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Iowa Coach Ferentz Supports American Farmers Through ANF


The University of Iowa and Iowa Farm Bureau will showcase the many ways America needs farmers at the seventh annual America Needs Farmers (ANF) Game Day held Saturday, September 23, at Kinnick Stadium. “We are honored for the opportunity to work with the Iowa Farm Bureau to help tell this important story. What Hayden (Fry) said is as true today as it was 26 years ago: Iowa and America do need its farmers,” says Coach Kirk Ferentz.

Ferentz is in his 19th season as head football coach and 28th season overall at the University of Iowa. His tenure as Iowa’s head football coach trails only Hayden Fry, who led the Hawkeyes for 20 seasons from 1979 to 1998. Ferentz shares the distinction of being the longest tenured head football coach in the nation. He joined the Iowa staff after serving as assistant head coach and offensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens in the National Football League. He had been a part of the Baltimore (Cleveland Browns prior to the move) organization for six years.

Ferentz was born August 1, 1955, in Royal Oak, Michigan. He graduated from the University of Connecticut in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in English education, where he was a football captain and an academic all-Yankee Conference linebacker. Ferentz and his wife, Mary, have five children: Brian, Kelly, Joanne, James, and Steven.

SF: What was your first thought as an assistant coach when Coach Fry brought up ANF in 1985 during the farm crisis?

KF: Just a genius thought on his part and very much needed and very much appreciated. I think that is the feedback that all of us got. He was really sensitive to those times and the people of this state. And I think it was a great way on his part to bring some real attention, national attention, to what was going on here with the economy and making people aware of how important it is to have a strong farm economy.

SF: How has ANF changed from back in Coach Fry’s days?

KF: I don’t know if it has changed. I mean the whole concept in my mind was just to take pride in something that is so important in our state. More so than just that segment of the economy, but the people who make agriculture go. To me, it was all about the people, the plight they were facing during those times. Just heightened awareness nationally that we need and just how important it is that states like Iowa feed the world. It really brought a real positive recognition to that. We are proud to continue that honor. It’s just that tradition. It’s something that Coach Fry came up with and between that and The Swarm, I think those are two of the most lasting things that he did besides doing a great job as a football coach.

SF: What kind of work ethic do you see out of the farm boys who come into your program?

KF: I’ve joked about that, but I can’t think of a farm kid we’ve had who wasn’t a really hard worker. They are really grounded and understand what it means to get up every day and do something. Chad Greenway, this year’s honoree, is a perfect example of that. This was nothing, coming down here and doing our stuff, compared with the chores that he had to do every day. That’s been a commonality. 

SF: Has there ever been an NFL head coaching job where you sat down with your wife and asked, “What do you think?”

KF: Oh, yes, there might have been one or two where we took pause and just said, “Are we sure? Are we sure we’re sure?” And, you know, the answer clearly was yes. There hasn’t been much to make me really stop and think. I feel very, very fortunate to be here.

SF: How fortunate do you feel to be able to coach your three sons?

KF: There’s no way to describe it or articulate it. It is like a lot of things that happen, you know, there was no design. There certainly was never a design for me to live in Iowa, let alone coach in Iowa. But that just happened by coincidence in 1981. Something I thought that was going to last a year or two ended up being one of the greatest things that ever happened to us. We’ve been here 28 years now. That was not the plan. I’m not sure we ever envisioned having five children either, let alone three boys who were going to play college football. It’s just been something that is truly priceless. It’s a great thing. Part of that is I missed a lot of what my kids were doing because this job is very time consuming, so I feel like I’m getting back a little bit in some ways, you know, some of the things that I missed. At least I get a chance to see them in a different light than most dads wouldn’t have an opportunity to do, so I really feel fortunate about that as well.

SF: That leads to my next question. How do you feel about your son, Brian, and possibly your other sons coaching college football?

