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Agriculture And Education: Today's Solution For Tomorrow's World.

Sep 02, 2013


Bruce Rastetter, CEO of Summit Group and President of the Iowa Board of Regents shares his passion for agriculture and education and how together we can produce the food for a growing world.  Please read his commentary below after watching the video interview.

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U.S. Agriculture Education:  Today’s solution for tomorrow’s world.

By Bruce Rastetter

As the president of the Iowa Board of Regents and the CEO of a diversified, international agribusiness, I often reflect on the two most important influences in my life – agriculture and education.  These things not only significantly impacted my life, but they made America strong and prosperous.  Linked at the birth of the Republic, agriculture and education were carefully nurtured – growing and flourishing long with our country.


Today, we can’t look at U.S. agriculture without seeing the guiding hand and impact of education.

Thanks to improved genetics, technology and operational practices, we now experience yields and production levels that were unimaginable a generation ago.  Agriculture is increasingly a science-based, knowledge intensive and globally competitive enterprise.  To be successful, operators must have a skill set that includes finance, marketing, communication and strategic planning.  This isn’t your father’s farm anymore—and hasn’t been for some time.

The American farmer of today is the model of efficiency and productivity, single–handedly feeding 155 people.  That’s more than three time the number fed in the early 1960’s and eight times as many prior to World War II.  Thanks to U.S. producers and grower, our weekly trip to the supermarket ensures us the safest and most reliable food supply in the world.  We have the highest quality and the greatest choices while paying the least of any global culture – just 9.4 percent of our yearly income.

So how did we get here?  How did U.S. agriculture come to dominate the world stage?  It came through our fervent commitment to education—an exchange of academics and practical experience, the blending of scientific research and entrepreneurialism and our insatiable need to find solutions to the most challenging problems.   

Scores of land-grant institutions, including Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota opened their doors and expanded the minds of future agricultural pioneers and innovators such as George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug.  Their research and vision forever changed the face of agriculture and how to feed a growing population while inspiring generations of students, professors and scientists across the globe.

When we look at the current environment, brilliant minds and an unwavering commitment to education are needed more than ever.  The Challenges facing agriculture are more significant than ever.

The world’s population currently sits at more than seven billion.  It took from the beginning of human existence to 2011 to reach this mark. Just 30 years earlier, in 1981, we stood at four and a half billion.  Thirty years from today we’ll hit nine billion.  But it’s not just the raw population figures that come into play—diets are changing around the world as incomes increase, particularly in China and India.  With an increased demand for protein comes an increase demand for grain—all while the amount of high yielding farmland is shrinking per capita.  In short, Earth’s human population roughly 30 years from now will require 100 percent more food than our current production numbers.

So where do we start? 
To begin with, 70 percent of this food will need to come from efficiency improving technology and by improving the existing acres in production.

There has never been a better time than today for a Silicon Valley, of sorts, that centers on agriculture and the utilization of science and technology to feed and create a better world.  We also need more people like Norman Borlaug.  The good news is that we’re already on the way, thanks to agricultural education programs at colleges and universities throughout the United States—particularly our land-grant institutions.  The interest in embracing science, technology and education has never been more important and for those agriculture students and graduates, the opportunities have never been greater.

Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has experienced more than a 60 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment since 2006.  These students are acutely aware of the major issues facing society.  They know about the world’s population trends and are concerned that the population may exceed the world’s ability to provide food and clean water in the lifetime.  They are aware of the need to develop renewable energy resources and they believe climate and weather patterns are shifting.  In their search for the right college, they are attracted to places that actively seek practical solutions to the world’s pressing problems.  What they’re finding is that colleges of agriculture are those places.

Regardless of a student’s major or career path, agricultural colleges are providing more than just skills specific to a student’s field:  they’re teaching professional problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills and communications skills for making more informed decisions.  Whether a student intends to farm, start a business, work in a research laboratory or become a veterinarian or physician, that foundation is invaluable.  As CEO of Summit Group, I’ve had the good fortune over the years to hire many of these agricultural college graduates and I’ve seen these excellent skills firsthand every day.

These programs and institutions, like a valuable crop need nurturing.  Agricultural education must regain it’s status as a high priority for state and federal decision makers.  Agricultural colleges nationwide took huge budget hits over the last decade.  We now need states’ elected officials and policy makers to step up and champion excellence in higher education agricultural programs.  Leaders need to realize that it’s these programs and their graduates who will positively impact society in many ways.

However, it doesn’t all fall squarely on our statehouses.  The federal budget must renew and instill confidence in the importance of maintaining and growing the world’s best agricultural research and educational programs. 

To meet the challenge and the hurdles of world population growth and protein demand, we also need individuals willing to share their success and invest in these worthwhile programs.  Supporting higher education, especially ag-related , is a top priority of mine—which is why I endowed the Chair in Agriculture Entrepreneurship at Iowa State University, among other initiatives.  I encourage others to give back as well.  We have a responsibility to the public universities and land grant schools to support successful and productive education systems in dynamic and creative ways.

In turn, it is the responsibility of the colleges and universities to exercise prudent and efficient uses of those funds—whether they state, federal or private.

George Washington Carver the first African American student and faculty member at what today is Iowa State University sums it up with this quote:

“Since new developments are the products of a creative mind, we must therefore stimulate and encourage that type of mind in every way possible>.”

Those of us in agriculture continue to have a huge responsibility to agriculture to the world why science and technology are critical to feed the world.  The challenges in front of us are enormous; however we only need to look to our past to see where our future will take us.


About Bruce L. Rastetter, CEO Summit Group

Bruce Rastetter is a lifelong Iowan committed to making a difference in our state.  He is a successful entrepreneur of agriculture and energy related companies as well as a community leader dedicated to improving the quality and affordability of higher education in Iowa.

He learned the value of hard work and education growing up on his 300 acre family farm outside of Iowa Falls, later attending Ellsworth Community College and the University of Iowa.  After graduating, he returned to his roots to start his own feed management business.  The success of the business led him to additional startups – a building construction entity and a swine production operation—later merging the tree businesses into Heartland Pork Enterprises.  He guided Heartland’s acquisition by Christensen Farms to become the 4th largest U.S. pork producer.

A true entrepreneur, in 2003 Bruce co-founded Hawkeye Energy Holdings, which grew to become one of American’s largest pure-play ethanol producers.  He served as CEO until 2011.

Today, Bruce serves as CEO of Summit Group, a leader in agribusiness, production agriculture, renewable energy and international development.  The organization includes Summit Farms, headquartered in northern Iowa.  The operation includes extensive grain and meat production while maintaining a strong environmental commitment with thousands of acres of conservation land.

Bruce is an active philanthropist and community leader, supporting efforts focussed on education and entrepreneurship.  He is president of the Iowa Board of Regents and serves on the board of directors for Hawkeye energy Holdings, Advanced Bioenergy and Growth Energy.