Op-Ed: Making an Impact in 2023

By Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig

2023 marked 100 years since the Iowa Legislature created the position of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. In that time, fifteen different Iowans have had the opportunity to lead the talented team at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Though much has changed since 1923, one thing has remained consistent: a commitment to serving Iowans and promoting our state’s thriving agriculture.

Our work matters and it impacts the lives of consumers every day. We are honored to play a role in supporting the industry that is at the heart of Iowa and drives our economy. Here are a few highlights from the year:

2023 will be in the top 15 for driest years according to the state’s 151 years of records. Despite ongoing record drought – we’ll end the year with 182 consecutive weeks of at least moderate (D1) drought somewhere in the state – Iowa farmers harvested yet another strong, better-than-expected crop. It’s a testament to timely rains throughout the growing season and constant innovation in genetics, traits, technology, practices, and much more.

We worked with USDA and our poultry industry to lead an effective response to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. We are still in the midst of the nation’s largest foreign animal disease outbreak, and this continues to be a stressful and challenging time for our state’s poultry producers.

As we wrap up the 10th anniversary of the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Iowans continued to accelerate conservation and water quality work at an unprecedented rate. Conservation cost-share programs once again saw record utilization – in dollars invested, dollars leveraged, and total practices implemented. Today, there are nearly 4 million acres of cover crops, up from approximately 10,000 acres a decade ago. We’ve completed 132 wetlands and dozens more are in the design process as we head toward our goal of building 30 per year. We’ve built hundreds of saturated buffers and bioreactors through our innovative “batch and build” model, which is being adopted by other states. But that’s not all… our Mines and Minerals team, which has reclaimed more than 120 surface coal mine sites since 1983, received national recognition for its abandoned coal mine reclamation work this year.

Our team made developing and building new markets for Iowa products a major focus. We led international trade missions to six countries, hosted delegations from more than a dozen more and fought for domestic markets for biofuels and protein. We launched Choose Iowa, our state’s signature brand for Iowa grown, Iowa raised and Iowa made products and awarded 28 grants to Iowa farmers and businesses to help meet the growing demand for local food. We deployed more than $2 million through the Local Food Purchasing Assistance and Local Food for Schools programs to help schools, food banks, and other institutions buy directly from Iowa’s farmers.

Food safety is also one of our core missions and Iowa families can feel good about consuming safe and abundant Iowa products. Our Meat and Poultry Bureau inspects meat lockers and small processors, and we onboarded 8 new facilities this year. We are also now up to 21 plants that are participating in the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program, which allows them to ship their Iowa products across state lines. Our Dairy Products Bureau inspects licensed dairy farms and plants and our State Laboratory team tested approximately 2,600 dairy samples for safety.

We also made it a priority to ensure that Iowans were kept safe, consumers were protected, and our agriculture community was supported. Each year, our department inspects more than 53,000 fuel pumps, 20,000 scales, 2,400 animal breeders, pet shops, and kennels, 2,300 acres of nursery stock, 440 anhydrous ammonia sites, 250 grain cooperatives and businesses, and much, much more. We license over 16,000 private and 15,000 commercial pesticide applicators who work in agriculture, lawn care, and pest management.

We honored 398 farm families with Century or Heritage Farm designations and presented 39 families with the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award at the Iowa State Fair.

It was another impactful year, and we made a difference for Iowans. With all the uncertainty and strife around the world, we are constantly reminded how fortunate we are to call Iowa home. And, although 2024 will undoubtedly also bring new challenges, I am confident it will present opportunities and blessings as well. We look forward to continuing to serve Iowans and Iowa agriculture in the coming year.