(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)
Moving forward | Iowa ag legislation
March 30, 2023 | Jeff Hutton
With roughly a month remaining in the 2023 Iowa Legislative session, there have been few surprises, although one recent proposal has raised some eyebrows.
Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) Director of Public Affairs Michael Dolch says the proposal to dip into soybean checkoff dollars to help fund the struggling Iowa Grain Indemnity Fund was a concern.
Currently, the fund sits near the bottom of the fund floor of $3 million (the fund ceiling is $8 million).
While it was not surprising legislators are talking about beefing up the fund, the surprise came when some discussed using checkoff dollars as a potential solution in shoring up that fund.
ISA, Dolch adds, does not have a formal position on the fund itself, other than in large part, “farmer-members are in favor of the indemnity fund.”
However, there was ISA pushback that efforts to use checkoff dollars to supplement the fund is out of line and in the case of soybeans, illegal.
“It’s probably the one thing we didn’t see coming,” Dolch says.
“We all realize the Iowa Grain Indemnity Fund needs to be modernized, given some recent grain dealer defaults. But for some reason, some in the Iowa Senate want to scoop in on checkoff resources, both corn and soybeans.”
Dolch says the proposed bill has already been amended not to tap into soybean checkoff dollars, because it’s a national checkoff and would be illegal to touch those dollars for the indemnity fund.
The corn checkoff, however, is state-controlled, and there is uncertainty whether or not anyone wants to or should touch those dollars for the fund, Dolch says, adding he continues to monitor any proposed changes.
As in most years, water quality and conservation continues to be important to ISA and its farmer-members.
“We would like the Iowa Water & Land and Legacy (IWILL) funding of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund,” Dolch says. “The funding would scale up adoption of conservation practices across the state.”
The trust fund, created in 2010 as a constitutional amendment and supported by more than 60 percent of Iowans, has sat empty over the past 13 years. Funding would require that 3/8ths of a cent for the next state sales tax increase would go toward IWILL, but legislators have been hesitant to support raising the sales tax.
A current bill in the Iowa Senate is essentially still alive, Dolch says, but any actual legislative action is uncertain.
Dolch says ISA continues to support the measure because it would be a permanent and protected funding source designed to support clean water, productive agricultural soils and protecting wildlife habitat.
Earlier this year, Dolch acknowledged it will be a challenge to see movement on IWILL. In fact, Republican House Speaker Pat Grassley told Radio Iowa that legislators are unlikely to fill the fund in 2023.
But Dolch says ISA’s advocacy on this issue will not stop regardless of what happens in this session.
Livestock protection funding
Another area of interest for ISA is foreign animal disease preparedness.
“There is a bill supporting a proposed budget increase from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) for animal disease preparedness and prevention,” Dolch says. “It’s still being flushed out, but we’re still actively supporting that.
“Just last year, we saw the impact of the Avian flu situation on Iowa’s egg-laying economy and poultry. Millions of chickens and turkeys were destroyed to help contain the disease, impacting producers and consumers.”
But any kind of disease outbreak, Dolch says, with poultry populations, as well as pork and/or other animal producers also impacts soybean farmers whose products feed poultry, swine and cattle.
“Again, that increased funding ask from IDALS would help with their response plans,” he says.
Dolch says the 2023 legislative session, overall, has been light on agricultural issues.
He noted that ISA is coming off a successful 2022 in which biofuels received a historic push from a bill signed into law – the bill received a great deal of support from ISA, its farmer-members, as well as other organizations.
“It was always going to be a bit lighter session on agriculture, after last year’s biofuels legislation,” Dolch says. “Regardless of whether the session was heavy ag or not, we’re always looking for help on competitiveness, profitability and leveling the playing field domestically and internationally. We want to be proactive pushing for legislation.”