I went to my class reunion in Estherville Iowa this past weekend. Since the Estherville International Airport has not yet opened, I drove across Iowa from Omaha. 4 hours of cornfields and soybeans and surprisingly few feedlots and pastures. Big round hay bales stacked up where livestock operations were in place.
What I saw was corn planted at 30 inch rows, so dense you noticed the difference, lots of fields that featured signs for special hybrids, a lot of new big buildings on farmsteads that in the past were a little tattered, soybeans where the corn wasn’t planted, very little pasture land, or sorghum and hardly any hay fields.
Land in Iowa is now selling for more than 5 thousand an acre, up to as much as 10 thousand, but this year the price of corn crashed, down from north of 6 dollars a bushel to now less than 4. All those 3 hundred thousand dollar tractors and 500 thousand dollar combines are going to be hard to keep.
A long time ago there was a separation of the farmers from the ranchers, created by the set aside programs of the Ag bills.
Farmers are involved in a sort of crony capitalism, where cattlemen and livestock raisers don’t get all the supports, except in the dairy industry.
So sprinkled across Iowa in sometimes small towns were these big distilleries, and the meat processing plants that are successors to the big centralized stockyards of yore.
Farmers have had 10 years of prosperity, biofuels were a reason, now markets have changed. It will be interesting to see the changes.
One thing for sure, the demographics of Iowa have changed, from highly educated white in the 50s, predominantly northern European to something else. My class had a float in the Sweet Corn Days parade of 100 floats (really, in a town of 8,000 you can put together that big a parade) and I passed out beads to the kids and mixed with the crowd watching. Still plenty of redheads, but now a lot of kids who sure ain’t Swedes and Germans or white Europeans and in many cases clearly are new to the country and living on the margins by the look of them, probably in ag work and probably some with no documents assuring legal status as residents or workers with cards. That’s in a small northern Iowa town, 1000 miles from Mexico. Imagine bigger towns across the nation. Big changes are all around us in demographics, and economics.