Mr. Walter Edwin ‘Ed’ KEE on Iowa & California-: Agricultural Giants — Farms, Food, Energy, Water, & the Environment

On September 25, 2019 Mr. Ed KEE returned and spoke to us once again- this time, on the two number one U.S. states in agricultural production and value- Iowa and California.  Mr. KEE also brought props from a nearby grocery store and books that he had written.  The groceries would be used to illustrate the breath and scope of the products coming out of each state and the books would be awarded to the students who volunteered answers or thought-provoking questions.  Mr. KEE brought a lot of his discussion topics back around to the Delaware overview he gave the class last time, to give context to the numbers related to both states outputs. Prof. ISSAACS also corroborated these facts with his own knowledge of agriculture throughout the talk.

The talk began with am overview of the state of Iowa.  The state is flanked by the Missouri and Mississippi rivers with transportation and mills throughout, facilitating the high rate of production, but without the huge population centers nearby like Delaware has.  Iowa also has 85% of it’s land in farms, compared to Delaware’s 41%, with 87, 500 farmers spread across 30.5 billion acres, 5 million of which are dedicated to fruit and vegetable production.  Farm production generates 92% of the state’s farm income, mostly generated through corn, soy beans, pork, and beef.  Iowa usually vies for 1st in soy production with Illinois, but in hog production Iowa reigns supreme, with 11 pork processors across the state, each plant going through 90, 000 hogs a day.  Iowa is also the largest producer of table eggs- Delaware’s Puglisi Egg Farm, by comparison, only outputs 90, 000 dozen eggs per day, according to Prof. ISAACS.

Iowa owes its high production output in no small part to its climate and soil.  Iowa has a mild growing season, with few 90°F days.  The states soil is mainly loess- fine silt & clay particles- deposited via glacier over thousands of years,10-30 thousand yrs. ago.  Those soils have a high cation exchange ranging from 10-15- much higher than Delaware’s soils that stay around 1 or 2.  Mr. KEE said he’d never encountered a Delaware soil with an exchange rate of 3.  Those same soils will only hold around 3-4 inches of water before draining.  By contrast, the impressively healthy soils of Iowa run very deep.  Mr. KEE cited 1880 records from a farmer who reported prairie grass as high as his head while standing up in his wagon- meaning the roots would run at least so deep.  Mr. KEE was then able to confirm by his own first hand account, that Iowa soils do still indeed run quite deep- at least 9ft without hitting a hardpan.  Because of this great soil and climate, Iowa land has a steep price- prime land can be $10, 000 or more, with most acreage ranging from $6, 000-$$7, 500.  By comparison, Delaware prime acreage tends to be around $6, 000 per acre.

A large part of Iowa’s acreage is used to grow corn an soy beans.  But while a large portion of those crops will become animal feed- 40% of the corn produced will go to hogs and cows- an equally large portion will become biofuel.  Along with meat production in Iowa, tractors, animal genetics, and seed are major components, but ethanol is definitely a larger part of the agriculture industry.

After September 11, 2001 and the World Trade Center attack, Iowa corn began being used for 15% of the gas blends used today, in order to decrease the nations dependence on oil.  These events lead to the passing of the 2006 Ethanol Law supporting its production and use.  Mr. KEE and Prof. ISAACS elaborated that while ethanol is not quite as efficient as gasoline alone, it combusts well and stretches oil.  It also has the tendency to gum up engines and eat fuel lines, which lead to the creation of additives to make the biofuel work more efficiently and reduce harmful emissions.  Another biofuel, soy diesel, smells like popcorn and enhances lubrication, but while it canlower carbon footprints and has less btus per gallon than gasoline, it is only really available for alternative markets.  Soy diesel is common in the MidWest, but must be shipped for use here in the East at a higher cost per gallon.  Iowa alone is responsible for 25% of the nations exports in ethanol.

