Across the U.S., farmers saw their income decline in five out of the last six years. In fact, last year, low prices caused farm income to drop to a level unseen since 2006. Each year, Iowa farmers face an abundance of economic pressures as they try and grow their operations on thin margins. Worse so, the uncertainty caused by the Trump Administration’s trade and biofuels policies does not help matters. I want to put profitability back into farming, so operations across our state can continue to be an economic driver of our small towns and farming communities.
Iowans need leaders who will stand up to Washington, DC, regardless of which party is in power. To help lift prices, we need D.C. politicians to realize that current trade and biofuels policies are hurting farm income which will cause problems from our factories to our state budget. We need to get our trade disputes hammered out before we lose market share that took years to build, and we need to continue to open new markets. The Administration needs to follow through on its call for year round sales of E15 to increase demand for ethanol. Furthermore, it must reallocate the billions of gallons of demand for ethanol that it destroyed by granting waivers to profitable oil companies.
We need to work with the federal government to create risk management tools for livestock producers on par with the crop insurance that our row crop farmers depend on when disaster strikes. But, longer-term we need to foster new industries that use our corn, beans and byproducts to create demand for what we grow and raise so well, that also creates jobs in small towns around Iowa.
Each year, family farms across Iowa seem more and more worried they will not be able to pass down their operation to the next generation. As a fifth generation family farmer, I appreciate the sacred tradition of continuing a family legacy and providing for your family in small town Iowa. I want my family, and families across our state, to be able to pass down their farming operation. As I consider my baby daughter Lucy’s future, I want to ensure kids like her from river to river have the opportunity to follow in their family’s footsteps, if they choose.
Population decline makes it harder to keep schools, hospitals, churches, and local businesses open. Sadly, 71 out of Iowa’s 99 counties saw population loss from 2010 to 2016, even while Iowa grew by nearly 90,000 people. I don’t believe the state can get by with a handful of thriving metro areas while large areas of rural Iowa struggle to stay afloat.
A strong ag economy is fundamental to a vibrant rural Iowa. Creating new industries using our commodities will not only help raise prices through new demand, but also help communities strengthen their economies and create local wealth. But, we can also create a new conservation economy where improving soil health and habitat will lead to improvements in water quality and greater outdoor recreation opportunities like hunting and fishing. This will lead to money being spent in rural Iowa.
To attract and retain folks to rural Iowa–young and not so young–we need to make sure that high speed broadband is available. It impacts life in so many ways—from business necessity and vital communication to personal entertainment. We also have to keep college affordable so that young people, especially those with an interest in farming, are not saddled with student debt that forces them to choose more money in an urban based job, rather than coming home to the farm or small town in which they grew up.
Soil Health & Water Quality:
We are an agricultural state because were blessed to settle on some of the best topsoil in the world. Iowa’s topsoil provided a good life for millions, helped us increase productivity, and made us an agricultural powerhouse. But at current rates of erosion, some parts of Iowa will be without that resource in as little as forty to fifty years. Forty to fifty years is, God willing, within my lifetime, and most definitely within my daughter Lucy’s. If we don’t act soon, this is a problem that the next generation of Iowa’s farmers and producers will face. But it is far enough down the road, that we can do something about it.
That’s why I am calling on the state legislature and governor to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund that more than 60% of Iowans supported in 2010, and 7 out of 10 support today. With the trust fund, Iowa can take the lead and leverage Federal conservation funding that will help us build momentum to make progress at a faster pace than we have seen.
The benefits of investing in soil health, will not only be seen in higher yields for our farmers and land that is increasingly resilient to more frequent intense precipitation events, but it will provide for cleaner water downstream and a smaller dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Investing in the Future of Agriculture:
From George Washington Carver to Norman Borlaug to today’s student-leaders at Iowa State University: what happens in Iowa impacts agriculture around the world. The advancements made in our state are thanks in part to our world-class educational institutions and our public investments in research.
However, in recent years, our investment in public, agricultural research has flatlined. Iowa State’s Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station (IAHEES), which oversees Iowa State’s agriculture research, lost nearly 20% of its state funding since its highpoint in 2001. Each dollar we invest in the Experiment Station means more innovations to help our farmers increase their productivity, make conservation efforts more effective, and turn discoveries into business opportunities in value added agriculture. That’s why I am calling on the next Governor and Iowa Legislature to increase state investment at the Agricultural Experiment Station to $35,000,000 in the next four years.
This 17.11% increase in funding will help researchers at Iowa State better compete for competitive grants administered by USDA and the private sector, support initial, exploratory research, and provide for state-of-the-art labs and research farms. This necessary step is far more than merely an investment in research: it’s an investment in the future of our farmers, rural Iowa, and our state’s economy.
Trade and Export Markets:
Around the world, people know of Iowa’s contributions to Agriculture. Whether it’s because they buy what we grow, use our cutting-edge technology, or learn at one of our leading institutions, Iowa agriculture interacts with people throughout the world. Especially when it comes to people buying our products.
Our farmers are so productive that we are able to produce more than Americans need. Thanks to years of tireless relationship building, we have been able to sell our products in markets across the world. In 2017, the United States shipped $138.5 billion worth of agricultural products abroad to foreign markets. However, this incredible source of income for our small towns and farming communities is under threat, due to an ill thought out trade war.
China has been a bad actor when it comes to international trade, but I do not believe a simultaneous trade-war with them and our allies is the correct approach for resolving our disputes. Secretary Vilsack put it best when he asked, “when was the last time the United States went to war without an ally.”
We need to resolve our trade disputes with the Chinese, but not on the backs of American farmers. Farmers are proud to work hard and trade directly in open markets: they don’t want a government handout. That is why everywhere I go, I hear people calling for Trade Not Aid.
Ethanol and biodiesel are value added agriculture success stories and help provide the roadmap for building new bio-based value added industries using our corn, beans, and future crops. But Iowa leaders must stand firm in supporting our ethanol and biodiesel producers in the face of an EPA that has favored profitable oil refiners over farmers. It is not enough to call for EPA to release a rule allowing for year round sales of E-15, I will advocate that a rule is finalized in enough time that gas station owners can invest in the infrastructure needed to offer higher blends of ethanol for consumers starting June 1, 2019.
I will remain vigilant that the positive news of expanded opportunities for sale of E-15 is not wiped out by the EPA continuing to hand out waivers and exemptions allowing oil refiners to destroy the demand for billions of gallons of ethanol and hundreds of millions of gallons of biodiesel as they have done for the last two years. And as I have done for months, I will continue to call for EPA to reallocate the billion gallons of destroyed demand for ethanol and millions of gallons of biodiesel. EPA’s refusal to reallocate these gallons continues to hurt prices for corn and beans.