KF: They both seem to have an interest in it, and I think our third one will at some point, as well. It’s kind of funny. One thing my wife and I were really careful of going back to 1983 when Brian was born, we never wanted any of our children to feel like they needed to be involved in football or any sport. It just so happens that’s what I ended up doing for a living, but we didn’t want them to feel like just because your dad does something, doesn’t mean you have to follow in that direction. We were just hopeful they’d find something that they could really embrace and be excited about, be passionate about. It’s kind of interesting how it worked out, but part of it is probably by osmosis.

SF: Tell us why you think the Big Ten conference is the best conference in college football.

KF: I’ve felt that way a long time. I’m a little biased, you know, I’ve been in the league now 28 years. I think if you talk about and compare what our teams do in all sports, not only team sports but individual sports, the level of competition in this conference, the academic success and integrity in this conference. And the tradition and the fan interest. And all those things that I think make being a college athlete special. I just can’t imagine there is a better conference to compete in. The schools are tremendous. I’m not as well versed on the last three to join the conference. But the first 11, 10 plus Penn State, I know a lot about them and they are all just tremendous schools and places you would be happy to see any of your kids go.

SF: What are your goals every year for your football team and your players?

KF: You know, it is really quite simple. We are just trying to maximize any opportunity that we have. Overall, the first thing we want to do is make sure they leave here with their degree. And understand the value of a degree and also understand what it takes to earn a degree on a college campus. So that’s first and foremost. We want them to excel and play at their highest levels possible as athletes. Beyond that we want them to hopefully have a great experience, beyond college, beyond the classroom, beyond the sports, and hopefully meet some great lifetime friends, those kinds of things.

SF: How much football do you get to watch outside of your team and scouting your opponents? Do you get to be a fan?

KF: Not really. Not in season. You know, when our season’s over, I’ll try to catch bowl games, but that’s even tricky and tough because we’re usually preparing. I’ll watch in January and February, that’s a neat time. For pro football, it’s the best time to be watching. And a little bit in December when we are in breaks, that type of thing, but it’s hard to be a fan when you are engrossed in your team.

Iowa Football

SF: A few rapid-fire questions. Who was your favorite football player growing up?

KF: Oh boy, first name that comes to mind is Ray Nitschke.

SF: What are your hobbies outside of football?

KF: Anything related to our kids. I like that, and I like to read. Some form of exercise. Those are probably the top three things. Kids and spending time with my wife too, which I don’t get to do a lot of that.

SF: What's the best football team in history?

KF: Oh boy. That’s a great question. I don’t know if I can answer that. I’d be a little biased, but I’d probably lean toward one of the Steelers teams of the 1970s. I was a big Steeler fan.

SF: Who's the best football coach of all time?  

KF: Oh boy, tough one there. First names that come to mind as far as the best: Vince Lombardi is widely recognized that way, Bear Bryant, and you have to throw Bill Belichick in that list as well right now, and a guy I really respected and was really curious about and just read a great book on was Chuck Noll. I grew up in Pittsburg so I thought a lot of the things he did were great. My mentor was my high school coach, Joe Moore, who also trained me to be a line coach, who I think is the greatest line coach ever to live. He was a tremendous coach, too. It is hard to just name one person.

SF: What kind of gum do you chew on the sidelines?

KF: That’s easy. Bubble Yum, sugarless.

SF: So on your week off, can I get you to come down and drive a tractor for me?

KF: Probably not. Springtime, you might give me a call in the spring.

SF: How does American agriculture affect your life?

KF: Well, I just got done eating, so there’s a real obvious answer there. You asked about hobbies, I love to eat. That’s where it all starts. I think Iowans can be very, very proud of all the things that we do to help feed not only the country but the world. It’s something we can all take great, great pride in.

Athletes Supporting Ag: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers


Jordy Nelson is a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers who grew up on a cattle operation in Kansas. He owns farmland today and spends his breaks from the National Football League helping his brother and dad on the farm. He played college football at Kansas State, received All-American honors, and was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2008 NFL Draft.  He won Super Bowl XLV with the Green Bay Packers.

