Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig visits Waukon Feed Ranch Agronomy Center during recent tour through northeast Iowa

Iowa Ag Secretary visits Waukon Feed Ranch ... Thursday morning, August 26, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig (far right) visited the Waukon Feed Ranch Agronomy Center located west of Waukon on Old Highway 9. Pictured above with Secretary Naig are Waukon Feed Ranch staff members (left to right) Brian Herman, Trevor Herman (partially hidden), Kim Winters, Brad Herman, Michelle Wood (partially hidden), Daniel Dykstra and Natalie Rasmussen. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Joe Moses

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig visited the Waukon Feed Ranch Agronomy Center west of Waukon Thursday, August 26 to meet with management and stakeholders to hear concerns and discuss matters relating to agriculture and agribusiness in Allamakee County.
Naig began the meeting with discussion of drought conditions that are being seen throughout the state. He noted that some areas in Iowa are not far from the D2 or D3 drought categories, which can be described as categories where crop or pasture losses are likely. Naig commented that parts of the state are in 12-inch rain deficits, which will likely not be made up until this fall, and that river navigation on both sides of the state are a concern with low river levels.

Waukon Feed Ranch General Manager Brad Herman discussed trends and issues affecting sow production, with Naig elaborating on biosecurity and disease management. Naig said that the confirmation of African Swine Fever (ASF), a contagious and deadly viral disease affecting swine of all ages, in the Dominican Republic is very concerning. Naig noted that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is doing a good job with monitoring and testing for ASF with testing samples also taking place in Haiti, which shares a border with the Dominican Republic. Naig said that additional testing across the Caribbean is advisable from a disease management standpoint due to air travel and ship movement between the islands.

Naig noted that there are no exports of pork products from the Dominican Republic to the United States and that ASF has not been found in Puerto Rico. Naig added that if ASF were to be found in Puerto Rico, barriers would be put in place for containment to prevent any spread to the continental United States. Naig further discussed disease prevention, surveillance testing and that an exercise will be taking place this fall relating to the threat a detection at a meat processing facility would pose with origin tracing to also take place as part of this exercise.

Herman and Naig discussed the feed and grain storage side of Waukon Feed Ranch’s business before moving into discussion of construction. Waukon Feed Ranch Assistant General Manager Daniel Dykstra advised that maintenance is being performed while construction has slowed due to COVID-19 pandemic related factors including inflated material costs.

Human Resources Manager Michelle Wood shared that Waukon Feed Ranch has approximately 200 employees with Wood and Dykstra discussing challenges in employee recruitment. Naig added that the low unemployment rate, individuals exiting the workforce and population decline in many rural communities are contributing factors to the issues surrounding employee recruitment.

Herman and Wood discussed the TN Visa program which allows non-citizen professionals from Canada and Mexico to work in the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Naig further discussed the H-2A program allowing U.S. employers or agents meeting specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agriculture-related jobs. Wood advised that TN Visa workers have been recently approved for one-year terms but that it would be beneficial to have that time period extended to three-year terms again.

The importance of keeping trade school, community college and university graduates in rural communities was discussed, with Dykstra speaking about the increased focus locally in providing opportunities for young people to stay and work in the area with Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) playing an important role in providing training and degrees. Naig and Herman discussed the role of broadband infrastructure for business and industry and the need for affordable housing and quality daycare in attracting and keeping employees in rural areas.

Prior to the conclusion of the meeting, factors affecting business transition and succession planning were discussed with Naig, in addition to several conservation-related topics.

Waukon Feed Ranch is a family business owned and operated by Brad Herman, Kim Winters and Brian Herman with operations including grain marketing and storage, construction, transportation, feed grinding, LP delivery, repair, an agronomy department and the management of over 24,000 sows in three different states.