Long-term, dedicated funding for water quality and soil conservation must be a priority in the state’s budget, voting delegates representing Iowa’s 100 county Farm Bureaus said last week.

“It is really important that we lead on this issue and bring all Iowans with us,” said Fayette County voting delegate Chad Ingels.

Delegates also adopted policies supporting a more streamlined response to animal disease outbreaks and maintaining a farmer’s “right to repair” high-tech equipment, among other issues at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) annual Summer Policy Conference in West Des Moines.

The annual conference marks the end of Farm Bureau’s year-long grassroots policy development process, during which delegates adopted state policies to guide the organization’s efforts during the 2017 Iowa legislative session. National policies will be forwarded for debate during the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in January 2017.

Member-led process

“Our process is member-led and member-determined with en­­gagement and input from each county of the state,” said IFBF President Craig Hill, a Warren County crop and livestock farmer. “We gather a complete set of information and arrive at a decision to ensure a strong, unified voice on behalf of our membership.”

Delegates engaged in a lengthy discussion about how to best fund farmer-led efforts to meet the water quality and soil conservation goals of the Water Quality Initiative.

“The whole nation is looking at us on water quality right now,” said Mills County voting delegate Karen Seipold. “If we don’t do something positive that we have control of, we’re going to be litigating this county by county or landowner by landowner.”

The delegates said long-term dedicated funding for water quality and soil conservation should be financed by reprioritizing existing state revenue and new dedicated revenue sources that include contributions by all Iowans. They also asserted that the distribution of funds from any new sources of revenue must focus on implementing the Water Quality Initiative instead of land acquisition and other expenditures that have little impact on water quality.

State funding would supplement farmers’ own considerable efforts on water quality and soil conservation. A state report shows farmers are investing around $1.50 for every dollar they receive in conservation cost-share funding and are also putting their own money toward conservation projects that don’t receive government cost-share.

A recent Iowa State University poll showed that the state’s farmers have invested as much as $2.2 billion in the last 10 years to make conservation improvements.

“Additional revenue sources are going to be needed for this very important and very ambitious goal,” Hill said. “It’s going to be a significant investment, and it’ll take time. We all are going to share in the benefits, so we all should share in the cost.”

Other policies

In other action, delegates adopted language supporting a more streamlined response to Class A animal disease outbreaks, including pre-approved disposal plans and risk management tools for business interruption. Last year’s avian influenza outbreak resulted in the disposal of more than 31 million birds and caused a $1.2 billion economic hit in Iowa.

“With avian influenza, we learned quite a few areas that need to be streamlined,” Andy Muff, a Hancock County Farm Bureau member, said. “We need a quicker process for animal disposal and a better process for reimbursement.”

The delegates emphasized the importance of premise identification programs to respond to animal disease outbreaks, but insisted on the need to keep information confidential.

Another key issue involved the “right to repair” high-tech machinery. Delegates said farm machinery manufacturers should provide diagnostic information at a fair and reasonable price to independent repair facilities.

Farmers said independent shops often offer a more convenient option for repairs, but are limited in what they can work on due to technology embedded in today’s tractors.

“In our area, you have to drive 30 miles to find a Case IH dealer and 60 miles to find an AGCO dealer,” said Sac County voting delegate Gary Langbein. “There are smaller repair shops that could take care of a problem instead of spending a day on the road.”

Delegates also debated policies impacting property and income tax relief. They adopted policies seeking equity in funding for mental health services and removing income tax credits for land donations, and they said income averaging should be available for calculating self-employment tax liability.