SF:  What does your family farm consist of, and who is involved?

JN: Our farm consists of black angus cow/calf herd, some beef cattle, and some cash crop, but a lot of our crops are based for feed to get the cattle through the winter. We do have soybeans and wheat for the cash crop, but a lot of it is corn and alfalfa and silage and stuff to feed the cows through the winter. The farm originally started with my grandpa. My dad is an only child so then he stayed on the farm and now runs that. My brother has done the same thing. Pretty much right out of high school came back and started farming. He has kind of grown his own farm. Like I said, he has four girls himself so he has to support his family. My dad and my brother run their own stuff now, and when I go back, I help out. I have some land back there that my brother manages for me until I get back. It’s growing. He’s got four girls, I’ve got three kids, so once we all get back we’ll have plenty of help and be done with work in no time.

SF:  When did you realize you were going to play in the NFL?

JN: Well, probably toward the end of my senior year at K State. My junior year I got banged up a little bit and missed a couple games and didn’t have that great of a year. And to be honest with you, going through K State, I never thought that… Obviously, it is the ultimate goal, but I didn’t think it was a realistic goal until probably the mid-to-late part of my senior year. I hold the NFL in very high standard and understand it’s very difficult to get to this level. Probably once that season was over and a few All-American honors were coming in, it became more of a realistic chance and understanding that there would be a shot to play at the next level.

SF:  What were your favorite teams growing up?

JN:  I was a Chiefs fan. Every Sunday, come home from church, turn the TV on, and watch the Chiefs play.

SF:  How much fun is it to do the Lambeau Leap?

JN: The Lambeau Leap is fun. And it can be crazy at the same time. It’s an experience. It’s different every time you do it depending on how much the fans have had to drink probably throughout the game. It can be kind of a hassle getting up there and a hassle getting down because they want to hold onto you and they are hitting you and everything else. But it is obviously quite an experience to be able to be a part of that tradition here in Green Bay and at Lambeau Field, to go jump in the fans and celebrate with them.

SF:  What are your goals this season on the field?

JN: Nothing too crazy. My goal is just to do my job and be out there every game. Obviously a couple years ago I missed a whole season with an ACL, and I gained a lot of appreciation for being able to play 16 games a year and was able to do that last year. To me, if I’m out there every game and do my job, everything else will take care of itself.

SF:  How has being an NFL player helped you become a better farmer?

JN: This is the first time this has ever been asked in this manner. I appreciate the farming more. I think being outside and getting away from football is something I love to do in the summer time when we have a month off before the training camp.  And obviously the NFL brings some money and that honestly is very helpful to put yourself up buying some more land or more cattle or better machinery or bigger machinery to help you be more efficient out there. There’s different connections I’ve been able to make by being in this position in the NFL, and it has been able to help us grow as a farm as well.

SF:  And I am sure being a farmer has helped you in your dedication to being an NFL player.

JN: Absolutely. It set the foundation from the discipline, the hard work, the understanding, and relying on other people. Understanding that you have to do your job and you have to do it extremely well. You have to do it to be successful. In farming, you only really can rely on yourself and Mother Nature. If you don’t do it, no one else will. And a lot of times no one is watching you so you have to go out and do it the right way all the time because that is what is going to allow you to reap the benefits later in harvest or with the cattle later on.

SF:  What kind of “farm” nicknames have your teammates given you over the years?

JN: I really don’t have any. One kid back in college gave me one and called me “the hick from the sticks” but that’s about it.

SF:  After football, will you become a full-time farmer?

