Iowa State University

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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, manager,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

Agriculture, veterinary medicine and natural resources news from Iowa State University


March 2005


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is facing significant cuts in its spending on farm support. Bruce Babcock, professor of economics and director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), has identified a specific cut in the crop insurance program that could actually improve how the program operates while saving money. Babcock has zeroed in on the "optional units" feature of crop insurance. Currently, farmers who grow a crop on more than one section of land can create a separate insurance unit--an optional unit--for the land in each section. Each optional unit stands alone when it comes time to calculate premiums and indemnities. An alternative to optional units is to insure a farmer's entire crop in a single insurance unit. The insurance guarantee on this single unit is exactly equal to the sum of the insurance guarantees on the optional units. However, the frequency of insurance payments would be lower on the single unit because production from all fields is pooled together when calculating whether there is a loss. This change could reduce the taxpayer costs of the program by as much as $330 million with no impact on the ability of the program to provide support to farmers when harvested yields or harvest time revenue falls short of the insurance guarantee. For more information, see the briefing paper, "ARPA Subsidies, Unit Choice, and Reform of the U.S. Crop Insurance Program," online at Contact Babcock, (515) 294-6785; or Sandy Clarke, CARD communications, (515) 294-6257.


There currently are more than 300 careers in the agricultural sciences available for students with a high school diploma or an advanced degree. In the next few years, experts say there will be more job opportunities for college graduates with food, agriculture and natural resource expertise than students to fill the jobs. Four factors will fuel the hiring demands: changing consumer demands and their preferences; evolving business structure in the U.S. food system; new developments in science and technology; and public policy choices and food system security. Levon Esters, assistant professor in the ISU agricultural education and studies department, believes more needs to be done to attract students from urban and minority populations if the future employment needs of the agriculture industry are to be met. Before joining the ISU faculty, he taught at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, which is the second largest urban agricultural education program in the United States. He is studying factors that influence the educational and career choice behaviors of students enrolled in both traditional and urban secondary and postsecondary agricultural education programs. His research has involved students at the Chicago school and in the ISU College of Agriculture. Contact Esters, (515) 294-0897; or Susan Thompson, Agriculture Communications, (515) 294-0705.


The primary ingredients for an eight-ounce container of strawberry yogurt travel more than 2,200 miles before reaching the supermarket shelf, according to a study by Iowa State University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Rich Pirog, director of the center's Marketing and Food Systems Initiative, and ISU student Andrew Benjamin calculated the weighted total source distance (WTSD) for the milk, sugar and strawberries used in a typical container of strawberry yogurt processed in Des Moines and shipped to nearby food retailers. They found that the average distance (based on percent weight in the final product) the ingredients travel is about 277 miles, with a total travel distance of 2,216 miles. For the study, Pirog and Benjamin sourced the milk from northeast Iowa, the strawberries from California and Florida, and the sugar from beets grown primarily in Minnesota and North Dakota. They did not factor in the origins of the plastic yogurt cup and lid, foil cover, cardboard case, nor the active cultures and natural and artificial flavors.

Previous Leopold Center projects have looked at "food miles" for fresh fruit and vegetables. On average, they travel more than 1,500 miles before arriving at Iowa supermarkets (compared to an average of 45 miles for locally grown items). The current study is one of the first to look at food miles for products with several ingredients. In a new report, "Calculating food miles for a multiple ingredient food product," Pirog and Benjamin outline their assumptions - and provide recommendations so food professionals can compute food miles for their own regions. The report is available online at Other research reports on food miles are available at Contact Pirog, (515) 294-1854; or Laura Miller, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture communications, (515) 294-5272.


As local food efforts expand beyond county and state boundaries, an important question arises: What is a regional food system? A regional food system is one that supports long-term connections between farmers and consumers while meeting the economic, social, health and environmental needs of the communities within a region. A new Iowa State University study shows that few Iowans understand this concept, and those who do are more interested in the health and safety aspects of locally grown and processed foods than the economic benefits for the community. Kay Palan, an ISU marketing professor, conducted a statewide telephone survey and focus groups in four Iowa communities. She wanted to determine Iowans' understanding of regional food systems and identify communication methods that would be most effective for educational programs about the issue.

Palan found that 93.6 percent of the 297 people in the telephone survey were unfamiliar with the regional food system concept. Focus group participants in Sioux City, Ottumwa, Ames and Cedar Rapids would support such a system if the food was of high quality and conveniently available at reasonable prices. Palan said that grocery stores play a key role in disseminating information about the benefits of local products through signs and displays. The study was conducted for the Regional Food Systems Working Group of the Value Chain Partnerships for a Sustainable Agriculture (VCPSA) project directed by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU. The report is online at
. Information about the VCPSA project is at Contact Palan, (515) 294-9526; Rich Pirog, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, (515) 294-1854; or Laura Miller, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture communications, (515) 294-5272.


Three states -- Iowa, Maine and Michigan -- have been involved in a four-year project to learn about the impact of small crop and livestock enterprises on communities. The North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD), housed at Iowa State University, has been the leader in coordinating and analyzing the community impacts of the studied farming practices. The idea is to identify, promote and assist in the adoption of integrated crop and livestock farming systems that decrease nutrient run-off, reduce costs, increase market opportunities and increase profits for small and mid-size family farms. Research teams interviewed farmers, meeting their families and learning their farming stories. With their permission, the stories of seven Iowa farmers are online. The narratives showcase a personal side of farming, plus innovative farmers share how they began farming and how their farming practices have changed over time. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems Program. The stories are online at Contact Cornelia Flora, NCRCRD, (515) 294-1329; Susan Fey, Sociology, (515) 294-6250; or Susan Thompson, Agriculture Communications, (515) 294-0705.


Growing grapes and making wine is one of agriculture's oldest and most romantic industries. Success requires persistence, patience, passion and money. The wine industry is enjoying a resurgence of interest and many are hoping to realize a dream. But those who are reaping the rewards will tell you that success depends on doing your homework before you jump in. To assist producers in their research, the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) and the Iowa State University Value-added Agriculture Program (VAAP) developed a three-part video series, "The Total Wine Package." The videos explore the opportunities within the wine industry, the science of viticulture that lies behind a good bottle of wine and how to develop a marketing strategy. Developed with partial funding from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU, the three video clips are available online at or as a series DVD from Craig Tordsen, VAAP, (515) 294-1938, or Contact Mary Holz-Clause, AgMRC, (515) 294-0648; or Tordsen, (515) 294-1938.