Last week I attended the grand opening of an ethanol plant at Albert City, IA. The ethanol industry has made major changes in northern Iowa. Rural areas have a better future as the ethanol plants have increased the demand for corn and the accompanying ripples of economic activity. Before the ethanol expansion, it looked as if our rural areas were just going to become more vast unpopulated expanses as people continued to leave, farmsteads were eliminated, and the erosion of small towns would continue.
One change I have seen is the number of farmers I know who were in or approaching their mid sixties in age and were thinking about retiring. The higher grain prices have made them decide to stay farming at least one more year to take advantage of the increased income. They have sold corn for around $2.00 a bushel or less for too many years and today's prices are very tempting. I heard a man from the state university claim the ethanol boom is the biggest change in farming since tractors replaced horses.
This morning I sat in the kitchen of a couple who were living on the farm they had moved to in 1962, raised their four children, had retired, and were now enjoying their years together having rented their land to a neighbor. One of their priorities was maintaining the barn that had been converted from a horse barn to a dairy barn when they first moved there. Even though there was no livestock in it today, it remained an important part of their farm and home.
Last week at the ethanol plant opening was a glimpse at the future and this morning was glimpse at the past when a former horse barn was filled with hay and the daily activity of milking. One place told of what the ethanol process would mean to the community and surrounding area. The farm couple I visited with this morning told me about what their years together had meant for them as their family was active in 4-H along with the 48 head of cattle that needed to be milked twice a day. In spite of the different settings, I heard the same strong voices talk about their fondness for production agriculture.
Situations like these make me appreciate the timelessness of agriculture. Agriculture is in good hands and the people who do the work of agriculture are good hands. I never knew my great-great grandfather who started this farm in 1875 but I have a sense of who he was. He was probably was not that different from my son who is almost 30 years old and has every desire to keep this place going for another 40 years.
I hope there is a day in the future when my son will be telling someone about his days farming when he watched ethanol and soy diesel become important products in the same way my dad would tell about leaving horses for tractors. The only thing I can say about farming 40 years from now is that I will not be around to see it and I will not recognize it compared to today any more than my great-great grandfather would recognize this farm today.
But I do know it will be in the same good hands who want to see a job started and completed. It will be the good hands who look for a better way to get more done or to produce more using less.