JN: I don’t know about full-time. I do plan on farming. We plan on moving back home to Kansas and working with my brother on the farm. I don’t know if I will be doing the sun up to sun down stuff. Obviously, come harvest time, I’ll be there to help him, but I told him he can lay me off whenever he wants and I’ll go on vacation. We’re working it out and figuring out what we want to do.  Obviously, I love doing it. It allows me to be outside and gives me something to do. It’s fun. But also I don’t have to put in the grind and all the extra work. I want to be able to get home to dinner with my family and be able to go to the kids’ stuff so there is obviously a lot of sacrifices that farming does. Hopefully I can be back to take some of that stress off of my brother and allow him to do the same thing because he has four girls, and I’m sure he wants to do the same thing as well. Hopefully we can find a good balance, and we can both be farming and both be hanging out with family as well.

Green Bay Packers

Rapid fire questions. One word or one sentence.

SF:  Chevy or Ford?

JN: Chevy.

SF:  What color of tractor?

JN: Green.

SF:  Manhattan or Green Bay?

JN: Right now, we are loving Green Bay, and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but we look forward to being back in Kansas, just up north of Manhattan, and being around family.

SF:  Livestock or Grain?

JN: Livestock.

SF:  Hobby Sport: Hunting, golf, basketball, or other?

JN: Golf is probably my most enjoyable hobby sport away from football.

SF: Favorite team to play against?

JN: Aw, man. Probably any other teams in our division.

SF:  What does American agriculture mean to you?

JN: It means a lot. It is a foundation. It is the way our family grew up making a living and to me it’s the foundation of our country. Without agriculture, I think obviously our country would struggle. I think some people have lost track of what farmers and people in agriculture do for this world. If it’s through cattle, if it’s through grain, if it’s through other crops, it allows us to survive. It is a way to make a living but also a way to provide for other people throughout this world.


Farmers Have Front Row Seats for Total Solar Eclipse


The rare total eclipse of the sun that will occur in a band across the entire continental United States on Monday, August 21, is being touted as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will be shared by millions of Americans.

The excitement in some corners of the country is barely contained. One website devoted to the event,, “encourages everyone to get into the path of totality on eclipse day, and see one of the greatest sights the sky has to offer!”

Some enthusiasts frame the event in big, historic terms.

“With tens of millions of people headed for the zone of totality, it’s going to be the biggest science event in history,” writes Michael Bakich, senior editor for Astronomy Magazine. “But be sure to plan to experience totality. You’ll remember it for the rest of your life as the greatest thing you ever saw!”

Farm towns in the 70-mile-wide band of totality have capitalized on the excitement. Ravenna, Nebraska, for example, has planned a four-day total eclipse festival, which will include educational programs from a NASA astronaut and engineer, a music festival, parade, arts and crafts fair, guided eclipse viewing events, and more. Ravenna (population 1,373) expects to attract as many as 15,000 people to town for the eclipse festivities, says event coordinator, Gena McPherson.

“Several farm businesses funded a giant mobile mural that highlights the eclipse but also encourages people to experience our rural community of Ravenna,” McPherson adds. “The local farm co-op is expected to create an agricultural display for our out-of-town guests.”

One farm owner east of town has set up a three-day camp-out and art festival. Others report hosting events for their families and friends.

Clearly, farmers have a front row seat to the eclipse. Open farmsteads, fields, and pastures away from ground light will be prime space for total eclipse viewing. And that’s why I’m headed to the family farm near Ravenna, which sits right smack in the middle of the totality path, to share the excitement with a couple farmer friends who will join me on the journey.

In preparing for the trip, it’s dawned on me that there are several ways farmers and ranchers can make the most of this dramatic celestial event.

