Whether it’s first-of-its-kind-in-the-nation innovative technology or locally-sourced creations, Iowa’s agricultural imprint spreads across all industries from global companies to small-time farmers. Iowa’s nutrient-rich land has yielded world leading production of corn, soybeans and biofuels, and it has also cultivated exceptional ag-focused businesses in biosciences, hospitality, tourism, manufacturing and more.
In celebration of National Ag Month, check out these inspiring stories, including farm-to-table dining, business innovation, a farming journey, sustainable biotechnology and farmhers (women in farming).
“I just wanted to capture and show women as part of agriculture because they’re not the people who are going to jump up and down and say, ‘Look what I do.’ They’re just going to do it,” shared Marji Guyler-Alaniz, founder & CEO of Grimes-based FarmHer, a storytelling platform of women in ag, on why she turned her passion into a business.
After quitting her decade-long career in corporate agriculture and realizing the missing portrayal of women in farming, she set out to tell the stories of Iowa women in agriculture. Now, the company has a TV show, podcast, store and new partner company - RanchHer.
“Bringing this kind of good food and local produce to small Iowa towns that may not have a lot of healthy options, and putting it in a beautiful setting, just adds to the value and appeal,” shared Aaron Holt, Des Moines-based farm-to-table chef. “And I want to bring that value to our family farm. My mom was floored by the fact that I wanted to keep the land, but I decided that’s where I want to set my roots.”
Aaron is an expert when it comes to growing, cooking and eating good food, and he knows just where to find all the best ingredients: Iowa’s small farms. His reputation quickly spread, and he continues traveling to prepare dinners and connect with Iowa farmers for fresh produce. He is also renovating his family’s property, called Doolittle Farm, to create a unique venue and experience.
“Using [innovative drone technology] helps today’s farmers create more food with fewer workers,” says Michael Ott, founder and CEO of Rantizo, a company providing drone crop spraying systems and services.
Founded in 2018 and based in Iowa City, it is the first and only company approved for drone spraying in five states. Ott set out to solve the all-too-common reality of weather disturbances on the farm. The technology, with its easy-to-use platform and pre-programmed autonomous flight, spreads both liquid and solid solutions right where they need to go, when they need to be there.
Benjamin and Bryanna Harner hesitated to move to Iowa away from their families in Pennsylvania to begin their farming journey, but after seeing the perfect sign from a magazine cover, Bry shared, “We both had a change of heart and knew we would regret it if we didn’t do it.” The Harners purchased a farm in Columbus Junction with the idea to start raising their own hogs.
They had to be creative in renovating the property and learn the business as they go but, as Ben described, “We’ve never looked back.” Now, the couple raises antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed hogs for Niman Ranch, a California/Iowa company that works with a network of over 750 small, independent farms across the country to raise livestock humanely and sustainably.
"Iowa has a deep understanding of the positive impact potential of [bioinnovation] projects, and has created an environment that is conducive to success,” said Daniel Meyer, president of Spiber America LLC, the U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese biotechnology startup that produces lab-grown proteins, such as spider silk, for clothing and consumer products.
Spiber is bringing the production of their biobased, biodegradable protein polymers to Clinton, their first U.S. facility. The process provides a strong sustainability advantage using plant-based ingredients instead of fossil fuels. One of Spiber’s exciting projects was a 2019 partnership with The North Face Japan to release a special line of parkas with Spiber’s Brewed Protein™ materials, created from the company’s proprietary technology platform.
“[Partnership with the Japan market] shows that ‘Iowa Nice’ works well with other cultures and how fun working with Iowa companies can be. Words can’t even explain what this great state of Iowa has to offer,” explained Nick Jones, CEO of Des Moines-based Berkwood Farms, a coalition of independent family farmers and one of the largest American suppliers of 100% certified pure heirloom Berkshire pork.
Berkwood Farms has experienced a fruitful relationship with delegations in Japan, from establishing export opportunities to creating Big Iowa BBQ, an Iowa-themed restaurant in Tokyo. Though most Japanese citizens likely don’t have much of an idea of where Iowa is, let alone what the state embodies, through some help from IEDA, Berkwood Farms is working hard to change that.
“[Wisconsin] thinks they’re the kings of cheese or something, but if they give us Iowans a little more time, we’ll catch up,” Colleen Krogmeier joked, after expanding their successful family business. In 2019, the Krogmeier family entered their newly-built creamery to begin making Hinterland Dairy’s first batch of cheese curds.
Ralph, Colleen and their daughter Shannon had considered expanding their dairy to a creamery for decades and finally made that dream a reality. Hinterland produces four flavors of cheese curds, blocks and wheels of aged cheese and their newest product, quark, a soft cheese that can be used as a yogurt alternative. Visitors to their shop in Donnellson can see first-hand the dairy production process and learn more about the family business.
“We’re taking cutting-edge technology and applying it to agriculture in a way that no one has ever done,” said Colin Hurd, founder of Ames-based Smart Ag, which was acquired by Raven Industries. Colin is driving high-tech solutions from Iowa onto farm fields all across the land with the goal of addressing the issue of labor scarcity.
Specifically, Hurd and his team apply driverless technology to tractors. They’ve developed a retrofit kit that can be added to a standard tractor to make it autonomous. Once equipped, the tractor connects with cloud-based Smart Ag software to perform various farming functions.