A Closer Look: Craig Hill
Friday, December 23, 2011 7:00 AM
• About: Hill was elected president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, where he had been vice president since 2001. He is a lifelong farmer, raising hogs and row crops. His new position will require more time in the office and less time on the tractor, he said.
• Age: 56
• Hometown: Milo
• Family: Married with two children
What are the challenges facing Iowa agriculture in 2012?
I’m old enough that I’ve witnessed cycles before, and this has been termed a disruptive cycle. We have had this huge surge in prosperity. Land values have escalated at 33 percent this year; last year it was 16 percent. That does not go on forever. We won’t double land values again in three years from where they are today. We have raised the cost of production. The expense side of the ledger has gone up as dramatically as the revenue side. It used to be that $2.50 (per bushel) was the cost of production on corn, and government backstopped you, and you had some subsidies that made corn farming profitable. The cost of production is nearing $5 a bushel. There are scenarios where (the market price) could go back to $3 or $3.50, and farmers could lose as much as they did when I was young or throughout my career.
What are some other threats to agriculture?
It’s volatile times, changing times. How do we provide the risk management for farmers so we don’t have to experience what agriculture has seen in the past? It’s a time to be cautious. It’s a time to celebrate, but it’s a time to be cautious.When I started farming, I think 10 percent of the farmland was owned by people over 75; now it’s 28 percent of the farmland that is owned by those over 75. When I started, there were 23 percent under age 35 who were farming; now it’s 10 percent. That very few could be a generation of kids that is prohibited from farming because of prosperity. They can’t get an 80 bought or a home place bought. They can’t get in because of the capital-intensive nature of agriculture. So just like the 1980s removed a generation, it could be that in the next 10 years we remove another generation.
What happens if non-farming private investors enter the market for farmland?
Everyone deserves the freedom to buy a farm if they want to. But another number is that 42 percent of Iowa farmland is owned by somebody outside the borders of the state. You have farmers retiring, and when they pass, it goes to their estate. Their kids are in New York, Boston and Phoenix; they become titleholders and they turn it over to a farm manager and they get the highest possible rent they can get, but they don’t have that close attachment. We lose some of the cultural value of agriculture. I regret that. I hate to think of farmland as being a commodity that is traded in that way.
What do you want to see out of the farm bill?
Now farmers are going to have a chance to provide input; it’s going to be a process of hearings like we used to have. Crop insurance is the most popular feature of the farm bill. You have to have risk management. It’s performing well; it works for farmers. It is a revenue product rather than the old yield product, so people are pleased with that. The title that we forget about is research. To be competitive, you have to have technology and new production methods and techniques, and the research title does that. Conservation title – we’re going to have more environmental scrutiny placed on agriculture, more and more regulations, and our only line of defense could be the conservation title. It’s very expensive, when you think of the hundreds of millions of dollars; building terraces, building structures and repairing the structures is expensive.
What will define the Craig Hill presidency?
I think that we need to work harder on risk management. That is a core service that we provide through our insurance companies. There are farms that are going to be forced out of the business because of regulations. So we have to be able to influence the regulatory bodies so they don’t put us out of business. When you remove the family operation, that is bad. I believe the family farm is a miracle of production in the U.S. and around the world, that we have family-run businesses. It is not guaranteed that our future will be the same, so we have to protect that.
What do you do for recreation?
When it happens, I’ll give you a call.
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