With the gavel falling to end the Iowa Legislature's 2014 session on Friday, May 2, leaders of several Iowa farm and commodity organizations say they greatly approve and appreciate the increased funding being provided for soil and water conservation. The lawmakers approved $7.9 million for the statewide Iowa Water Quality Initiative and $14.4 million for other conservation programs, for a total of $22.3 million.
The farm group leaders also like the property taxpayer protections approved by state lawmakers. However, lawmakers did not pass legislation that would have provided funding to repair or replace Iowa's deteriorating roads and bridges. Some of the farm groups in Iowa vow to get state lawmakers to increase the motor fuel tax next year, so lawmakers can use the money raised to fix state roadways.
Following are statements from farm and commodity organizations, commenting on what they see as highlights of the 2014 Iowa Legislative session. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey issued a press release explaining and commenting on the soil and water conservation legislation.
IOWA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey thanked the Iowa Legislature for their continued support for a voluntary, science-based approach to improving water quality. "In the 2014 session just concluded, lawmakers passed a total of $22.3 million to support water quality and conservation efforts in Iowa. Of this total, $7.9 million was approved for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative and $14.4 million for other soil and water conservation programs," says Northey.
"I appreciate the legislature stepping up to continue funding voluntary, science-based water quality efforts in Iowa. This funding will help us continue our efforts in targeted watersheds as well as provide funds to help farmers try new water quality practices statewide," says Northey. "The Governor and Lt. Governor have been strong supporters of the Water Quality Initiative from the beginning, and I hope they will approve this funding." The legislation needs the governor's signature to become law.
The $22.3 million in total funding is targeted to various uses
The Legislature approved $4.4 million in ongoing funding and $3.5 million in one-time funding specifically for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. These funds will allow the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship to continue to encourage the broad adoption of water quality practices through statewide cost share assistance as well as more intensive work in targeted watersheds. The legislation passed in 2014 also gives the Iowa Department of Agriculture the authority to provide cost-share assistance for urban conservation projects.
The legislature provided $5 million in one-time funding to help address the backlog of state soil conservation cost-share projects. This is in addition to the annual appropriation of $6.7 million for this use. All cost-share funds are matched by the landowner to support construction.
Also, the legislature provided $1.2 million to support the closure of eight additional agriculture drainage wells in the state; and $1.5 million to the Watershed Improvement Review Board. Additionally, $1.3 million was appropriated to the nutrient management research center at Iowa State University to support ongoing research on practices farmers can use to reduce nutrient losses.
IOWA FARM BUREAU: Iowa's largest farm organization, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, applauds Iowa lawmakers for passage of legislation that brings additional funding for water quality and soil conservation programs, extends property taxpayer protections and supports investment in agriculture research and development.
More money for soil conservation, water quality: IFBF members are pleased to see lawmakers continue their commitment to advancing Iowa's water quality and soil conservation progress through the Agriculture and Natural Resources budget and one-time appropriations bill. "We're especially pleased that Iowa lawmakers see the value of supporting and funding the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and Conservation Cost-Share programs," says Craig Hill, president of IFBF and a Warren County farmer.
Measures approved this year will bring real progress as lawmakers moved to more than double the historic funding levels for soil conservation and water quality programs, he adds. "The state's commitment to these water quality and soil conservation programs is the second highest total investment in the past 15 years, helping support the progress being made by farmers across Iowa. This is great news because we know the voluntary approach is working. Last year Iowa farmers were able to put new conservation measures in place at record levels, thanks to unprecedented one-time cost-share conservation investments and the guidance of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy."
Property tax protections extended: Property taxpayer protections were also approved this year, as lawmakers passed a one-year extension to the local funding mechanism of the mental health system. Extending this funding formula ensures that property taxpayer's contributions remain limited and controlled.
"We're also glad to see that our lawmakers recognize the value of maintaining the current property tax credit levels, because supporting existing levels benefit businesses and all Iowans. Property tax credits in Iowa are now higher than they've been in over a decade," says Hill.
