During the 2017 legislative session, the Iowa Farm Bureau worked with legislators to provide long-term water quality funding that would help Iowa farmers advance the comprehensive Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

Two primary measures emerg­ed, one in the Senate and another in the House. Although neither measure passed as the gavel came down before the session ended late last month, confusion about both bills has surfaced.

Spokesman Editor Dirck Steimel visited with IFBF Executive Dir­ector Denny Presnall about which measure Farm Bureau supported and why, and what Farm Bureau members’ plans are for the 2018 session regarding water quality.

Q: Which proposal did Farm Bureau support for water quality funding?

We believe the Senate proposal was the best legislative vehicle to achieve the water quality goals developed by members in our grassroots policy development process. Our members want to engage in meaningful solutions that will truly improve water quality. As a result, the Senate bill surfaced as the one that would provide real progress and real solutions.

There’s been a lot of misinformation shared about both bills, but having worked at the Capitol, it’s important to read the details of each bill. It matters what the bill says versus what it might include.

The Senate measure would:

• Provide $156 million, which is over $100 million more than the House plan, in dedicated funding to assist farmers with their agricultural conservation and water quality efforts. History shows that farmers respond to that. During a tight budget when everyone is vying for dollars, it’s important to find common ground to make progress. The Senate measure of­­fered more assistance to help farmers continue conservation momentum.

• Protect the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy by clearly distinguishing that farm conservation practices remain under the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and cities, municipalities, etc., remain under the jurisdiction of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). That’s because the Senate measure clearly defines roles and responsibilities in farmers’ efforts to improve water quality.

• Continue the state’s proven cost-share approach of helping to offset some of the cost of supporting farmers’ own investments in conservation and water quality projects. One conservation practice can cost up to six figures to install.

Farmers have shown they are willing to invest in conservation; a recent Iowa State University survey shows farmers have made some $2.2 billion in investments in the past decade already. However, applications for cost-share have outpaced funds available.

Increasing adoption of proven conservation practices is an important part of the strategy to help improve water quality, and cost-share is a key tool to help continue momentum.

Q: Why was Farm Bureau concerned about the approach taken in the House measure?

The House approach creates several challenges for agriculture, because it:

• Relies primarily on loans, bonding and debt as funding mechanisms. That is a sharp contrast to the proven conservation cost-share practices in the Senate measure.

• Requires farmers to sign a loan agreement that covers the entire watershed project before they can receive preference to access state funding for water quality projects on their farm. A loan agreement will discourage adoption of practices.

• Expands property tax burdens, specifically on farmland owners.

• Allows point sources, such as cities and industrial sites, to access funding designated for non-point or agricultural programs. Again, we want to give farmers as many tools as possible to implement the conservation practices that work best on their farms, and that takes resources.

• Weakens farmers’ ability to implement the innovative Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy by requiring farmers to take on loan obligations before receiving preference for funds, reducing available funds by having to compete against point sources for cost-share, and allowing property taxes to increase.

Q: What other organizations supported the Senate measure?

The Senate Bill was supported by Iowa’s agencies that are responsible for implementing the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS), including the IDALS, the DNR, the Iowa Finance Authority and the governor’s office.

The Senate measure was also supported by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Pork Producers Association, the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives and the Conservation Districts of Iowa.

Q: Which organizations back­­ed the House water quality proposal? 

The House Bill was supported by groups such as the Iowa Soybean Association, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Iowa League of Cities, the Iowa attorney general’s office, the Iowa Association of Municipalities and the Iowa State Association of Counties.

Additionally, the House bill was specifically opposed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Q: What is Farm Bureau’s plan for water quality funding in the 2018 legislative session?

Water quality funding to help implement the proven practices outlined in the NRS remains a key priority for our members and will be ongoing. From that perspective, the Senate proposal laid the foundation to build upon water quality funding in this two-year legislative session.

When the Legislature convenes in January 2018, Senate File 512 will be an eligible bill in the House. The House can approve Senate File 512 and send it to the governor’s desk, or they can send the bill to a conference committee.

House File 612 was withdrawn at the end of session and would have to start over in the legislative process.

Our goal is to keep moving forward focusing on real solutions that give farmers the tools they need that work best for their farms as quickly as possible. The Senate measure, which employs the proven cost-share method and other options, offers more opportunity to achieve our goals.