  • Take the day off. This total eclipse phenomenon has become almost like a national holiday. Why not reward yourself with a small vacation from work? Harvest preparation can wait another day, can’t it?
  •  Stake out a good viewing spot ahead of time. We’ll be parked in the middle of the farm, well off the road on a small hill, and a good distance from ground light. (We’ll be sure the yard light won’t switch on automatically, once the sun “sets” just before noon on Monday.)
  • Cash in on the excitement. One land owner east of Ravenna is renting camping spaces and holding an art festival. Ravenna’s Cedar Hills winery is hosting a variety of programs, including, meals, music, and a special bottle for the occasion.
  • Travel to the path of totality. If your farm doesn’t sit in the seventy-mile-wide band that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina, consider making the trip. Better check ahead for accommodations and viewing sites.
  • Attend an eclipse event. On Saturday and Sunday, many towns and cities in the path of the totality are hosting festivals and viewing events.
  • Get the family together. Sunday, total eclipse eve, would be a great time for a cookout and to watch the night sky as a preview to the drama that follows on Monday. That’s what our Ravenna farm operator is doing.
  • Create your own viewing event. Ravenna is using its baseball fields for guided eclipse viewing.  Why not invite some of your city friends over for a watch party Monday morning? Show 'em the sky you get to see every day. While the complete blackout of the sun by the moon will last only 2 minutes and 35 seconds in Ravenna, the partial eclipse will begin an hour and half earlier, plenty of time to enjoy the build-up to the big show. 
  • Take in the glory of the sun. The total eclipse will afford a rare view of the sun with the naked eye. Google “total eclipse” and you’ll get some good background on what to look for during the eclipse. During the total eclipse, you’ll see the sun’s “diamond ring,” its corona, unusual colors in the sky and the stars and planets coming out in the middle of the day.
  • Observe nature. During the partial eclipse, your natural surroundings will change. A 360-degree “sunset” will occur, with different looking shadows. Birds will quit singing and come in to roost. Breezes will calm and the temperature drop significantly. During the partial eclipse, leaves on trees may act as tiny pinhole cameras and reflect the crescent shape of the sun.
  • View the eclipse safely. There is plenty of information on the web on how to view the eclipse safely. Be sure to use certified viewing glasses and monitor the behavior of children watching the eclipse. During the partial phases eclipse you must use protective filters.

Sec. Sonny Perdue Visits 2017 Iowa Ag Summit

Mike McGinnis asks U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue about the dicamba issue, 2018 farm bill, and the #BackToOurRoots RV during his visit to the 2017 Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines.


Trump and Senators Seek to Slash Legal Immigration

Reuters: After a crackdown on illegal immigration that has sharply reduced the number of unauthorized border crossings from Mexico, U.S. President Donald Trump is now turning his attention to reducing the number of legal immigrants in the country. 


Lawmakers Seen Dabbling With Comprehensive Immigration Reform


Four years ago, the drive for comprehensive immigration reform peaked with Senate passage of a bill that included a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants working in agriculture. The bill died in the House.

Now, under President Trump, who wants removal of undocumented immigrants, lawmakers are nibbling on the issue again.

Immigration was a signature issue for Trump during the presidential campaign and was on the administration’s list of top issues when it took office. The White House emphasizes border security and deportation of illegal aliens, starting with those with a criminal record or who post a security risk. “Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders,” said the president when he signed an executive order for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“There is no appetite in the Republican Party to try to go down the comprehensive road again,” says Edward Alden, who handles trade and economic issues, including immigration, at the Council on Foreign Affairs. In a background paper by the think tank, Alden says lawmakers may try a one-step-at-a-time approach to immigration this year, but chances of bipartisan support are slim.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte is putting his attention on reform of the H-2A guest worker program. Goodlatte (R-VA), who chaired the Agriculture Committee a decade ago, sponsored a guest worker bill in 2013 and “remains committed to finding a solution to this issue and hopes to introduce legislation soon,” says a committee staffer.

That 2013 bill called for a new guest worker program, H-2C, that would allow workers to stay for up to three years in “at will” employment, including year-round jobs at dairies and food-processing plants.

The H-2A guest worker program, run by the Labor Department, is a regular target of farm groups, who say it is unwieldy, choked with paperwork, and often fails to deliver workers on time or in sufficient numbers for harvest. It’s also a seasonal program of limited use to livestock producers whose animals need daily care year-round. Visas usually are issued for 10 months or less.