Agricultural research and development also won support in the 2014 Iowa Legislature, as the Agricultural Experiment Station at Iowa State University received more than a $1.7 million increase, "which is the first increase we've seen in six years," he notes. "Continuing to invest in research and development will keep Iowa globally competitive in developing new science and technology that improves food production and environmental management practices."
Calls to improve roads, bridges still unanswered: Lawmakers this year did not come to agreement on how to fund vital improvements needed to fix Iowa's aging roads and bridges. "Farm Bureau members support an increase in the state fuel tax, as it would be the fairest, sustainable way to assure that all who use Iowa roads help pay for the repairs," says Hill. "This issue will again be at the forefront of our efforts in the next legislative session, because having no funding plan will continue to bring increased bonding, increased property taxes and mounting debt to repair the state's deteriorating infrastructure."
IOWA SOYBEAN ASSOCIATION: Iowa soybean farmers say they are pleased with the passage of legislation in 2014 that supports soil and water conservation, renewable fuels, ag research and other ag-related priorities. ISA issued a press release summing up its highlights of the legislative session.
Bills bolster ag research, renewable fuels and environment
ISA applauds the approximately $4.4 million in ongoing funding and $3.5 million in one-time funding specifically for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative which was approved. Lawmakers in 2014 also provided $5 million in one-time funding to address a backlog of state soil conservation cost-share projects.
State biodiesel production tax credit: Iowa's biodiesel production tax credit of 2 cents per gallon, which goes to Iowa biodiesel producers, was extended for three years, which means it now goes through 2017. It was due to expire at the end of 2014.
ISU Ag Experiment Station funding increased: Iowa State University Agriculture Experiment Station funding was increased by nearly $1.8 million. Also, the ISU Diagnostic Veterinary Lab funding was increased to $4 million as requested by the university and various farm groups.
On-Farm Network gets some state funding: The Iowa Soybean Association received $400,000 for the On-Farm Network demonstration program from the 2014 Iowa Legislature.
Even though ISA's top priority of increasing the state's gas tax to improve rural transportation infrastructure wasn't approved, ISA leaders say the measures that did pass show how important agriculture is to the state. Throughout the 2014 session, ISA voiced support for ag-related bills by talking to key lawmakers as dozens of farmers visited with elected officials during weekly visits to the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. ISA also hosted a legislative reception at the beginning of this year's session.
"Conservation and water quality are a big concern, and we're encouraged by the financial support to help farmers carry out the voluntary measures set forth in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy," says ISA president Brian Kemp who farms near Sibley in northwest Iowa. "Biodiesel and renewable fuels received great support, which is a win for farmers and the state. The increase in ag research funding, which has been a concern in recent years, is now heading in the right direction."
ISA will work to get fuel tax increase passed next year
Kemp credits the hard work of farmers and ISA staff for getting many ISA priorities passed this year. In particular, the ISA's Adopt an Urban Legislator Program, in which farmers help lawmakers become more familiar with production agriculture. "The face-to-face contact is very important. It helps keep legislators informed on the issues, which means we're building relationships year-round," says Kemp.
ISA lobbyist Jill Altringer says the soybean association and other groups will continue to work on getting a fuel tax increase passed in next year's legislative session. Also, ISA will continue its efforts to secure ag appropriation funding, and funding to help cost-share soil and water conservation work. That will ensure the livestock and biofuels industries stay strong in Iowa. "We are already preparing and looking forward to working on these issues and others we'll need to consider next year," Altringer says.
IOWA CORN GROWERS ASSOCIATION: Here are summaries of some of ICGA's legislative priority issues for 2014. "ICGA also supported various other bills throughout the session. Please contact us if you have questions about a bill not listed here," says Mindy Larsen Poldberg, government affairs director for ICGA.
Iowa corn checkoff bill passed and was signed into law: On March 26, Gov. Branstad signed HF 2427 into law. HF 2427 unanimously passed both the Iowa House and the Iowa Senate. The legislation specifically raises the legislative cap on the corn checkoff, allowing for incremental growth only by farmer referendum. The legislation does not implement any changes to the current collection rate of 1 cent per bushel.
