National Agriculture Week always coincides with the first week of spring, so this year we celebrated it March 20-26. This annual event is a great opportunity to say thank you to the farmers, who provide food and fuel for all of us. It also provides us with an opportunity to showcase the importance of agriculture to others across our nation, as well as around the world.
The Ag Week 2020 theme was “Growing a Climate for Tomorrow.” Agriculture depends on hardworking, men and women to help us grow our nation’s food, fiber and fuel. Did you know that 1/5 Iowans is employed by agriculture? There is an abundance of agricultural careers from Agronomy and Biotechnology to Entomology to Zoology.
Production agriculture is becoming increasingly high tech from the seeds that are planted to the equipment that plants the seed. Better seeds provide economic benefits, help improve the environment, as well as enhance health and wellness. U.S. farmers today produce more crops from the same land, and families have access to more nutritious foods. Some of the biggest challenges our society faces – from food and energy security to protecting our natural resources – can be largely addressed through the improved seed.
It’s also fascinating to hear about the science and technology that goes into livestock production. During Ag Week, I had the opportunity to visit friends of mine from college who have grown their flock of Valais (pronounced Va-lay) Blacknose Sheep here in Iowa during the past three years.
Scott and Tina Starkweather of Valais Blacknose Sheep – Iowa have been studying pedigrees of elite sires and dams. For this lambing season, they employed sexing technology to sort male sperm from the female sperm when performing in vitro fertilization (IVF). This allows them to develop “all female” embryos to further develop their breeding program.
The Starkweathers have imported purebred Valais Blacknose semen for laparoscopic artificial insemination, as well as purebred embryos from New Zealand and genetics from Scotland, to be implanted. As a result, they will produce some of the first purebred Valais Blacknose Sheep in the United State. The sheep in their flock will display sharp black markings and white curly fleece.
This breed of sheep originated in the Valais region of Switzerland. It’s a dual-purpose breed, meaning it is raised both for meat and wool. Known as the world’s cutest sheep, this breed has black markings, curly horns and curly wool. Their wool is as soft as it looks! Both male and female Valais Blacknose Sheep have horns. Both male and female are docile, and the little lambs truly enjoy snuggling as I got to experience firsthand.
Interested in learning more about Valais Blacknose Sheep? You can see them on the Avenue of Breeds at the Iowa State Fair!