ELY, Iowa — With inflation and rising input costs for farmers, United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said creativity is the what’s needed in agriculture needs to move forward. One aspect of that creativity might be using waste to create the clothes people wear.
Vilsack spoke at Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely, Iowa, in Linn County, focusing on waste reduction on farm operations. He announced a new $10 million program from the USDA to encourage waste reduction and research toward finding new uses for crop or livestock waste.
He said the goal of the program, laid out in the federal infrastructure bill, is for co-ops, farmers and land-grant universities to look at bio-based products and develop a supply chain infrastructure that would be sustainable for the community. Vilsack said this program would also help lower agriculture’s carbon footprint.
“The idea is how can we take crop residue and other feed stocks and convert them into bio-based products for consumers or in construction,” Vilsack said. “This grant is designed to accelerate how we can do that or make it happen.”
Jill Zullo, managing director of bio intermediates at Cargill, attended the event and said her company is building a $300 million facility in Eddyville, Iowa, which will produce 1,4-butanediol from waste, which can be converted into spandex.
“It would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions used to make your yoga pants and other stretchy materials significantly,” Zullo said.
Vilsack said being able to convert waste, such as excess manure at a confinement facility, can bring more value-added products to the market. If these products are developed, it can create more opportunities for farmers, reduce the environmental impacts and lower waste. He mentioned the practice of evaporating moisture out of manure to create a pelletized product and selling that to other farmers who may need the fertilizer, even in distant locations.
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Iowa state senator Liz Mathis said this program is an example of how agriculture can be on the forefront of innovation and an example for others.
“A lot of farmers start a practice and it works so others are drawn to that,” Mathis said. “When I say farmers need to be at the head of the table, I mean it. They need to be at the head of the table to encourage others to try some of these innovative practices that are going to strengthen soil health and boost their yield and hopefully make a lot more money.”
The program isn’t focusing on a particular practice when examining applications, Vilsack said. In the case of funding research, he encourages land-grant universities to work collaboratively when making an application.
“If you have collaboration, your application is going to be stronger,” he said. “It’s not just collaboration with the usual suspects. We have to attract more diversity into agriculture. It’s important for us to make sure we are focused on incorporating minority-serving institutions as well.”
Josie Rozum, director of operations at Dan and Debbie’s Creamery, said it’s exciting to have the announcement at her family’s operation. A USDA value-added producer grant helped their creamery business take off, and she hopes it’s able to help others as well.
“I think it’s important that all farmers understand what’s out there for each other because we can communicate and let each other know,” she said. “Any way for farmers to increase revenue streams are important to do some great things on their farm.”
Vilsack also discussed inflation and its impacts on agriculture at the event. He said the USDA is encouraging farmers to help curb inflation by doing what they do best: produce.
“We need to produce more, not just in the context of inflation but also in trying to meet the world’s needs for grain in light of what’s happening with the war in Ukraine,” Vilsack said. “The second part of that is processing. How do we create more capacity and more competition so not only producers get a better deal and consumers get a choice? When consumers have a choice, oftentimes that results in a better deal.”