ISA Treasurer and District 6 Director Dave Walton reiterated the important of crop protection products, biofuels and ecosystems services during a visit with officials this week in Iowa. (Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)
A sit-down with federal officials
May 6, 2021 | Bethany Baratta
Crop protection, biofuels and ecosystem services were top of mind as Iowa Soybean Association Treasurer and District 6 Director Dave Walton sat down with EPA Administrator Michael Regan and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Tuesday.
Iowa farmer Bill Couser of Nevada hosted a roundtable discussion for Regan and Vilsack’s visit with several farmers and representatives from Iowa commodity organizations. With one seat available to the ISA due to capacity limitations set by the White House, the District 6 director served as the ISA’s singular representative.
Walton, a farmer near Wilton, said the discussion was an opportunity for him to hear from the new EPA administrator, who was sworn in on March 11.
“Having met with the previous two EPA administrators in varying ways, Regan was refreshing in that he didn’t seem to tell you what you wanted to hear, he told us what he thought,” Walton said.
Walton offered opportunities for Regan and Vilsack to comment on recent court decisions related to crop protection chemistries.
“Based on several recent court decisions we’ve noticed that EPA was left out of the loop in the labeling and acceptance of certain crop protection chemicals,” Walton said. “I wanted to know how EPA plans to be a part of the process before it goes to the courts.”
Administrator Regan said there wasn’t much EPA could do about court cases other than try to defend them. However, he said EPA would do a better job of asking tougher questions about product chemistries so when it goes to the market it’s indisputable.
“On one hand, the comment was encouraging that they were going to follow the science, but that also means it could be an even slower process to get the chemistries to the marketplace,” Walton said.
However, this part of the conversation shed light on how farmers can be a part of the process from the beginning.
“Regan said we in ag need to talk about the issues by way of story,” Walton said. “How does this (chemical/product/issue) impact you? He wants the story behind the comment and how it affects us personally.”
When it came time to talk about conservation and climate-based solutions, another farmer in attendance mentioned the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund as an example of a program that’s farmer-driven versus government-driven.
In response, Vilsack mentioned the program by name, lending credence to the work ISA is doing in this arena.
“There was a recognition in the room that the Outcomes Fund has been one of the better rollouts when it comes to environment-based programs because it’s focuses on more than just carbon. It’s air, water, and biodiversity also,” Walton said.
While ISA continues to push for an Iowa biofuels standard to promote biodiesel production and use to support Iowa soybean farmers, there’s also work to be done on the federal level.
“We shared with him our strong belief that biofuels must be a significant part of this country’s response to climate change,” said Iowa Biodiesel Board Executive Director Grant Kimberley. “Biofuels like biodiesel have a proven record of reducing emissions like greenhouse gases for the past decade and are the best tool available now to cut carbon from the transportation sector over the next decade. The average carbon reduction for biodiesel is 74%, and U.S. biodiesel producers are achieving carbon reductions up to 88% in California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program.”
Kimberley said the EPA and the Biden Administration can tout the benefits of low-carbon advanced biofuels and support and grow their use, particularly through higher volumes of the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“Although there is certainly a place for electrification, we can’t electrify the entire heavy-duty truck market any time soon. We’re going to need ultra-low carbon biofuels for decades to come — and biodiesel is one answer for today and in the future,” Kimberley said.
Vilsack said that biofuels are a baseline from which to grow a larger bioeconomy. For example, biodigesters can then create renewable gas or methane. In a sense, it’s growing income streams and opportunities from existing acres.
ISA as a resource
Throughout the conversation with the heads of USDA and EPA there was a recognition of the power of partnerships in the state and an emphasis on the importance of research; two areas in which the Iowa Soybean Association shines.
“ISA has led the way and gotten us to the point that science matters,” Walton said. “Within ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation there has also been a theme of going where the numbers or research takes us. To hear EPA Administrator Regan echo those things was meaningful.
“We don’t just have two years of data; we have decades of research and data that we can hand to the administration and say, ‘If we do these things, then here are the expected outcomes.’ ”