How Farmers Fared In 2013 Iowa Legislative Session

How Farmers Fared In 2013 Iowa Legislative Session

A look at legislation affecting soil conservation, manure and nutrient management, agriculture passed by the recently concluded Iowa Legislature.

The 2013 Legislative session at the state capitol in Des Moines concluded for the year on May 23. State lawmakers passed several key bills that will become law and will have a direct impact on Iowa agriculture.

FINALLY FINISHED: The 2013 session of the Iowa Legislature adjourned for the year on May 23. Several key pieces of legislation directly affecting farmers and agriculture were passed by lawmakers at the State Capitol in Des Moines this year. They include property tax reform and soil conservation and water quality initiatives.

The 85th Iowa General Assembly began the 2013 session on January 14 and was scheduled to end May 3 -- for a 110-day session. Finally wrapping up on May 23 the legislators had to work overtime, an extra 20 days until the job was finished. Major issues the lawmakers faced going into the session were education reform, Medicaid reform, property tax relief and the state government's budget. The sticking points that kept legislators in Des Moines three weeks past the scheduled adjournment date were education reform, Medicaid reform, property tax and the budget.

Although the big issues persisted through the session, fewer bills overall were filed and many that were filed didn't move far through the process. Often less legislation is the best legislation, and this year the bills that did move were positive for agriculture, according to Iowa farm organizations and commodity groups.

The Iowa Corn Growers Association highlights the priority of soil conservation and water quality initiatives that were debated, passed and sent to the governor for his signature for the bills to become law. There are also other important bills that were passed. Some have already been signed into law by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, others await his signature. Here's a look at what Iowa farm organizations have to say.

Iowa Corn Growers Association applauds funding to help support and carryout the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy

"ICGA has worked hard to support significant funding for this historic nutrient management strategy this session, along with multiple agriculture and agribusiness partners who helped us get this legislation passed," says Bruce Rohwer, a farmer from northwest Iowa and the president of the ICGA. "It is also important to recognize the leadership by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey in addressing this issue with a comprehensive, forward-thinking strategy."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

* The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy got support from two bills -- SF 435, HF 648. Support for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is important to Iowa farmers, says Rohwer. This is a voluntary, science-based strategy to help manage nutrients in Iowa's waters. The bill provided a total of $22.4 million for implementation, including $2.4 million for general voluntary water quality initiatives; $10 million for targeted watershed use (70% to high priority watersheds), $3 million to the watershed improvement review board (WIRB), and an additional $7 million, over the base funding, for the backlog of conservation cost share projects. Each of these programs will contribute to proactive environmental practices on the farm and will benefit water quality, assist in managing nutrients, and improve farmers' ability to keep Iowa's soil in place, on the farm.

"This strategy our state is implementing is the first in the nation and the ICGA applauds legislators on supporting voluntary, science-based strategies," says Rohwer. "For this program to be successful we need farmer participation. We are excited to help corn farmers continue investing in conservation by looking at ways to improve their current practices and those of their farmer neighbors."

* Fuel supplies and the ethanol fuel tax differential were addressed in HF 640, which passed the House and Senate. This bill extends the ethanol fuel tax differential until July 2014. The current law expires this summer, so it is in need of extension. The law provides up to a 2-cent fuel tax benefit for any ethanol blended fuel, including E85, E15, E10 and anything in-between. The bill deals with contract language for fuel sales, fuel liability provisions, and eligibility for Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs, for ethanol sales.

This bill also addresses fuel tanks on farms, by increasing the number of gallons on farms that are required to be registered/regulated under Iowa law. The amounts that trigger registration are 2,000 gallons for flammable liquids and 5,000 gallons for combustible liquids. Iowa Corn Growers Association supports the bill.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

* Governor signs CAFO mothballed buildings bill into law. HF 512 (companion to SF 418) was signed into law by Gov. Branstad on May 15. HF 512 allows the operator of a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, to elect for the CAFO to be classified as a small animal feeding operation based on the number of animals housed at the facility. Under HF 512, if there are fewer than 500 animal units housed in the CAFO during an annual Manure Management Plan filing period, the operation would no longer be required to pay compliance fees or file an updated MMP.

