Farming for public health


People go to the Mayo Clinic or Univ. of Iowa Hospital and Clinics to get an honest, accurate diagnosis of their health situation and develop a course of action that addresses the problem, right?

When it comes to the health of Iowa’s land and water, here is the accurate and honest assessment of the situation, based on decades of solid evidence:

• Corn-bean rotation is inherently leaky, not anyone’s fault. It leaks nitrate and pesticides.

• Weed resistance to herbicides in corn-bean has led to a spiral of more herbicide and uncontrollable weeds.

• 50 million pounds of highly hazardous weed killers, insecticides and fungicides are applied all over Iowa annually to keep the corn-bean system going.

• Iowans are drinking corn fertilizer and pesticides in drinking waters.

• Loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat for pollinators.

• Our most precious life-sustaining asset—our soils—are being degraded and eroded.

• Exacerbating downstream floods due to loss of water-holding qualities of upstream soils.

Every one of the above problems has a public health consequence and the evidence is overwhelming—child neuro-developmental disorders, reproductive problems, more chronic illnesses, more cancers. If a foreign power had done these to us, we would send in the Marines.

Are there better cropping systems that do not leak, do not require pesticides, and are good for the land and people? The answer is a strong yes.  None of these problems are necessary and we invite you to come see solutions first hand at one of many field days these summer organized by Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa Organic Association. You will see farm families whose farming practices are providing all of us with ecosystem services that enhance public health.

Decades of research at ISU and elsewhere and decades of accumulated farmers knowledge has produced robust results: adding crop diversity, adding small grains, adding longer rotations suppress weeds, enhance soil quality, dramatically reduce the needs for pesticides and purchased fertilizers. We know these for sure. And we need policies that make transition to their widespread adoption practical.  All Iowans need to learn about these viable options for a healthier Iowa.  

Farming for public health is new initiative to build more understanding among Iowans, especially healthcare providers and public health professionals, about agricultural strategies that solve for a pattern of soil health, clean water, biodiversity conservation, healthy food, rural economic vitality — collectively, public health.

We are collaborating with many organizations to:

Highlight the work of innovative farms solving for a pattern of health for all Iowans.

Invite Iowans, especially public health and health care professionals, to learn about these upstream solutions and support them.

Affirm farm families’ contribution to public health through their adoption of organic and regenerative farming practices.

A two-part field day will be held on Wednesday, July 17 near Sutherland. See for details. For more information visit

Kamyar Enshayan is an agricultural engineer and a past recipient of Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award. Audrey Tran Lam, MPH, coordinates UNI’s Farming for Public Health initiative. Both work at University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education. They can be reached at

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