Activity 6

Farming Today and Tomorrow

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Exports and Value-Added Agriculture

Farmers live in a changing economy and face many situations in which they have no control - prices, weather and disease. This requires many decisions: what crops to grow, which seeds to buy, how to grow them and get the best yield per acre, how to get crops to market, as well as how to find new uses for corn and soybeans.

The U.S. exports corn to over 100 countries.

Loading grain barges on the Mississippi River
Iowa is a major contributor to the corn market. Most of U.S. corn is transported down the Mississippi River and through the port of New Orleans.

Shipping exports

U.S. corn exports supply top markets such as Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, South Korea, and Egypt. Even smaller markets import a lot of U.S. corn including countries in Central America and nations in the Caribbean.

What is value-added agriculture?
Value-added agriculture transforms crops and livestock into products of greater value.Value-added agriculture is increasing the economic value of an agricultural commodity through changes in genetics, processing or diversification.Value-added agriculture means taking crops such as corn or soybeans and livestock such as cattle, hogs, turkeys, chickens, or sheep and adding more uses to them to give them more value, increase job opportunities and expand agricultural markets.Value-Added ExampleThe Kool-Aide StandA packet of unmixed Kool-Aide might be worth 25 cents, and one cup of sugar is another 25 cents. The water used to make the Kool-Aide is 1 cent. By processing these ingredients and marketing them they become "value-added." A pitcher of Kool-Aide may bring $3 when marketed at 25 cents per cup, and the ingredients cost 51 cents.

As a leading agricultural processing state, Iowa transforms millions of bushels of corn into value-added products such as corn oil, starches, sweeteners and animal feed ingredients, much of it for export.

One hundred countries buy U.S. processed corn products, including nations as distant as Swaziland, Kazakhstan, and French Polynesia as reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Iowa poultry, pork and beef (fed with Iowa corn) are exported around the globe.

Other value-added products are made from corn such as hand cleaner, graffiti remover, candles, and plastic silverware.

Iowa's most widely known value-added product is ethanol, a corn-based fuel blended into gasoline.

What's happening in the farm economy today?


Visit four different agriculture news Web sites over one-week period and read current articles that discuss one of the following topics:

  • Prices of corn and soybeans
  • International export of farm products
  • Foreign competition in production of corn or soybeans
  • Value-added products made from corn or soybeans
  • New local food systems
  • New agricultural marketing opportunities

Look for the Search box on each news Web site to help locate information about the topic you have chosen.

After selecting your news stories, complete the news analysis worksheet.

Farm News Resources

  • Iowa Farmer Today Online
  • Successful Farming
  • Voice of Agriculture - Farm Bureau
  • U.S Department of Agriculture News
  • Iowa Farm Bureau
  • Chicago Board of Trade
  • AgWeb

  • Evaluation

    Complete a written reflection after completing the news worksheet and answer the following questions:

    1. What do you think is the most important issue facing farmers today?
    2. In your opinion, why is this issue the most important?

    Photos used by permission from the USDA Online Photography Center.

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