If a confinement operation elects to be a small animal feeding operation, the requirement (established in 2002) that a confinement feeding operation's animal unit capacity includes all buildings except those that have been abandoned (torn down or modified so that significant reconstruction would be required to use the building again for livestock) does not apply. This bill was supported by the Iowa Pork Producers Association, and Iowa Corn Growers Association also supported the bill.

Iowa Farm Bureau lauds 2013 legislature's progress in water quality, soil conservation and property tax relief

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa's largest grassroots farm organization, says priority issues approved by this year's legislature, including new funding for water quality and soil conservation, landowner liability protections, property taxes and bioscience research will benefit many sectors of the state for years to come.

The legislature made a commitment to soil conservation and water quality through the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget appropriations. Included for next year is $2.4 million funding for the implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy plan and an additional one-time $10 million which will focus on priority watershed efforts over the next several years. The legislature also agreed to allocate an additional $7 million to go towards the conservation cost-share backlog.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

"Farmers know a 'one size fits all' approach doesn't work when it comes to conservation measures, but they do know what works best on their land," says IFBF president Craig Hill. "Conservation measures such as buffer strips, terracing and other soil protection and water quality measures have helped Iowa farmers reduce erosion by more than 30% since 1982, but requests for cost-share dollars to implement them have been grossly underfunded."

* "Recreational use" liability protection is restored to protect farmers and landowners. While only 4% of Iowans farm today, many Iowans and out-of-state visitors seek farm tours to learn more about the many ways Iowa farmers lead the nation in food production; that's why the bipartisan passage of HF649 was welcomed by Farm Bureau members and many other Iowans. "Lawmakers restored the Recreational Use Liability Protection to protect farmers and landowners who allow visitors onto their farm for recreational purposes such as fishing, hunting and field trips," says Hill.

The measure resulted from an Iowa Supreme Court ruling in February and opened farmers and private landowners up to liability if someone were injured while on their land for recreational purposes. "This is a big win for Iowa farmers and all Iowans who want to experience and learn more about life on the farm," says Hill. "By restoring this liability protection that farmers have had for four decades, the Legislature took a common sense approach that will be good for all Iowans."

* Several measures passed by 2013 Legislature will provide property tax relief.   Several measures were passed in this legislative session which provide property tax relief, without shifting the burden from one class of property to another. By reducing the statewide taxable valuation growth for ag and residential classes of property from 4% to 3% a year, taxable valuations across the state will grow slower yet still provide growth to local governments to afford needed infrastructure and public safety services.

An increase of $31 million for property tax credits also gives Iowans needed property tax relief. The legislature also approved a measure that will reduce the impact of future property tax increases within the school aid funding formula. Moving forward, any increase in the school aid funding formula will be covered by the state, avoiding the reliance on additional property taxes.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

The legislature did not increase the state's fuel tax, which means the state still has an annual shortfall of approximately $215 million to meet the critical needs of our deteriorating roads and bridges. The result is more local governments turning to bonding to pay for their roads and bridges, leaving taxpayers with the burden of paying it back. "While many long-term investments in our state were made during this legislative session, the much needed improvement of roads and bridges remains unresolved. Our aging infrastructure is important to Iowa's economy, and we will continue to work next year to increase the constitutionally-protected fuel tax as the most equitable means to meet those needs," says Hill.

Iowa Soybean Association looks at laws passed as Iowa Legislature wraps up

When the 2013 Iowa Legislature began back in January, the Iowa Soybean Association went into the session with four main priorities to lobby for: 1) On-Farm Network funding of $400,000; 2) Iowa Nutrient Management Strategy Funding; 3) A state fuel tax increase; 4) ISU line item funding for Iowa State Extension, Experiment Station and the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. Here's what happened:

* On-Farm Network funding. Tracy Blackmer, director of research for the Iowa Soybean Association's On-Farm Network program, was invited to speak to the House Ag and Natural Resources Appropriations subcommittee about the work ISA has been involved in pertaining to nitrogen fertilizer use across Iowa. ISA requests a $400,000 appropriations from the committee every year to secure matching funds totaling $1.2 million that is used to do nitrogen research with 600 to 1,000 farmers across Iowa. Because of the number of new members of the Legislature following the 2012 election, Blackmer made his presentation to the committee to explain the importance of ISA's research and need for state funding. ISA received an appropriation of $400,000 in the Ag and Natural Resources Appropriations Bill.

