Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey resigned today to serve as Under Secretary of Agriculture at USDA. Northy has served as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture since 2007. Below is his thank you letter to the residents of Iowa.
“Thank you for the honor and privilege of serving as your Secretary of Agriculture”
By Bill Northey
It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as your Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and as I move on to the next chapter I want to express my deep appreciation for you entrusting this position to me for the past eleven years. Serving in this role has deepened and expanded my passion for our state’s unmatched agriculture industry.
This certainly includes the farmers that do an amazing job of producing the food and fuel the world needs while protecting our environment, but also includes the vast ag industry in our state. The ag businesses, manufacturers, farmer organizations, commodity groups, ag lenders, ag educators, community colleges, universities and many others that work with and support our farmers also play a critical role in our work to feed and fuel the world.
The list of groups and individuals who play an important role in our state’s agriculture also includes the men and women of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.
It has been a tremendous joy for me to work closely with these dedicated public servants to fulfill the Department’s mission to provide leadership for all aspects of agriculture in Iowa, to ensure consumer protection and to promote the responsible use of our natural resources. I am extremely proud of the work they have done and all that we have accomplished.
One of those important efforts has been to take on the challenge of improving water quality. Farmers have always worked to protect the natural resources for which they are responsible. With the announcement in 2010 that Iowa would develop a statewide Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (Strategy), our goal has been to engage all Iowans and move forward with a comprehensive solution to achieve specific water quality goals.
Our approach has been to work with farmers, landowners, businesses and other partners to harness the innovation of Iowans and the agriculture community to find new ways to help us do an even better job on our farms and in our communities.
I am extremely appreciative of the partnership with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University throughout this process. I also want to thank the Iowa Legislature for their work to provide additional funding to our Department to support farmers’ water quality efforts.
I’m excited about the significant progress we have made in just a few short years.
We are seeing thousands of farmers trying cover crops. We have gone from just a few tens of thousands of acres ten years ago to over 700,000 acres last year.
We also have 56 demonstration projects located across the state to help implement and demonstrate water quality practices through the initiative. This includes 22 that are agriculture focused and 34 that are urban demonstration projects. More than 200 partner organizations will provide $30.6 million to go with the $19.0 million in state funding going to these projects.
There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, but I truly believe we are on the right path. Through collaboration and partnerships we will continue to make water quality improvements.
One of the most challenging times for Iowa farmers and our Department was the Avian Influenza outbreak in 2015. The USDA has described this outbreak as the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history, and unfortunately Iowa was very much in the center of the storm.
It was hard to see the devastating impact this disease had on our farms and the farmers who have spent their life caring for these animals. However, the resiliency of our farmers is inspiring and it has been encouraging to see their passion as they have worked to recover from the outbreak.
I do want to thank the employees at our Department and from across state government that stepped forward and were willing to serve in any role necessary to help respond to this emergency and help the industry recover. The support from USDA as well as a broad array of other partners was critically important throughout the response and recovery process.
Since the outbreak, Iowa’s livestock farmers have also stepped forward and invested millions of dollars in biosecurity on their farms to better protect their animals.
During my 11 years in office, I have also seen the dramatic fluctuations in prices that unfortunately often characterize the agriculture economy. This has included times of record profitability for farmers, a larger national economic crisis that was tempered here in Iowa by the strength of our ag economy, and now, a time of real economic challenge for our state’s farmers.
Due in part to the unmatched productivity of our farmers, we are seeing a time where we have some excess supply and that is lowering prices for farmers.
The work to continue to build and grow markets for the products we produce remains critically important. First and foremost, the livestock industry is the number one customer for our corn and soybeans and we need to make sure they remain strong and growing.
Renewable fuels are another key market that we need to continue to strengthen. Expanding access to higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel represent a great opportunity to grow our biofuels industry while reducing our environmental impact.
Finally, continuing to expand our trade opportunities is extremely important. It has been an honor and a privilege to participate in 22 international trade missions during my time as Secretary with both state and industry leaders to help promote our agricultural products.
Telling the story of Iowa Agriculture
As I have had the opportunity to work with so many partners and friends on these issues and many others, I have had the opportunity to see up-close the kindness, goodness, passion, hard work and humility that is the hallmark of Iowans.
Our rich soils and favorable weather (most of the time) are obviously important, but I have learned over and over again that it is the people that make our state and its agriculture truly special.
One of my absolutely favorite things about being Secretary was the opportunity to recognize the Century and Heritage Farm award winners each year at the Iowa State Fair. To date there have been more than 19,000 Century Farms (farms that have been in the same family for 100 years) and over 1,000 Heritage Farms (farms that have been in the same family for 150 years) recognized in Iowa. When you consider the challenges and hardships each of these families would have faced and overcome over the generations, it is amazing to think about.
You soon realize that these farms are not just a piece of ground or an asset to be used, the land is part of the family and they respect it and care for it. They want to hand it down to their children and grandchildren just as their parents and grandparents handed it to them.
Throughout my time in office I have worked hard to represent these and all the other farm families of the state and share their values of land stewardship, hard work, patience, dedication and perseverance.
I am more optimistic than ever for the future of agriculture in Iowa and I want to thank all Iowans for giving me the honor and privilege of serving as your Secretary of Agriculture.