Global Impressions of Rural Iowa

Reflections from the 2019 IFAJ Pre-Congress Tour


By Harlen Persinger


Prior to attending the International Federated Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ) Congress in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a group of communicators had the opportunity to visit diversified farming enterprises and industries in the vicinity of Grundy County, Iowa. During this three-day trip, participants from Australia, Japan, Austria, Northern Ireland, Germany and South Africa learned how century farms strive to play an integral role in the ever-changing global marketplace, plus maintain stewardship of the land.


“Since I’ve been on multiple tours and attended several past Congresses, I wanted to give this group a chance to experience real grassroots farm life where I grew up,” says Harlen Persinger, who organized the event, led the tour and continues as the third generation to till the land purchased by his grandfathers. “Along with travelling to one of the top production areas in the world, another perk for each journalist was being able to interact and stay with a host family for two nights.”


After a three-hour bus ride from the Twin Cities and stops at a local coop, beef and hog farms, the highlight of the first evening’s event came during the welcome dinner. After socializing 

and having each journalist introduce themselves and provide a few remarks, they were all presented with Honorary Citizen certificates by the Grundy Center Ambassadors Group.  


Other tour highlights included: the John Deere Engine Works and Tractor Museum, Hansen Dairy, Kruse Christmas Tree Farm, Skartvedt Suffolks, Eagle Catch Fish Enterprise, Ag Leader Technology, Iowa State University and Red Granite Farm. Here are comments from each journalist.


Liza Bohlman, Special Projects, Landbouweekblad at Media 24, Pretoria, South Africa

“I was interested in the difference between the seed corn and commercial corn growing process and seeing how female corn plants receive ‘haircuts’ by a machine before human detasslers complete their job. However, the monoculture of corn and soybeans was troublesome to me. I understand now it’s because the US government agriculture programs discourage crop diversity.”

Liza Bohlman, South Africa

Kallee Buchanan, Rural reporter for ABC Wide Way in Australia

“I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to dig deep into the day-to-day life of Iowa farmers and producers. This trip was a tremendous opportunity to go beyond the usual tourist stops and immerse myself in the local community. My favorite part was getting to know my host family and seeing how resilient they are and how they take pride in their work and community.”


Ross Kay, Kallee’s husband who works as a radio announcer for ABC in Australia

“For me the corn fields seemed to go on forever with many windmills on the endless horizon. My favorite scene was an early morning run and seeing a country church and cemetery lit up during the golden hour. The people were so warm and friendly. Everyone opened their homes, which in itself revealed a sign of just how generous Iowans are. I was very grateful to be a part of the tour.”


Dr. Gerhard Schmidt, International Consultant, Unterschleissheim, Munich, Baveria, Germany

“I wanted to see up-to-date American agriculture practices and have one-on-one contact with farmers. They were very open for discussion and didn’t hesitate to offer figures and their cost of production. Everyone is fully engaged and confident in what they are doing.”

Dr. Gerhard Schmidt, Germany

Brian Donaldson, Agricultural editor at the Incorporated Reporter in Belfast, Northern Ireland

“This was the 20th anniversary of my first visit to the Midwest through a guild sponsored by AAEA. There has been so many changes since then and farmers must now be strong-minded to survive. I got to see my first ‘fire flies’ something new and novel to me. The number of people that shared their Irish ancestry every evening was an emotional experience.”

Brian Donaldson, Northern Ireland

Satoru Mizuguchi, Vice President of the Japanese of Environmental Journalists, Tokyo, Japan

“It was eye-opening to see how involved the entire family is with every aspect of the business, especially the children. I was impressed seeing century farms that had been owned by the same family for over 100 years and how they embrace their heritage and family life. The overall experience was enlightening and educational.”


Antje Krieger, PR/Corporate Communications, Public Affairs Bay Wa Ag, Leising, Not, Germany

‘I’m not a journalist but work as a press officer for a public relations communications team. This was my first trip to the US. I signed up for the tour so I would be able to contact American farmers to discuss how they are affected by political decisions and global market development. Even though the hours passed quickly, I felt like I became a member of the community and truly enjoyed meeting so many down-to-earth people.”


Stefan Nimmervoll, Editor of Blick ins Land magazine in Austria

“I was introduced to a completely different perspective of farming on my first ever visit to Iowa. Mostly corn and soybeans are grown here and the farms are much larger, compared to Austria. While management practices might vary, farmers are convinced that what they are doing is good and they strive to produce a high-quality product. It was so easy to talk with everyone and how folks offered their opinions on subjects ranging from tariff relations to government programs and current politics.”


“The unique and memorable aspect of this tour was the two night stay each journalist shared with a family. If I had drawn names out of a hat, I could not have matched everyone any better. The visitors were warmly welcomed. Host families shared that they learned much from our visitors too, Harlen says. “I’m confident that spending that time together created some lifelong friendships. In fact, a couple of the Iowa hosts had planned to travel overseas this summer to visit the person who stayed with them before the world pandemic affected their plans.”


“I know my neighbors truly relished the opportunity to meet first-class journalists from around the world and help them glean a snapshot of agriculture here,” he adds. “We have a deep heritage and that is something to be proud of. This journey proved to be an overwhelming experience and went far beyond my expectations.”

Several top agricultural journalist and publications also shared, joined and covered parts of the tour. These included: Loren Kruse, Editor Emeritus, Successful Farming, Corey Munson, The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman, Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today, Megan Vollstedt, Meredith Agrimedia, Cheryl Tevis, Ag Perspectives, Inc., Soo Greiman, Hudson Herald, Rod Swoboda, Wallaces Farmer, Lynn Henderson, Agri Marketing, Michaela Kendall, The Grundy Register, Melia Reicks, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University and Andrew Wind, The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.