A survey of bankers in the Federal Reserve Bank's Kansas City district shows farm credit conditions weakened in some parts of the West and Midwest in the third quarter. Bankers reported more producers and ranchers are falling behind on loan payments and are asking for extensions. To no one's surprise, the bankers blamed higher energy costs.
Those higher costs are a universal concern. Urban and rural consumers alike understand the pain of paying more to heat the house or fill the car with gas.
But other aspects of life on the farm must be baffling to the uninitiated, even for some who live in the country. That's why some teachers from a rural Iowa school district have launched a program to reconnect their students to the land.
Laurel Bower Burgmaier explains.
Located in rural central Iowa, West Marshall Middle School is surrounded by farm country. So, when the students there take a field trip, a logical destination would be a big city like Des Moines, the state's capitol. It might come as a surprise, then, that West Marshall's teachers choose to take their rural pupils to the farm instead.
Barbara Pickard, West Marshall M.S.: "They had no idea what was going on, on a farm and if they got behind a farm vehicle, they were upset. They live in a very rural area. I can't imagine what it would be like if we tried to take this to Des Moines. They would have no idea what so ever and yet these kids drive by it day in day out and don't know any more about it then probably the people in Des Moines."
For three years, middle school teacher Barbara Pickard and a colleague, Patti Edler, have organized an event called Ag Day. They were discovering very few of their students actually live on a working farm, and were becoming concerned that many didn't know anything about agriculture -the most important industry in the state.
Mike Fitz, Row Crop Farmer: "I think it's a wonderful deal. I think there's a lot of misinformation given about farms. It's either grant wood type stuff or public relations stuff on factory farms. I think people need to understand farming is probably somewhere in the middle of those things."
Fifteen farmers participated in this year's Ag Day. The students were split up by grade and each bus traveled to four farms, spending a half hour at each. At every stop, students were given the chance to interact with the farmers.
Gene Wiemers, Row Crop Farmer: "Some have asked what piece of equipment costs. They have no idea what it is. Maybe they've seen it driving down the road, but they have no idea what it is. And so I'm happy to explain it to them and try to give them a little insight to it. It might be the only chance for some of these kids to get inside a piece of equipment and look into it, rather than just seeing it from the ground."
A varied group of farmers were chosen. Pickard wanted her students to be aware of how agriculture has changed over the years, as well as the numerous types of farming that exist.
Celene Sliska, West Marshall M.S.: "I like to learn about different things. Some of it I already know because my uncle farms. I just love it, being around the animals. I'm kind of a country kid."
Pickard points out that many people outside the school helped support Ag Day. The Marshall County Cattlemen grilled burgers for the students, making a tasty finale to the event-filled day. And, the Marshall County Farm Bureau sponsored the event, donating $500 worth of fuel for the buses.
Mary Baitinger, Marshall County Farm Bureau: "It's a chance to get, in their case, kids to a farm. They don't get a chance to do that even in more rural districts like West Marshall. The kid maybe live by farms or they live on a farm, and only raise hogs and no grain, or only grain and no livestock. It's a good way to get them out and to get a positive image of farmers and what we do and how we do it."
Baitinger is pleased to see educators like Pickard helping young people understand agriculture, especially when they live in the midst of it.
Mary Baitinger, Marshall County Farm Bureau: "Just the attitude is a lot of it. To give the image of we're not all wearing coveralls and not all cows are black and white, and not all tractors are green (laughs). Just those stereotypes. They have no idea of costs of things and how it involves safety, science, technology and math. So we try and stress that."
So, what do the students think about Ag Day?
David Batt, West Marshall M.S.: "Ag Day is pretty fun. You ought to go to West Marshall and check it out (laughs)."
Jacob Edler, West Marshall M.S.: "I just liked going around talking to the farmers. I thought it was a good time."
Whether they live on a farm or in town, the students at West Marshall Middle School are learning to understand the farmers in their community a little better.
Barbara Pickard, West Marshall M.S.: "All of this makes farming a little more accessible to other people. And, I think that's what we are here about."
For Market to Market, I'm Laurel Bower Burgmaier.