Iowa is also home to some pioneers in agriculture. An Iowa company Stine seed, created 40-50years ago, generates 63% of soybean genetics in North & South America.  A man named Harry STINE, who became the richest man in Iowa at one time, created the company.  Another successful man, Norman E. BORLAUG, father of the Green Revolution in the 1960s and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and World Feed Prize in the 1970s, became a plant pathologist and breeder who came up with high-yield crop variations.  These innovators were able to help countries like India and Bangladesh become more self-sufficient as well.  The nations government of the time as well as foreign governments over seas acknowledged these accomplishments.  Mr. KEE showed us a PowerPoint slide of the Premier of Russia visiting an Illinois field in the ’50s of ’60s to learn more about agricultural production at a time when the Soviet Union needed to increase their food production for their citizens.  This government support for its farmers is contrasted by a modern example brought up by classmate, where the current President- whose administration is responsible for aiding farmers as well as securing and reassuring international trade partners- has lessoned the amount of ethanol required in gasoline, which by extension, lessons the demand for corn used to produce it.

Mr. KEE then switched the discussion to the highest-ranking agricultural producer California, whose controversial agricultural legislations revolve mainly around water usage and water rights.

California agriculture is mainly conducted on a prehistoric lakebed and in fertile desert regions that are supplied water via aqueduct and irrigation.  A key location among these zones in the Sierra Madras Valley, facing out towards the Pacific ocean it is surrounded by mountains on three sides.  The snowfall in theses mountains is gathered each winter to re-fill the states reservoirs and supply the extensive irrigation system that consists mainly of two large aqueducts, one state funded and the other federally funded, that are 30ft. deep, 60ft. wide and run for 300 miles.

The usage of this water goes primarily to the farmers for their fields, after which it flows to Hollywood and Los Angeles for drinking water.  In addition to this water, some farmers have water rights for the water under their property- some do not.  Because of the Homestead Act and other laws, some farmers pay the rates they would have paid over 100 years ago, while their neighbors rates may be much more exorbitant- the difference between $10/gal and $200/gal.  The drama surrounding farmers and their properties has been well-documented in books and movies like, ‘East of Eden’ and, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.  With only 4-10in. of rain per year, the snow harvest is integral to the success of each years crop.  Because of the arid climate, diseases and fungi find little success in California.

California grows many varied crops, including lettuce, tomatoes, and enough almonds to cover the state of Delaware!  With so many crops to harvest, California has adopted a reliable way to ensure their product makes it to market.  In the 1960s a Mexican man names Cesar CHAVEZ, a WW2 U.S. Navy veteran began the United Farm Workers Union– if a worker works over 10 hours, they must be paid time and a half.  To avoid the extra expense, farmers will often simply hire more workers.  The rules for paying workers vary from state to state, however.  Another classmate asked if Delaware farmers were exempt from paying minimum wage.  Mr. KEE explained that most workers will not bother to show up if the pay is less than minimum wage, so the market supersedes the written law- farmers can’t afford to be stingy!  Farmers will also work with the government H2A program, which works with people from Haiti & Jamaica to guarantee seasonal labor for farmers.  This labor guarantee helps generate a larger gross domestic product.

Another California product, tomatoes, have been broadly cultivated and marketed across the U.S..- 95% of tomato products in the U.S. come from the state.  Mr. KEE displayed some of the spoils from the aforementioned shopping trip- along with a small package of Iowa bacon were several cans of tomato products, including stewed tomatoes.  A machine harvesting process was created to harvest tomatoes regardless of the weather; with equipment that can travel over the relatively dry California soil to handle special varieties of tomatoes with thicker skin and more uniform shapes to handle the rigor of the mechanized process- this machine would be unreliable driving on the often muddy soils in Delaware.  This invention coincided with the termination of the Bracero Program in 1964- the program allowed Mexican workers to come in to harvest crops during wartime.

Another mechanical harvesting process Mr. KEE encouraged us to look into was almond harvesting, which involves a machine violently shaking almonds from a tree and then raking and vacuuming them up from the ground.

Mr. KEE concluded his talk by mentioning the Port of Wilmington (Delaware)- purported the second largest port following Antwerp, where Chilean fruit and bananas are received.  Mr. KEE lamented about having always wanted to take students to see to port, even though he is now retired, offering up the experience as something for Prof. ISAACS to consider.

Mr. KEE gave the two books to the most vocal students in the class and packed up what I assume was a weeks-worth of breakfast before saying goodbye.

 

 

 

 

 

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