Iowa Farming Couple Escapes Floods, But Not Worry The Griffieon family's Ankeny, Iowa, farm avoided the floods that devastated much of the Midwest. But the disaster has driven up food prices, and the Griffieons worry about their role in the crisis — and whether it's ethical to sell their corn for ethanol.
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Iowa Farming Couple Escapes Floods, But Not Worry

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Iowa Farming Couple Escapes Floods, But Not Worry

Iowa Farming Couple Escapes Floods, But Not Worry

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Flooding in the Midwest has devastated some towns and farms, while leaving others largely unaffected. We've been following one Iowa farm family this year, Craig and LaVon Griffieon. They raise corn, soybeans, and beef on 1,100 acres near Ankeny. That's 15 miles north of Des Moines, and a safe distance from the Des Moines and Cedar Rivers that overflowed their banks.

Another thing worrying them is the international food crisis. More and more of the nation's corn crop goes toward making ethanol. That means more corn for fueling American cars, not food. It's a point of philosophical disagreement between Craig and LaVon Griffieon. Their story comes to us from John Biewen of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Mr. CRAIG GRIFFIEON (Farmer): So far, everything's going right on schedule. We got the corn planted. We ended up finishing up the soybeans about the third week in May. I got the corn all but about 60 acres of it sprayed this last week.

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Today, we're working in the shop, working on a hay mower conditioner. Oh, I got to take some both off of here, and…

(Soundbite of banging)

Mr. GRIFFIEON: It's rained too much now, and we're kind of out of the field waiting for it to dry, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen this week 'cause they're forecasting rain for the rest of the week.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Let me get that call. Hello. I'm working on the swing arm. No. Did you find out what we're doing with those cows yet?

We've been pretty lucky right here. We kind of missed all the big heavy downpours. In the last three weeks, we've probably had about three and a half inches of rain, and there's some places just north of us a little ways that's had between nine and 12 inches of rain. They've got ponds all over and we've got some little ponds, but nothing that's going to hurt us too much as far as yield.

Ms. LAVON GRIFFIEON (Farmer): Here it is. The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization is hosting a three-day summit to try to solve the short-term emergency of increased hunger caused by soaring prices and to help poor countries who are...

Mr. GRIFFIEON: From the time I was growing up, and that's what they taught us in school, that if you're in agriculture, you had to feed the world. And I don't know the statistics for sure, but back a few years ago, the average size of the farm was like 500 acres, and they figured you fed 100 families.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: Iowa, we'd like to tell people we're the food capital of the world, but indeed we aren't. We're the feed capital of the world. We're producing corn and soybeans that mostly is ground up to feed livestock. And now we want to transition that to be the fuel capital of the world.

In all truth, can you justify turning a food source into a fuel source?

Mr. GRIFFIEON: I guess I can, as long as the food source is the surplus. And if you look back over 30, 40 years, we've had a surplus of grains in this country. And I think even today, if we didn't have the ethanol, we'd still have a surplus of grain. We'd probably still be down at $1.50 a bushel for corn to $2, which is below my production costs.

But now, with the ethanol taking up the surplus and making more of a demand, the price of our grain is up where I'm making a profit on top of what my cost of production is.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: Maybe you should only get subsidized for the corn that gets sold for food and not the corn that gets sold for fuel. Just a thought.

Mr. GRIFFIEON: That would be awful hard to keep that all separated.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: Yeah, since you called the elevator today and asked him, where does my corn go? And the man, the guy at the elevator couldn't answer the question: how much of my corn goes for ethanol and how much of my corn goes for feed? And he didn't even talk about food. He only talked about feed and fuel, and he never talked about food.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GRIFFIEON: That's true.

Ms. GRIFFIEON: Do you feel like a pawn in this and not a player?

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Yeah. I think most farmers out here are probably just serfs working for the lord, which is the government, probably, or private industry, big corporations I think are the ones that are controlling…

Ms. GRIFFIEON: Control the government.

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Control the government, like, you know, Cargill and Monsanto and Syngenta and DuPont, and some of the other...



Ms. GRIFFIEON: So I got to know, do you feel like an independent farmer?

Mr. GRIFFIEON: Right now, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GRIFFIEON: Okay. How's life in Egypt? You're living in denial.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: That's Craig and LaVon Griffieon of Ankeny, Iowa. Their story is produced by John Biewen of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, with help from Rob Dillard of Iowa Public Radio.

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