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It’s a wrap — Balvanz reviews legislative session

Article cover photo
A water quality bill, a top priority for many agricultural organizations, did not get passed by the 87th Iowa General Assembly before adjournment. (Photo: Joseph Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer

Some Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) legislative priorities were favorably addressed by the 87th Iowa General Assembly before it adjourned last week, but not all.

The Republican-controlled legislature, at a time of tight budgets and tax revenue, did not pass a water quality bill, which was a top priority of Gov. Terry Branstad and many agricultural organizations. The House and Senate each passed bills to provide additional financial support to implement practices to mitigate water pollution from point and nonpoint sources statewide, but a compromise wasn’t in the cards. Renewable fuels funding was put back in the state budget, which will help the biodiesel industry.

ISA Policy Director Carol Balvanz hailed the hard work of farmers and staff — including lobbying efforts and expert testimony — to advance ISA legislative priorities and policy. However, she said there’s more work to do.

“Overall, (the session) was pretty successful,” Balvanz said. “We got to talk with a lot of people who didn’t understand our programs in the past. We helped (legislators) understand why funding for research is important and why the watershed approach to improve water quality could be the successful approach for Iowa.”

With the legislative session several days in the rear view mirror, Balvanz reflects on its highs and lows and the future.

ISA: What legislative action(s) will help Iowa soybean farmers the most and why?

Balvanz: “Having the renewable infrastructure funding ($3 million) put back in the state budget helps biodiesel quite a bit. Biodiesel is several years behind ethanol when it comes to infrastructure such as pumps, terminals and bolstering the distribution system.”

 ISA: What was the biggest disappointment and why?

Balvanz: “While neither the House nor the Senate water quality bill had a significant stream of funding, the House bill had a structure and plan.

“Legislators have been asking for three years about how money will be spent on water quality if a significant amount is appropriated. That’s what the House bill tried to address. It was the chance to put in a structure that would focus on watershed plans that would be built with input from farmers and communities. It encouraged collaboration. Spending would be strategically located in each watershed.

“The inability to convey that message to enough legislators, particularly in the Senate, is probably the biggest disappointment for me.”

ISA: What does the future hold for passing a water quality bill with a long-term, sustainable funding source?

Balvanz: “The funding source will always be a struggle if we depend on grants from the legislature. We believe the possible passage of the 3/8 cents sales tax or a creative approach to financing water infrastructure such as what was in the House bill is a far stronger position.

“It’s difficult to depend on a tax increase because of political pressures. But the financing approach utilizing the revolving loan fund makes use of current available loan funds and the power of time to pay for infrastructure. The collaboration and the ability to access financing over 20 years could prove beneficial to get practices in place upstream from cities. It’s a hard thing to explain and a true shift away from how we’ve always done farm water quality so it will require more education.”

ISA: Besides water quality, what other policy measures will ISA focus on leading up to the 2018 legislative session?

Balvanz: “That’s yet to be determined. The ISA Board with the direction of the Public Affairs Committee sets the priorities. That comes from what members hear in their counties and needs of farmers. ISA Board members will have a conference call today (April 27) to talk about the session and we will have a June ISA Board meeting to begin discussions about whether there’s something left undone from the session that we need to revive or new issues.

“The biggest priority for me now is building better relationships with legislators. Help them understand that even though our ideas may differ somewhat from other organizations, we will continue to work with farmers on project that advance water quality.”

ISA: What do you encourage farmers to do between now and the next session?

Balvanz: “Go on the legislative website or call me to find out how your legislators voted on water quality bills. If their decision wasn’t what you like, then you need to have a conversation and ask if they have questions about ISA’s approach. Relationship building is the most important thing.”

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at aputze@iasoybeans.com.

©2017 Iowa Soybean Association On-Farm Network®. All rights reserved. On-Farm Network® is a registered trademark of the Iowa Soybean Association, Ankeny, IA.Portions of some On-Farm Network trials are paid for in total or in part by the soybean checkoff.

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March 2017 Contact Ann Clinton for past publications.