Years of progress and continued commitment to improving water quality were the focus when representatives of the Iowa Soybean Association appeared before two Iowa legislative committees last week at the State Capitol in Des Moines.
On Tuesday Feb. 10, Roger Wolf, ISA director of Environmental Programs and Services, visited with the Iowa House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee to discuss current and future efforts to improve water quality in Iowa. "Since the introduction of the federal Clean Water Act, we've made tremendous progress improving water quality in this state and this country," Wolf said. "Yes, we still need to improve, but I look at the glass as being half full. All eyes are on Iowa and we need to make the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy successful."
ISA is looking for innovative ways to accelerate the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and encourage greater participation to propel water quality improvement. Currently, cost-share funds are available for producers who want to implement practices, however, these funds are usually committed within a few days of their announced availability and for farmers to sign-up to get them.
Tax credit idea being discussed as a conservation incentive
Wolf presented a summary from an ISA tax credit study conducted last year. The study highlighted examples of Virginia and Pennsylvania's tax credit programs for producers who adopt priority best management practices. Information gleaned from this study may be useful to consider in Iowa. "I think it's a testament to agriculture that we support working on these issues," Wolf said. "We want to continue making an effort to improve water quality."
For the past 15 years, ISA has committed to helping producers improve natural resource management practices and environmental quality with a particular focus on water quality. The first step to improving water quality is through water monitoring, which helps determine water condition and where to target practices for the greatest improvement. Through partnerships with Agriculture's Clean Water Alliance (ACWA), ISA has monitored the water situation in Iowa and collected about 10,000 water samples in the Boone, Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers.
Helping determine where to target water quality practices
Acting on this knowledge, ISA and ACWA have installed denitrification bioreactors and various conservation practices to reduce nutrient loss. Additionally, ISA is a key partner with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and actively involved in five Water Quality Initiative demonstration projects. "What the Iowa Soybean Association is doing is a good thing," state representative Jack Drake (R-Griswold) said. "I commend what they are doing."
Iowa soybean farmers were recognized by members of the Iowa House Agriculture Committee last week for investing in water quality monitoring and increasing the adoption of conservation practices on farms.
ISA lauded for stewardship of soil, water and environment
"The Iowa Soybean Association should be commended for its work on these important issues," said Rep. Dave Deyoe (R-Nevada). "ISA deserves a lot of credit for leading on water quality and being proactive on identifying practices that can be used by farmers.
"The fact that ISA has research and water quality data going back over a period of years is very helpful in reviewing policy and balancing competing claims regarding that policy," he added. "I encourage the association to continue its work and to expand the use of conservation practices in more places across the state."
Deyoe's remarks followed a 40-minute committee briefing by ISA CEO Kirk Leeds and ISA Environmental Programs & Services director Roger Wolf. Topics covered included the association's expertise on environmental performance and stewardship of soybean checkoff resources. The invitation to appear before the committee was made by House Ag Committee Chair Rep. Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford).
Focus on producing beans in environmentally sustainable way
Leeds said farmers take pride in leading the association they founded in 1964.
"Fifty years ago, farmers were concerned about selling the soybeans they were growing and growing those soybeans more efficiently and in an environmentally sustainable way," he said. "Today, we remain focused on these priorities at the direction of soybean farmers for the purpose of increasing their overall competitiveness."
Leeds said the ISA values transparency, accountability and fiscal integrity while being fact-based, data driven and a passionate advocate for farmers. Activities approved by the organization's 21-farmer volunteer board of directors align under four major program areas: supply (production), demand (markets), information and education and public policy.
"We're working aggressively here at home and around the globe to increase soybean consumption, with a particular focus on China," said Leeds, who has served at the helm of the association for 25 years and made more than a dozen trips to the populous country. "Exports matter because 60% of U.S. soybeans are exported, up from 45% in 1990. And of all soybeans traded in the world, 70% are destined for China, a market that really didn't exist 10 years ago."
Soybean Association supports Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy
ISA's legacy of leadership has had a profound impact on farmers, Iowa and the world.
Leeds said growth of domestic livestock production and increased biodiesel production continues to provide a valuable market for soybeans and soybean oil, helping boost prices. The ISA's On-Farm Network and Environmental Programs and Services are improving production efficiencies in step with environmental performance. And the association's launch of the Iowa Food & Family Project in 2011 has proven to enhance consumer confidence in today's food and farm system.
"We recognize the importance of agriculture's freedom to operate and the role of effective communications," Leeds said. "We must continue to do the best job we can to connect those in our cities and towns with farmers, agriculture's value to Iowa and what farmers are doing to be efficient producers and effective stewards of land and water."
Leeds also highlighted ISA's partnership with Iowa Corn Growers Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association in creating the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA). Launched in 2014, the IAWA will increase farmer awareness of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and their adoption of science-based practices proven to have environmental benefits.