Iowa State Capitol

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / File Photo)

What did farmers gain in the 2024 legislative session?

May 2, 2024 | Jeff Hutton

The results were mixed when it comes to ag policy with the adjournment of the 2024 Iowa Legislative session. However, officials with Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) remain optimistic about their continued advocacy of issues important to ISA farmer-members.

ISA’s Matt Herman, chief officer for demand and advocacy, and Megan Decker, manager of advocacy, say while some agriculture interests were addressed, the majority of the legislation focused on educational topics including Area Education Agencies (AEAs), teacher pay and arming school staff.

Legislative wins

Probably the biggest win for ag interests and supported by the ISA was Senate File 2204 on foreign land ownership.

The bill, signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds in April, builds upon Iowa’s long-standing leadership in foreign land ownership. For years, Iowa has had laws restricting foreign ownership to 320 acres or less unless those groups owned farmland prior to 1980.

The expanded law now heightens fines for entities that violate the reporting requirements. Previously, a $2,000 maximum fine per violation, the new law fine would increase to $10,000 per violation for foreign landowners who fail to report holdings every two years. For foreign entities that fail to register initial ownership, a fine of up to 25% of the county average land value can be assessed.

Herman and Decker also say the new law grants the state’s attorney general subpoena power to investigate potential violations, which is a crucial change in aiding enforcement.

Three other bills that passed the legislature are awaiting the governor’s signature, including:

SF 2391: Prohibiting the misbranding of certain food products

The bill aims to protect consumers and farmers by prohibiting the misbranding of certain animal products. Since soybeans are often used as an ingredient in imitation animal proteins and even as a feedstock for cell-cultivated meat, Herman and Decker say it is important that the bill did not restrict access to those markets. ISA worked with the bill sponsors to ensure the bill’s labeling provisions were a “clear win for our primary customer, livestock, while also ensuring market access for those that choose to consume soy directly,” says Herman.

HF 2691: Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Program

The Iowa Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Program (RFIP) assists fuel retailers who want to install equipment to expand the sale of renewable fuels like biodiesel. Herman and Decker say the program has been incredibly successful since its creation in 2006. So much so there has been a backlog of retailers seeking to sell increased amounts of soy-based biodiesel.

To help clear the backlog of projects, the fund received $2 million in bonus money. To help fund the growing pipeline of infrastructure, the biodiesel project funding cap was increased from $1.25 million to $1.75 million and cap per project was upped from $50,000 to $75,000. This was a joint priority of ISA and the Iowa Biodiesel Board.

HF 2465: Ag Education

This bill allows high school students in Iowa to fulfill science credit with classes related to agriculture.

Work to be done

While there were legislative wins for Iowa’s ag sector, there were some bills that fell short. Most notably were bills on modernizing the state’s grain indemnity fund and one on pesticide lawsuits.

SF 2401: Grain Indemnity Fund

Although the bill passed the Iowa Senate, the Iowa House did not bring the bill to the floor. Originating in 1986 as a result of the Farm Crisis, the fund was created to serve as a safety net which repaid farmers in the event of a grain elevator or co-op failure. When the fund falls below the $3 million threshold, a ¼-cent per bushel assessment is triggered until the fund reaches $8 million.

The $3 million floor has not been increased, but as Herman and Decker noted, the volume and value of Iowa grain has risen dramatically. Following the failure of different elevators and co-ops, by August of 2022, it was evident the state needed to modernize the fund.

Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig and some legislators met last summer to chart a new path forward on the fund. After initial proposals which would have leveraged checkoff funds to repay the fund died for the second year, a new framework was introduced.

This bill contained two key provisions: Increase the floor from $3 million to $5 million; the ceiling from $8 million to $12 million. Secondly, the bill would include credit sale contracts, which are currently not covered in the fund.

While lawmakers agreed on the higher thresholds, the credit sale contracts were a sticking point.

“It seemed to be too much to bite off in a single session,” Herman says. “Some lawmakers expressed concern that including credit sale contracts could significantly increase the potential liability the fund is exposed to, as many farmers utilize those contracts when they deliver fall grain and collect payment after the first of the year to manage tax liability.”

Herman and Decker, however, say the emphasis on making positive changes to the fund, will still move forward in the future. They say ISA will continue to encourage legislators and ag leaders to act on this effort because the fund is “an important farm safety net.”

SF 2412: Pesticide lawsuits

Although Iowa legislators debated this bill which sought to limit civil lawsuits against domestic manufacturers of glyphosate due to a failure to warn, the measure did not make it to the House floor.

Herman and Decker say the bill was timely as Bayer has settled billions in civil litigation on grounds the company “failed to warn” users their product is a potential carcinogen.

Labels on herbicides that farmers depend upon are strictly regulated under federal law administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Human toxicology studies underpinning the glyphosate registration, however, found that glyphosate, when used as directed, is not carcinogenic.

Because of that finding, it’s illegal under federal law for Bayer to label their product as “potentially” or “likely” carcinogenic. To do so, officials say, would violate their federal registration. To limit future liability, Bayer is running bills in three states – Iowa, Missouri and Idaho – while also executing federal legislative strategies.

Herman says ISA, along with the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Agribusiness Association of Iowa and others, supported the bill this session. He says the issue should be addressed federally and not piecemeal state by state.

He and Decker both noted the proposed legislation speaks to the importance of maintaining tools in farmers' toolboxes. They estimate that RoundUp is used on 73% of soybean acres and 60% of corn acres in Iowa.

Efforts continue

While there were a few wins and a few losses in terms of ag policy in the 2024 legislative session, Herman and Decker stress the importance of farmer involvement and engagement.

They credit continued lobbying efforts by ISA, its farmer-members and specifically, ISA Advocate Members.

Advocate Membership empowers ISA to positively influence policy and regulatory matters that impact the soybean industry. ISA leverages members’ non-checkoff investments with additional partnerships to engage at the state and federal levels to enhance competitiveness on the farm.

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Meanwhile, the fight will continue on behalf of Iowa’s soybean farmers. Herman and Decker noted that with an expanded policy and advocacy team at ISA, the association will be able to provide more frequent updates on legislation and opportunities to engage with state and federal lawmakers.

“As citizens and farmers, let us know how we can assist you in engaging elected officials and candidates in the coming months,” Herman says.