An Iowa agricultural think tank has developed a new vision for agriculture and rural Iowa for 2015. "We hope to encourage young people to enter agriculture, and give existing farmers new ideas," says Phil Sundblad, a farmer from Albert City who chairs Iowa AgSTATE. "We hope our optimism about the future comes through clearly."
The group was formed in 1997. AgSTATE is an acronym for "Agricultural Strategic Thinkers Acting Together Effectively."  
"With the vision document, we wanted to identify ways to capitalize on our ability to produce commodity crops and livestock, while identifying ways for small, more specialized agricultural operations to expand and thrive," notes Sundblad. "We hope this vision will improve the public's understanding and appreciation of Iowa agriculture." 

The group worked throughout 2005 on the vision document. Efforts included conferences where guest speakers discussed supply-side and demand-side drivers of change. Some of the key drivers that AgSTATE identified are new technology, changes in consumer demand, competition from other countries, consolidation, changing demographics and government policies and regulations. 

Think-tank participants wrote vision statements in seven categories. They include action recommendations developed to help make the vision statements reality. Here are some examples:

- A NEW ATTITUDE - Vision: Producers are optimistic about the future and actively search for new opportunities to add value to the commodities they produce. Actions: Look for opportunities for ag groups to partner with non-farm groups, local officials and developers to address environmental, economic development and other community goals. Develop new programs that help connect producers with consumers through such things as identity preservation and "buy-local" campaigns.

- PRODUCER PROFILE - Vision: Producers are entrepreneurial, business-orientated, and recognized by other business leaders and their peers as professionals. Actions: Work with Iowa State University and community colleges to develop statewide business and leadership education and certification programs for farm managers and farm workers; assist producers interested in mentoring young farmers or offering apprenticeships.

- AGRICULTURE BUSINESS - Vision: Light manufacturing and biorefining are two key engines driving Iowa's rural economy. Actions: Promote the development of agricultural "clusters" where complementary entities would be located. An example might be an ethanol plant, livestock operations to consume the co-products, a digester to process animal manure into fuel for the ethanol plant and cropland where the remaining manure nutrients could be spread to grow crops for the ethanol plant.

- A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT - Vision: Producers address environmental concerns by voluntarily adopting comprehensive nutrient-management plans and using best management practices. Actions: Use the next Farm Bill to advance performance-based environmental programs. Examples include direct payments tied to conservation efforts; incentives for whole-farm planning that takes into account erosion, water quality and air quality; incentives that promote entrepreneurial activity and less reliance on row crops.

- TECHNOLOGY AND INFRASTRUCTURE - Vision: An adequate transportation infrastructure is in place to support Iowa's current and future growth.  Actions: Study the need for infrastructure investment designed to transport biofuels, such as ethanol pipelines.

- QUALITY OF LIFE - Vision: Rural Iowa offers a high quality of life, with recreational and cultural opportunities and a clean environment. Actions: Expand non-farm employment opportunities for rural people and farm households in local communities. Develop more state and privately owned resort and outdoor recreation opportunities and destinations.
- PUBLIC POLICY - Vision: Iowa leads the nation in encouraging the use of renewable fuels because of its strong renewable fuels policy. Actions: Find innovative ways to increase the production and consumption of renewable energy in Iowa. Target farm subsidies towards conservation, rural development and value-added investments, rather than commodities. 
The group's report has been forwarded to participating organizations. "Each of the organizations will use this report as they develop policies and establish priorities," says Sundblad. It also may serve as a guide as Iowa legislators and other policymakers consider laws or regulations that would assist in making the group's vision for 2015 a reality.

The vision document and more information about Iowa AgSTATE is available online at
Iowa AgSTATE includes representatives from the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, Iowa Cattlemen's Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Dairy Products Association, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Economic Development, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Institute for Cooperatives, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa State Dairy Association, Iowa State University College of Agriculture, Iowa Turkey Federation and Practical Farmers of Iowa.