“Look at what’s the future of the consumer. I know where the ag industry wants us to go; I’m not sure that’s where the consumer wants us to go.”
He added six acres of aronia berries to diversify his farm in 2010 and eventually added another half-dozen acres to bring his total to about 9,600 plants in the soil. The berries provide a way to diversify his farm, and that per acre return is, well, nice.
Friedrichsen believes aronia berries and other horticultural crops are becoming increasingly significant in Iowa agriculture.
“Down the road, 20 years from now, these will have played a significant impact in the maturation of the ag industry in Iowa.”
Could they make inroads in a state dominated by large-scale corn and soybean production? “Oh, yeah,” says Friedrichsen, “on farmers’ bottom lines and the overall mind-set.”
Fred Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center at Iowa State University, agrees that agriculture is destined to diversify in Iowa.
“I think we’ll see some significant changes in the food system over next 10 to 15 years, certainly within next 50 to 100.”
Though 88 percent of Iowa’s land is farmed, the state currently imports about 85 percent of its food.
That’s because 95 percent of farmland in Iowa is devoted to just two crops — corn and soybeans — that are grown primarily for animal feed and fuel.
The current food system, says Kirschenmann, is ultraspecialized and highly dependent on cheap energy.
With extreme weather making maintaining specialized monocultures increasingly challenging and with gasoline prices on a constant climb, he anticipates a shift.
From the early 1900s until around the middle of the century, Iowa farmers grew up to 40 different crops on a commercially viable basis, Kirschenmann says. Iowa used to be the fourth-highest producer of grapes in the nation.
Grape production peaked in the state at 15.8 million pounds in 1929, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS).
After World War II the food system moved in the direction of industrialization, introducing new science, technology, and methods.
Use of the herbicide 2,4-D improved corn yields, but its drift damaged vineyards and was one of the leading causes of the decline in grape farming, IDALS documents report.
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