Senator Joni Ernst held a telephone town hall with constituents this week about key policy issues in Congress. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)
Iowa farmers press importance of biodiesel, favorable ag policy
February 5, 2021 | Bethany Baratta
In a telephone town hall earlier this week, Iowa farmers urged Senator Joni Ernst and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig to keep up the fight for Iowa’s farmers.
Farmers expressed concerns about President Biden’s Executive Order establishing a policy to change the federal fleet to electric vehicles.
Ernst noted that as part of her questioning of Tom Vilsack during his confirmation hearing to serve as the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), she asked whether he will be directing USDA to purchase Tesla trucks that run on electricity or supporting Iowa farmers and purchasing Ford F-150s that run on E-85.
“Bottom line: we have an executive order from this president that says we are going to move to electric vehicles for federal government,” Ernst said. However, Vilsack did note the potential to shift to renewable fuels for the Department of Defense.
Biodiesel is a perfect step in reducing carbon emissions, says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.
“This conversation that we should go to electric vehicles because that’s the way to reduce carbon is dismissing the idea that today we’re delivering low-carbon fuels to the marketplace in the form of biodiesel and ethanol,” Naig said. “Any conversation around climate and carbon should include biofuels. There are already benefits being delivered today—why aren’t we talking about expanding that access to achieve those goals?”
ISA Director Jeff Frank says expanding the use and availability of biodiesel is good for soybean farmers. After Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in 2019 directed state agencies to buy diesel engines and vehicles with manufacturer support for at least a 20% blend of biodiesel (B20), Frank asked his county board of supervisors to follow Reynolds’ lead. They agreed.
He says biodiesel is an immediate solution to carbon reduction. It fits within long-range plans for electric vehicles.
“Eventually it’s going to get here, and it’s scary in a way to think about what happens to biodiesel when it’s here,” Frank said. “But it’ll be a long time before they replace farm equipment or heavy equipment with electricity. I don’t know if it will ever be feasible to do it, and that’s where biodiesel comes in.”
Small refinery exemptions
The fight continues to hold EPA accountable for their granting of small refinery exemptions or waivers, which has reduced demand for Iowa feedstocks.
“This is one that we have been trying to fight in Congress,” Ernst said. “Of course, this is not a partisan issue. Support for renewable fuels transcends political divides.”
The problem, she said, is pitting oil states versus midwestern ag states and seemingly getting nowhere.
“EPA basically says to let the courts play it out. I would love to see EPA take more affirmative action and say we support renewable fuels. … We have to see how it plays out in the courts,” she said.
“This is where we need the EPA to do their job,” Naig said. “Follow the intent of Congress, follow the law. It’s not comforting at all to hear a reference to ‘let’s let the courts decide’—we’ve seen far too much of that. This is another example through confirmation process to ask those right questions and then do the job of oversight and holding the EPA, this administration accountable. There is no doubt that SREs have hurt and we need to curtail this activity,” Naig said.
One farmer asked how voluntary carbon markets could play a role in increasing on-farm revenue and reducing emissions for Iowa’s ag community.
Naig said capturing carbon credits is an opportunity to generate additional revenue, but there are questions. A key step, he said, is using science and research to understand and validate how various practices work to sequester carbon.
“We have a lot to be proud of in terms of work that’s been done in reducing phosphorous and nitrogen loading—how can we continue those great things, improve sustainability, and also drive revenue back to farms,” Naig said.
He’s also receiving input from farmers who implemented conservation practices years ago about what it could mean for them.
“There are folks that have been investing in these practices for many, many years and we shouldn’t just say from this point forward folks can benefit from adopting practices. There has to be some consideration, I believe, given to those investments that have already been made,” Naig said.
Learn more about opportunities to enhance sustainability efforts and capture profit during a Feb. 12 webinar.
Ernst led a resolution in the Senate in support of the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which finalized the definition of the “waters of the U.S.” It replaced the Obama administration’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, which Ernst said was “misguided” and made it more difficult for Iowans to farm, ranch and build.
She said WOTUS would have regulated 97% of Iowa’s land.
“What we don’t want to go back to is this heavy-handed, overregulation by the federal government,” Ernst said.
ISA Director Tom Vincent fears going backwards when it comes to discussions surrounding WOTUS.
“Nobody wants to go back to the days of WOTUS, but yet a lot of the cast of players around in the Obama administration are back again, so it makes a person suspicious that that might happen,” said Vincent, who farms near Perry.
“If we’re going to fight this battle on WOTUS all over again, it takes time and energy and efforts away from doing other constructive things on carbon capture.”
At the table
Frank and Vincent say engaging with elected officials is an important part of the political process.
“We’re often told that a word spoken by a farmer is far more credible than a word spoken by a lobbyist,” Vincent said. “Whether literally or virtually we need to be ready to pack up and go to Washington, D.C., to get a seat at the table.”
ISA doesn’t have a PAC, and therefore is committed to working with elected officials on both sides of the aisle for policy supportive of Iowa’s soybean farmers.
“We have to have the conversations—no matter who is in the White House,” Frank said. “We go with what our farmers and producers want and relay the message at the state capitol and Capitol Hill.”
Learn about policies that ISA delegates recently adopted at the winter soy summit.