Iowa Farmer Today

IFT Publications’ founding publisher Steve DeWitt (left), and managing editor John Robertson, check a protoype copy of Iowa Farmer Today — just off the press. Photo July, 1984.

Thirty-five years ago this month, an idea became reality as the first issue of Iowa Farmer Today arrived in mailboxes across the Midwest.

And while technology and policy have reshaped agriculture time and time again, IFT’s mission remains the same — to bring farmers practical, useful and timely information.

The idea, says IFT Publications publisher Terry Reilly, was to produce a newspaper that not only offered the latest in ag information, but also established a connection between the publication and its audience.

“Our biggest strength has always been our relationship with our audience,” he says.

IFT has broadened the scope of its coverage in the past 35 years, beginning with the purchase of Midwest Marketer in 1996. Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer were first published in 2006 and 2014, respectively. All fall under the IFT Publications banner.

Reilly was part of the original IFT staff back in September 1984. For the first few months, his desk as a sales associate was in the hallway at the Cedar Rapids Gazette building, while IFT founder and publisher Steve DeWitt had an office in a space carved out of the sports department area.

The news team in Cedar Rapids shared desks with Gazette night staff people in the newsroom.

“I am personally very proud to have been a part of Iowa Farmer Today for 35 years,” Reilly says. “We’ve had a great team serving Iowa farmers for 35 years and I’m proud to be a part of that team.”

IFT was owned by the Gazette until 2004, when it sold to Lee Enterprises.

Providing useful and timely information can be difficult as agriculture changes. IFT was born in the midst of the farm-credit crisis of the 1980s, an era of difficulty and strife on the farm and a challenging moment to start any new farm publication.

Farm-policy discussions centered on programs such as PIK (Payment In Kind). Acronyms such as ACRE or even CRP were not invented. The internet as we know it was little more than a twinkle in some computer wizard’s eye. And nobody had ever heard of a cell phone, much less texted on one.

DeWitt thought a weekly publication devoted to the interests of Iowa farmers could not only work, but was needed. It was DeWitt, who worked for another ag magazine and was a partner in an ad agency, who approached managers at the Cedar Rapids Gazette in late 1983 with his idea for a weekly ag publication.

The USA Today newspaper was new on the scene with its revolutionary use of color and graphics. DeWitt proposed a weekly ag publication using plenty of color and graphics combined with in-depth reporting on issues of common-sense use for farmers in Iowa.

The first issue of IFT was published Sept. 8, 1984, and was only sent to farmers in northeast Iowa. Editions for farmers in southeast, southwest and northwest Iowa were soon added.

Much like the rest of agriculture, the appearance of IFT has changed. The first issue was published in a larger format, much like a large paper. Today, it is published in a tabloid format.

The lead headline in the first issue was about the weather: “Too wet, dry, or both?”

Much has changed over the past 35 years. IFT has covered floods and droughts, triumph and tragedy, and the good and bad times. But the mission to provide timely, useful and practical information remains, regardless of the year.

IFT continues to change with its audience. Information is still provided through the weekly publications, but news and advertising can also be accessed online.

Reilly says IFT is a “full-service digital agency,” with offerings that include an email newsletter and digital advertising website services. All of IFT’s publications can be found in full online.

Since 1984, the ag landscape has changed dramatically. Technological advances now allow farmers to manage grain bins and check markets from smartphones. Thanks to things like GPS, farmers no longer have to guess when it comes to fertilizer application and soil nutrient levels.

Some combines now drive themselves. The width of planters continues to grow. Artificial insemination is the norm in the hog industry. Seed traits allow farmers to select for a variety of characteristics.

But with all these advances, there is still room for the basics. There remains value in stockmanship in the livestock industry, for example. Traditional farm cooking is still a staple of Iowa tables, as evidenced by the continuing popularity of IFT’s farm cook page.

Today, agriculture continues to face challenges. Trade disruptions, the threat of foreign animal disease and the weather are at the top of that list.

But just like in September 1984, IFT continues to bring information to the American farmer in a timely, useful and practical manner. In an industry that is always changing, some things remain the same.

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.