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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

This is a good time to be a farmer in Iowa. Corn prices are soaring in part because of growing demand for ethanol. And thanks to biotechnology and chemicals, Iowa farmers are able to grow more corn per acre than ever before.

For generations, Craig Griffieon's family has been working the land north of Des Moines. Now, he works a farm with his wife, LaVon. They raise corn, soybeans, and livestock on 1,150 acres. Times are good, financially. But husband and wife disagree about how best to manage their land.

Their story comes to us from Producer John Biewen of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Ms. LAVON GRIFFIEON (Iowa Farmer): This farm down here was owned by Craig's grandmother's side of the family, and this one that we're standing on was owned by Craig's grandfather.

Mr. CRAIG GRIFFIEON (Iowa Farmer): Grandfather.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: So when those two married, that was probably the beginning of an empire.

Mr. GRIFFIEON: I'm Craig Griffieon. I live in North Ankeny, Iowa.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: I'm LaVon Griffieon. So I tell people that our kids grew up on a schizophrenic farm where dad kind of farms one way. I rail against genetically modified foods while he plants genetically modified corn.

Mr. GRIFFIEON: The name of the game is yield, and you have to have the yield, so you have the bushels to sell.

Where we're walking now is where we store our corn. These are steel, round bins that are silver. Their diameter is…

Ms. GRIFFIEON: Those are tin cans.

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Yeah, they look like tin cans.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Their diameter is anywhere from 27 feet across, the biggest one is 33. And now, there have been people that have taken these old bins and made houses out of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Just last year, income off of our 1,100 acres that we farm was somewhere around 250,000 gross. It's a lot better this year than it has been in the past because of the corn and grain markets being up as high as they are, and part of that's because of the ethanol and the biodiesel, the demand for our crops.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: Can you talk about net?

Mr. GRIFFIEON: We probably - this last year, we netted about 72,000 to 75,000 somewhere around in there.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: I guess his federally subsidized lifestyle provides me as it been, instead of walking around and talking bad about him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Uh-huh. This time of the year we can start getting machinery out of this - out of the machine shed and getting it ready to go to the field, and it's a lot nicer to work on it outside than it is maybe a month ago.

What we're doing today is - Monday, we're hauling manure, and my manure sprayer is broke.

(Soundbite of hammering)

Mr. GRIFFIEON: That shaft right there, it's probably the stress over the years it just finally - it was time for it to break.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GRIFFIEON: I kind of had a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself one day out in the field.

Mr. GRIFFIEON: If I'm strong enough, I'll get up there.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: I was telling his kids, you know, that we were doing things right, and herbicides and pesticides helped us grow more crops to feed more hungry people.

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Okay. Go get some WD-40.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: I was down in the pasture with them, and a little boy leaned down and he was going to take a drink out of the stream. And I said, oh, don't drink out of that. And he kind of looked at me like, why can't I drink the water? And it dawned on me that if we were doing a really good job, our kids could drink the water, because I'm sure his grandparents drank the water.

Mr. GRIFFIEON: When I was a little kid, we farmed without chemicals and without fertilizer, and our yields for corn was 50, 60, 70 bushels, somewhere around in there. And then, in the '50s and '60s is when fertilizer and chemicals came about. So now, our every average yield runs about 180, 160 to 180 bushel, more than double. Then it comes down to a dollar-and-cent deal to make a profit.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: I say that there's a better way, you know, we really need to look past our own yields and our own bottom line, and we need to look at the big picture. Being a good Dutch-German guy, you got to, you know, you got to prove it to Craig, and you got to make the bottom line work out for him and pencil it out for him. And we're going to get him there one of these days.

SIEGEL: LaVon and Craig Griffieon of Ankeny, Iowa. We'll be hearing more from them over the coming months in reports from producer John Biewen of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Today's story also, with help from Rob Dillard of Iowa Public Radio.

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