Anyone who’s been a farmer, was married a farmer or has sat around a coffee table with them knows farming is a cyclical business that’s largely depending on supply and demand, and the supply is largely dependent on how fickle Mother Nature is feeling.  During the Iowa Farm Bureau’s 2013 Economic Summit in Ames last week, I learned to not only expect the unexpected but I was reminded about the importance of planning for it.

Honestly, two full days of meetings with more than 20 speakers is a bit of an overload for this old hog farmer!  There was so much information covered that I can’t possibly fit it into one blog post.  Today’s I’ll merely provide a summary, and next week I’ll provide more details about the farm policy discussion.

To begin with, John Phipps was a great emcee.  He kept things moving.  He also shared interesting information and stories from his many travels including Africa.  If you think farming in America is hazardous, it’s nothing compared to Africa!  African farmers are very much at risk of getting killed – and not by their machinery.  It’s a tough political climate with too much unrest and uncertainty.  Land disputes have become life or death situations.  What a contrast Africa is to America where many families engage in transition planning, so the family farm stays in the family for generations to come.

Legacy planning, economics and farmland prices were interesting items of discussion over the course of two days.  A presentation on weather was especially interesting to me.  Iowa State University Extension Climatologist Elwynn Taylors says our weather has been following a predictable cycle and continues to do so.  Ironic, isn’t it?  We’ve been finding our weather unusual, yet the climatologist finds it predictable.  He says we’re entering the third year of a 25-year cycle of unsettled weather:  floods in 2011; drought in 2012; and then both floods and drought-like weather in 2013.  What could be more unsettling?  It sounds like we’ll find out whether we want to or not!

I also enjoyed David Miller’s summary of our recent Black Sea Study Trip. The first question he fielded from the audience was, “How do you get to go on such a trip?”  It was a great trip!  The Ukraine was discussed in several presentations that explored future export trading.  David’s presentation provided a nice segue for Dr. Michael Boehlje’s presentation about globalization and agriculture.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Dean Lemke, an engineer with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), explained the workings of the new nutrient management program. It’s a very intense and well rounded program, and I’m actually looking forward to this program working.  We also were schooled on nano technology by Suranjan Panigrahi, PH.D., MBA.  It’s unbelievable the things that are possible now!  Most of this presentation went way over my head – and being half deaf didn’t help – but it was still very fascinating.

The final speaker of the conference was John Hinners of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, who told us that meat is probably the brightest spot in the U.S. export markets.  The rest of the world is looking to improve their diet, and we’re a low-cost producer of protein.  Asia will remain our biggest buyer simply because of the large numbers of people there.

I love ending on a positive note!  Be sure to tune in next week when I recap U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s presentation about the Farm Bill.