by John Biewen and Rob Dillard
It’s a good time to be a farmer in Iowa. Corn prices, at $5.91 per bushel as of Monday, are soaring in part because of growing demand for ethanol, a corn-based fuel that the federal government supported when it passed the energy bill late last year. And with help from chemicals and biotechnology, Iowa farmers produce 150 bushels of corn per acre, nearly double the yield in 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Griffieon family has owned a farm in Ankeny, Iowa, since 1868 — spanning six generations — and has witnessed the growth.
Craig and LaVon Griffieon and their three children raise corn, soybeans and livestock on 1,150 acres. Their stock of antibiotic-free Limousin cattle has roamed the farm since 1960. For more than a decade, they have also offered pasture-raised poultry.
For the first time in years, the Griffieons say they’re doing well financially, but they’re ambivalent about the direction of American agriculture.
A Family Disagreement
Craig and LaVon disagree over how they should manage their farm and their land. The biggest clash is whether to sell genetically-modified vegetables and use pesticides and herbicides to ensure greater yield.
“I tell people, our kids kind of grew up on a ‘schizophrenic farm,’ where dad farms one way [and I farm another],” LaVon Griffieon says. “I rail against genetically modified plants, while he plants genetically modified corn.”