Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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April 24, 2015

Sullivan’s Salvos     4/28/15

In this edition:

*All Ag This Week!
*Farmer’s Markets
*Johnson County Agricultural Data
*Statewide Agricultural Data
*Democratic Party Hall of Fame
*Did You Know?

*All Ag This Week!
         Farmers are out in the fields, and spring has arrived. Time to dedicate an edition of Salvos to agriculture!

*Farmer’s Markets
         It is almost May, and that means it is time for our local Farmer’s Markets! Pork from Lois Pavelka, bread from Cephus Yoder, Marv Hotz’ sweet corn, the Miller’s beets… my mouth is watering!

         People who know me know that I am a farmer’s market fanatic. I can be found at the Iowa City Farmer’s Market pretty much every Wednesday and Saturday. I love the food, I love the farmers, I love the customers … I love everything about it! See you at the market!

*Johnson County Agricultural Data
         I recently received a mailing from the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers that contained some very interesting demographic data. There are statistics for both Johnson County and the State of Iowa. Below is some of the data:

         There are 1,342 farms in Johnson County, totaling 328,672 acres. That is an average of 245 acres per farm. If I had to guess, I’d say these folks are defining a “farm” quite liberally. I would guess that we actually have something closer to 750 farms at an average of 500 acres apiece, but again, that all comes back to your definition of a “farm”. We have people who are farming one acre; others own hundreds of acres but do not engage in what I would consider farming. But that is an argument for another day.

         In 2012, the market value of Johnson County crops was $175.3 million. The value of livestock sold was $83 million.

         Agriculture and ag-related industries accounted for 3,418 jobs, about 3.4% of the county total. Ag and ag-related industries accounted for $182 million in wages, and $916 million in sales.

         Johnson County is a bit better than average when it comes to farmland; our average Corn Suitability Rating (CSR) is 69, while statewide it is 68. But of the land in production, the average CSR is closer to 80. We have more woodlands than most counties, which also affect things.

We think of Johnson County as an “urban” county, and rightfully so. Yet it is important that we recognize the huge role that agriculture plays in our local economy.

*Statewide Agricultural Data
         Statewide, the economic impact of agriculture is truly staggering. Ag accounts for one out of every three dollars in the Iowa economy. One in 5 Iowans works in ag or ag-related industries. Iowa ranks number one in hogs, corn, soybeans, and eggs, and in the top 5 for cattle, chickens, and turkeys.

         Anyone who has known me long knows that I grew up on the family farm. It is not just any family farm; both my maternal grandmother and maternal grandfather came from families that settled in Iowa prior to statehood. We have two family farms that have been in the family seven and eight generations, respectively. My family has been on the same land since 25 years before the start of the Civil War! So yes, I am proud of my family farm roots.

         After growing up out on the farm, on a gravel road, miles from the nearest town, I moved to Iowa City. And while I love the things city life offers, I often miss the farm. One small connection that I maintain is my screensaver.

         Both home and at work, my screensaver is a photo of my Grandpa, Ed Jack, winning the 1960 State Corn Picking Championship. I love the photo for a lot of reasons, but primarily the way in which he holds his hat in his hands. Though he had become quite wealthy through farming, he was a very humble man. The photo really captures that. And despite the fact that he had been using a mechanical combine for several years, he obviously had not lost his touch when it came to picking corn.

         We used to pick a lot of sweet corn when I was a kid. If you have ever seen anyone pick corn by hand, you know that it is not easy. And my Grandpa was a perfectionist – you had to do it right! I knew intuitively why he won that contest – he had the cleanest row and fewest deductions. Sure enough, that was true.

         My Grandpa loved to enter contests. He liked to experiment, and he had a competitive spirit. So his house was full of trophies and plaques. Only one, however, was first place. That was the State Corn Picking Championship.

         Also on a shelf were about a dozen trophies earned in various statewide competitions. There were 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd place trophies – in some cases, multiples. Most of the awards were in yield competitions.

         He got second in a highest yield contest in the late ‘50s, and once averaged 200 bushels per acre, which was the farming equivalent of breaking the 4-minute mile. The statewide average now is 189 bushels per acre, so technology has certainly caught up.

         I remember the importance he placed on watching the markets. The guys who were working on the farm came into the house every day at EXACTLY 11:55. They washed their hands with Lava soap, filled their plates, and started to eat dinner. There was no “lunch” – dinner at noon, supper for the evening meal!

Then they put on the WMT noon news, with the volume cranked, because years on the tractor (no cab) had ruined my Grandpa’s hearing. (KCRG showed a soap opera at noon and had no noon news. That was an unforgiveable heresy in the eyes of my Grandfather!)

They would intently watch the markets, then decide what to do that afternoon. Maybe you got things ready to go to town and sell. Maybe not. The whole plan for the next 24 hours depended upon the market.

Nowadays, the commodities are presold on contract. There is no need to closely monitor prices and react. It is probably a lot less stressful. But at the time, it certainly seemed exciting to a kid watching it all unfold!

         My Granny played a different role, and we kids were her helpers. Each family had HUGE gardens – between the 4 families, the garden space (not counting sweet corn and fruit trees) was probably almost 2 acres. We spent all summer picking strawberries, asparagus, beans, peas, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, apples, pears, lettuce, cabbage, radishes… then Granny showed us how to clean them, cut them, and store them.

Farming has changed a lot since I was a kid. I was recently asking my Mom who was renting the family’s various plots of land. She reported that there are only 3-4 people farming in the whole area, and that these operations have become so large that what used to be considered a sizeable farm (say, 250 acres) is barely worth their time to rent!

I never wanted to go into farming – I realized right away that I was a people person, and agriculture could get lonely. But I miss those days, and remember them fondly.

*Democratic Party Hall of Fame
Save the date! The Johnson County Democratic Party is holding our Annual Hall of Fame Awards event on Saturday, May 16 at 7pm at the Coralville Marriott.

Please join us for coffee, desserts, and plenty of old war stories! A cash bar will be available. Parking is available for a small fee on either end of the building.

The Hall of Fame inductees for 2015 are: Gary Sanders, Ro Foege, Pat Ikan, and Dennis and Robin Roseman. We hope you can join us in recognizing this remarkable group!

Tickets are available for a $25 suggested donation. People who cannot afford that amount should still feel welcome, but please call 354-7199 so we can get a count.

Sponsorships are available at the following levels:
$100         includes two tickets
$250         includes 4 tickets
$500         includes a whole table (8 tickets)

Checks can be mailed to:
Johnson County Democrats
PO Box 1773
Iowa City, IA 52244

If you have any questions, please contact Rod Sullivan at 354-7199 or We hope you will join us for a fun evening, and lend your voice to those who are honoring these very deserving people. We look forward to seeing you!

*DID YOU KNOW?  The average cost for one acre of farmland in Johnson County is $9750; the average rent paid is $250/acre.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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