* Iowa Nutrient Management Strategy funding. ISA was active in developing the Voluntary Nutrient Management Strategy during the interim last year and worked with legislators during the 2013 session to secure funding for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to implement the program. ISA's Roger Wolf was invited to present to the House Rural Caucus about the watershed research projects at ISA and explain the importance of a voluntary program for farmers working toward water quality.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey originally requested $6.4 million in funding for the Nutrient Strategy. The majority of the legislators understood the importance of the program, and in the end the Ag and Natural Resources Budget bill contained $3 million for water and environmental resources program, $7 million for cost share funding for soil conservation, $10 million for the nutrient reduction, and $16 million for REAP. This was the most money allocated to the ag appropriations bill in years.

* Iowa State University line item appropriations. AgState looked at four areas of funding needed to move Iowa Agriculture forward, as outlined last year by the Agriscope project. The areas included $7.5 million for the Bioeconomy, and a 2.6% increase in funding for each ISU Extension, ISU Experiment Station, and for the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, or VDL. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad included the Bioeconomy funding in his budget but left out the other three line items. While the regents overall budget was increased by the 2.6%, the line items could not be funded through the general budget. Therefore, ISA worked diligently to increase the line items that had not seen an increase in the last four years.

In the end the VDL was increased $575,000 (amount originally requested was $750,000), ISU Extension had a $330,000 increase (requested was $466,355), and there was no additional money added to the ISU Experiment Station (requested amount was $730,000). Because this year's focus was on the increased cost of education and reforming education in Iowa to control that cost, the additional money wasn't added until the last day of the conference committee. ISA's lobbying efforts helped secure the increased line items for ISU.

* Increase in the state fuel tax. Going into the legislative session ISA was well aware that the fuel tax increase would be tied to property tax reform, and that property tax reform wouldn't be negotiated until the end of session. ISA also knew that the bill had to have bipartisan support and only pass each chamber by a proportion of the chamber make up. For example, a fuel tax bill, if brought to the floor would pass the Senate by 27-23 and of the 27 AYE votes 12 of them would have to come from the Republicans.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

While the issue was lobbied throughout the session and bill language was drafted, a bill never surfaced because the timing was laid out to wait until after property tax reform was passed. In the last week of session one of the Senate Republicans changed position on the issue, thus losing the 12 necessary for the bill to come to the floor. On the other hand, property tax reform did pass both chambers, and was in fact the last bill out of the House before the session ended.

* Emerging issues: Beginning Farmer Program. Three bills emerged for Beginning Farmers this year.

HF 607 Transferred the Agricultural Development from the Iowa Department of Agriculture to the Iowa Finance Authority. The bill keeps all the same duties as the current program but requires a five-member board appointed by the Governor to oversee the three basic programs: the Beginning Farmer Loan Program, the Loan Participation Programs, and the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program.

HF 599 increased the Beginning Farmer Tax Credits cap from $6 million to $12 million and restricts individual tax credits from exceeding $50,000.

HF 457 provides a preference to qualified beginning farmers for leases on agricultural land that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources holds and manages when existing leases expire. The bill prohibits DNR from leasing more than 240 acres of cropland, but does not limit the amount of land that might be grazed.

* Manure applicator education. HF 312 requires the Iowa DNR to provide online courses for the manure application certification program.

* Iowa Corn Promotion Board. Although this bill started as a stand-alone bill, the negotiated language was included in SF452 (the Standings Bill). The language allows for change in the board make-up and the election process.

* Landowner liability. HF 649 Following the Sallie vs. Stewart case that was decided by the Iowa Supreme Court earlier this year, this bill modifies the definition of "recreational purpose" in Iowa Code Chapter 461C to include educational activities, thus allowing farmers protection from lawsuits for those injured in group tours.

* Property tax. After over 10 years of property tax reform discussion the property tax bill passed both chambers of the Iowa Legislature this session, with bipartisan support in the last 24 hours of the 2013 session. Although most of the bill pertains to commercial and small business property tax relief, it also provides that the valuation growth be limited to 3% per year, instead of the previous 4% per year. This should benefit both agriculture and residential landowners.

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