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Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers marks 20-year milestone

CSIF formed to help livestock farmers find best locations for new barns, interpret regulations and enhance relations with neighbors.

February 2, 2024

5 Min Read
National Pork Board

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers was formed 20 years ago to support farmers facing unprecedented opposition. Anti-ag groups were targeting livestock farmers, obstructing expansion and adoption of new, science-based practices. Nuisance lawsuits were filed against family farms, threatening their existence. With a vibrant livestock industry crucial to corn and soybean farmers as well as associated businesses on rural main streets, the very fabric of agriculture in Iowa was at risk.

Farming had changed following the devastating 1980s Farm Crisis that wiped out numerous farms. In order to survive, family farms had to gain economies of scale, like growing a herd, necessary to support a family.

The public, unfamiliar with why the changes were necessary, did not always respond well. Long-time farm families faced frequent friction with neighbors giving rise to activist groups who gained financial backing from out of state interests. By the early 2000s, livestock farmers were struggling to get their arms around mounting costs, complex regulations, and nuisance lawsuits.

“There was a lot of unrest and uncertainty in the industry,” said Marty Schwager, executive director of the Iowa Farm Bureau. “Farmers with as few as 300 head were being attacked by out-of-town activists, pushing generational farms out of business. We had to do something.”

The answer? The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers. CSIF was formed to help livestock farmers find the best locations for new livestock barns, interpret rules and regulations to avoid issues, and enhance relations with their neighbors to build trust and understanding.

CSIF was unique in that it includes broad representation from farm groups across the state: the Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Corn Growers, the Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Turkey Federation, Midwest Dairy and the North Central Poultry Association.

“For ISA, livestock farmers are our biggest customer, so it’s really a case of producers’ dollars working for them,” says Kirk Leeds, chief executive office of the Iowa Soybean Association. Currently, more than 100 industry partners and sponsors provide additional funding.

CSIF began to work with farmers on interpreting regulations and facility siting, going beyond the rule book to take into account wind, topography and neighbors, from traditional farmers to a rural/urban mix. From the beginning, CSIF made neighbor relations a priority.

“We’re very appreciative of the foresight it took to put the Coalition together,” says Pat McGonegle, Iowa Pork Producers chief executive officer. “It’s become a vital tool in Iowa’s pork industry, and a significant factor in its growth.”

Prior to CSIF, farmers had no single reliable consistent source of information, and often felt helpless against the backlash of neighbors and activists.

CSIF changed that.

“They brought clarity to farmers and livestock producers, and transparency to the process,” says Schwager. “Iowa has an edge because our practices are based on sound principles. Farmers and their neighbors have better relations because CSIF, a neutral party with siting experts, knows what a good location looks like and takes multiple factors and science into account.”

Just as ag has changed, the Coalition has evolved and changed based on the needs of farmers. It continues to work with farmers on neighbor relations and public perceptions but devotes much of its time and resources to helping farm families who want to grow to help young people wanting to return to the farm.

“Livestock has always been a portal for young people to enter agriculture,” says Schwager. “CSIF is a viable source for making that happen by making sure they are regulation compliant and set up to continue to grow and evolve over the long term.”

CSIF hosts an annual Farming for the Future conference for young producers and workshops on aquaculture, calving and feeding cattle under roof, and windbreak installation. Its Green Farmstead Partner Program promotes landscaping solutions for environmental impact and improved ascetics.

CSIF also works to tell the story of successful and environmentally-sound livestock production through on-site facility open house events and the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, an honor bestowed ten times a year on an Iowa family farm who is active in the community, produces livestock with the highest animal care standards, and puts an emphasis on conservation and environmental stewardship.

“The Coalition has been incredibly successful because it has stayed focused on farmers’ needs,” says Leeds, “and because of the incredible and dedicated staff.”

“We want our livestock farmers to be good neighbors today and tomorrow,” says CSIF Executive Director Brian Waddingham. “They want to do it right. They want to farm with minimal environmental impact. The rules for livestock production are stringent, but we can work with them and make them work on most farms.”

“CSIF is a trusted voice in agriculture,” says McGonegle, “with farmers, regulators, local governments and local folks.”

The confidence Iowa’s livestock farmers have in knowing they are “doing things right” has allowed growth for all sectors of the industry – livestock, crops, truckers, elevators and feed mills, and technology providers. One in five Iowa jobs is tied to agriculture; nearly one-third of those involve livestock.

“It allows us to grow and change,” says McGonegle.

“The Coalition to Support Iowa Farmers is an outstanding example of our food and ag organizations working together to provide Iowa farmers with trusted resources and a helpful partner as they responsibly grow their family farms,” says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “Whether it’s helping an existing farm expand or a beginning farmer get started, CSIF has developed into a one-stop shop of reputable information on livestock rules and regulations, building siting, protecting our environment and building positive relationships with neighbors.”

CSIF is one of the longest running ag coalitions in the state and a model for others in the Midwest. CSIF will celebrate its 20th Anniversary throughout the year, with a special event planned for the 2024 Iowa State Fair.

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