“It’s easy to say the H-2A visa program is badly in need of reform,” says Paul Heller, a vice president of Wonderful Citrus, one of the largest U.S. citrus growers and shippers.

Growers understand why Trump focuses on immigration enforcement, Heller said at a House Agriculture Committee hearing, but “enforcement-first or enforcement-only policies will be devastating to our industry,” which relies on foreign-born labor to get crops to market.

Status Adjustment

Up to 70% of U.S. farmworkers (as many as 1.2 million people) are believed to lack legal status, says Chuck Conner, head of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and an ag-sector leader on immigration. “You can’t just take them away” without disrupting farm and ranch production, nor could a new guest worker program funnel into the U.S. enough workers to replace them seamlessly, Conner says. The State Department issued 134,368 H-2A visas last year, double the total in 2012. There is no cap on visas. The 2013 Goodlatte bill allowed for up to 500,000 new ag worker visas a year.

The ag industry supports an “adjustment of status” for undocumented workers so they could legally work in agriculture. Through the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, farm groups say immigration reform must combine two steps: An opportunity for undocumented workers to obtain legal status and the creation of a market-based visa program that ensures “an adequate, productive, and competitive farm workforce in the future.” The market-based visa program must supply the needs of producers, including those, such as dairy and livestock, who need labor year-round.

In 2014, the Farm Bureau said an enforcement-only approach to immigration would hurt U.S. agriculture. Output would drop by as much as $60 billion if farmers lost access to all undocumented workers, with fresh produce hit the hardest. Food prices would rise by 5% to 6%, it said.

A Path To Citizenship

Minority-party Democrats have filed companion bills in the Senate and House to create a blue card that would authorize the presence of undocumented farmworkers who show consistent employment in the U.S. agriculture for two years, pay a fee, and pass a background check. A three- to five-year path to citizenship would be available to those who continue to work in agriculture. “The people who feed our nation should be given the chance to be here legally,” says the United Farm Workers union.

House sponsor Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) says the plan would bring farmers and workers “out of the black market.” The bills have limited prospects for passage, given the current priority for deportation and border security.

Ag groups are concerned, in particular, by proposals to mandate use of E-Verify, a database created in 1996 that lets employers check whether applicants are permitted to work in the U.S. Use of E-Verify is voluntary at present for most.

In May, Trump requested $15 million so the Homeland Security Department could begin implementation of a mandatory system. Farm groups want the ag labor problem fixed before the government mandates E-Verify. It’s a practical question, says Conner.

“Your fruits and vegetables are going to be handled by foreign workers. Is that handling going to be done in the United States or somewhere else in the world?” he asks.

Detractors say the database contains too many errors to be reliable.

“We strongly oppose a mandatory E-Verify on employers until a satisfactory immigration path for agriculture is realized,” said California Farm Bureau president Paul Wenger at the same hearing where Heller testified.

Growers say labor costs are rising because it is becoming harder to recruit workers.

In some instances, farmers leave crops in the field because there are not enough hands for the harvest. Increased mechanization is the answer, says Wenger.

“If we don’t aggressively invest in the development of new technologies, the consequence will be to lose a large share of our nation’s specialty crop production,” he says.

Row-crop production is highly mechanized. For most fruits and vegetables, hand labor is the rule with famous exceptions for processing tomatoes, tree nuts, and wine grapes.

The mechanical tomato picker succeeded because it was paired with tomatoes bred to be bruise-resistant, easily detached from the vine, and uniformly mature.

Bipartisan battle

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) says progress could be made on some immigration issues (agricultural workers, unskilled workers, and H-1B visas for skilled workers) if the Democrats and Republicans could agree to set aside the hot-button issues of legalization or citizenship. “The trouble is, you can’t get those agreements,” he says. “We’ve never secured the border. We don’t have the credibility to deal with legalization and citizenship and things like that.”



Chances of a bipartisian immigration plan are slim, policy expert says.