS HAVE TO BE ABLE TO CAPTURE PART OF THAT VALUE AND OUR RURAL COMMUNITIES HAVE TO CAPTURE PART OF THAT VALUE. AND HERE AGAIN IS WHERE THE MARKETS WHICH ARE EMERGING NOW IN WHICH PEOPLE WANT TO KNOW WHERE THEIR FOOD CAME FROM. SO THERE'S AN ADDED MARKET VALUE HERE TO KNOWING THAT IT CAME FROM A SMALL COMMUNITY IN IOWA OR THAT IS CAME FROM A PARTICULAR GROUP OF FARMERS IN IOWA.

Yepsen: WHAT DO YOU WANT INDIVIDUAL IOWANS TO DO? A PERSON WATCHING THIS PROGRAM WITH US TODAY MAYBE IS SITTING THERE SAYING, "I WANT TO MAKE IOWA A BETTER PLACE." WHAT SHOULD INDIVIDUALS DO?

Kirschenmann: WELL, THERE'S SEVERAL THINGS, I THINK. FIRST OF ALL IS TO RECOGNIZE THAT THE SYSTEM THAT WE CURRENTLY HAVE IS NOT THE SYSTEM FOR EVERYBODY AND THAT IT'S NOT INEVITABLE THAT EVERYBODY HAS TO DO THE SAME THING. SO SIMPLY RECOGNIZING THAT THERE ARE OPPORTUNITIES THAT THERE ARE -- AND PARTICULARLY BECAUSE THE MARKET IS THERE NOW. WE DON'T HAVE TO BUILD THIS MARKET. IT'S ALREADY THERE. SO HOW DO WE BEGIN THINKING DIFFERENTLY IN TERMS OF THESE NEW OPPORTUNITIES AND BEGIN TO ACCESS THOSE OPPORTUNITIES? SECONDLY, HOW DO WE INVEST IN THOSE NEW OPPORTUNITIES AND DO THAT IN A WAY THAT DOESN'T HAVE ENORMOUS RISK CONNECTED WITH IT? SO WE NEED TO DO OUR FEASIBILITY STUDIES AND BUSINESS PLANS, AND MAYBE THAT'S SOMETHING WE COULD DO WITH SOME PUBLIC FUNDING. SOME STATES HAVE ALREADY DONE THAT TO INVEST IN THE FUTURE. AND THEN ONCE THAT BECOMES CLEAR, THEN TO ENCOURAGE LOCAL INVESTMENT INSTEAD OF, YOU KNOW, STOCK MARKET OR WHATEVER ELSE -- NOT THAT PEOPLE SHOULDN'T INVEST IN THE STOCK MARKET, BUT MAYBE WE DON'T HAVE TO INVEST EVERYTHING IN THE STOCK MARKET AND WE CAN INVEST ON OUR LOCAL COMMUNITIES.

Yepsen: ABOUT THIRTY SECONDS. WHAT SHOULD A FARMER BE DOING?

Kirschenmann: WELL, FARMERS -- THE FARMERS WHO PLAY THE COMMODITY GAME ARE GOING TO HAVE TO FACE THE FACT THAT THAT'S GOING TO GET BIGGER AND MORE COMPETITIVE AND TIGHTER MARGINS. I WOULD URGE FARMERS WHO ARE -- YOU KNOW, WHO ARE LOOKING AT A LONGER TERM FUTURE, WHO ARE IN THEIR THIRTIES AND FORTIES, TO EXPLORE THESE ALTERNATIVE MARKETS BECAUSE THIS IS A MARKET THAT'S GOING TO GROW.

Yepsen: DR. KIRSCHENMANN, WE'RE OUT OF TIME. THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR BEING WITH US.

Kirschenmann: MY PLEASURE.

Yepsen: APPRECIATE IT. TONIGHT'S PROGRAM IS THE THIRD OF IPTV'S WEEK-LONG EXAMINATION OF WHAT LIFE COULD BE LIKE IN IOWA. THAT BROAD TOPIC WILL BE ON THE TABLE IN OUR FINAL PRESENTATION FRIDAY EVENING. TODD MUNDT IS HOST AND MODERATOR OF A SPECIAL LIVE BROADCAST FROM THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION STUDIOS. TODD WILL DISCUSS THE FUTURE WITH A PANEL OF NOTABLES, INCLUDING FORMER GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD AND MIKE GARTNER. THAT'S FRIDAY EVENING AT 6:30. NOW, TOMORROW EVENING WE'LL EXPLORE HOW HISTORICALLY RISK-AVERSE IOWA CAN CHANGE ITS CULTURE AND GROW A NEW GENERATION OF ENTREPRENEURS. JOINING US WILL BE PROMINENT VENTURE CAPITALIST JOHN PAPPAJOHN OF DES MOINES. JOHN PAPPAJOHN, OUR GUEST TOMORROW EVENING AT 6:30. I HOPE YOU'LL BE JOINING US AT THAT TIME. I'M DAVID YEPSEN OF "THE DES MOINES REGISTER." THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US HERE ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION.

CAPTIONS BY: MIDWEST CAPTIONING DES MOINES, IOWA


Tags: agriculture future Iowa rural