Any decision regarding the checkoff rate would continue to be in the hands of Iowa corn farmers through a referendum. Nothing in this bill raises the checkoff rate that the farmer pays; any increase in the checkoff rate may only be made by farmer referendum. Historically, the Iowa corn checkoff was established by producer referendum in 1977. The Iowa Corn Promotion Board, who are farmers elected by their peers, invests checkoff dollars for research, education, promotion and market development. The checkoff is collected on corn that enters commercial channels, but not on grain used on-farm. The corn checkoff was increased in 2012 via referendum to the current rate of 1 cent per bushel marketed. Producers are able to request a refund of their checkoff contribution.
Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: The standing appropriations bill, SF 2363, was passed by both the House and Senate on April 30 and now goes to the Governor for approval. SF 2363 includes one-time funds to implement voluntary practices outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy including: $3.5 million for water quality practices generally and an additional $1.5 million for the Watershed Improvement Review Board which also funds voluntary cost share practices for water quality. SF 2363 also includes $1.24 million to fund the closure of agriculture drainage wells and $5 million for soil conservation project cost share. This is above and beyond the baseline $4.4 million included in the Agriculture & Natural Resources appropriations bill. ICGA strongly supports implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, but the strategy can't be successful without funds. "We sincerely thank the Iowa Legislature for prioritizing water quality and conservation again in 2014," says Poldberg.
Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations: The ag and natural resources appropriations bill, HF 2458, was passed by both the House and Senate on April 30 and now goes to the Governor for approval. HF 2458 provides funding for numerous programs for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, including $4.4 million in funding for voluntary practices necessary for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and an increase to the past "full funding" level of $4 million for the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at ISU. This bill has language to protect the confidentiality of individual farmers' data who are involved in the nutrient reduction strategy programs. HF 2458 has many positive points, implementing ICGA policies.
Agricultural Research at ISU: Funding was provided for the ISU Ag Experiment Station in the Fiscal Year 2015 Education Appropriations Bill, SF 2347. The bill was passed by both the House and Senate on April 23 and now goes to the Governor for approval. The final increase in funding for the Experiment Station is $1.75 million over the baseline of $28 million. This is a 6.3% increase over last year's FY 2014 budget.
Ethanol Fuel Tax Differential: On April 30, the Iowa House and Senate both passed HF 2444 which relates to the Iowa Department of Revenue, and the bill now goes to the Governor for approval. It extends the ethanol fuel tax differential for all ethanol blends until July 2015. The current law would otherwise expire this summer. The law provides up to a 2-cent fuel tax benefit for any ethanol blended fuel, including E85, E15, E10 and anything in-between. ICGA has supported this one-year extension of a fuel tax differential for several years now, since the Legislature hasn't addressed the fuel tax and road infrastructure issue.
Biofuels Bill: The biofuels bill, SF 2344, was passed by both the House and Senate on April 24 and now goes to the Governor for approval. SF 2344 includes an extension for the biodiesel production tax credit, which would otherwise expire on July 1, 2014. SF 2344 enhances the E15+ retailer tax credit by continuing the current rate of 3 cents per gallon from September 16 to May 31 and boosting the rate to 10 cents per gallon from June 1 to September 15. The tax credits are now set to expire in 2018. The higher summer rate is designed to offset the increased cost required by price or regulations for Iowa retailers to blend and sell E15 as a registered fuel during the summer months. SF 2344 extends the state retailer tax credits from the year 2017 to 2019. The bill also includes positive language to ensure that biobutanol, when it becomes commercially available, can be used in Iowa. This bill implements ICGA pro-biodiesel and ethanol priorities through tax incentives at the state level.
Fuel Tax Increase: Increasing funding for Iowa's roads and bridges, in the form of a fuel tax increase, was one of ICGA's top state-level priorities again this legislative session. Unfortunately, the legislature chose not to debate the issue this year. Many rural Iowa bridges and roads are in desperate need of repair and maintenance, and efficient transportation of our farm products is essential to corn growers' profitability. ICGA will continue to work on this issue in the 2015 legislative session.