Iowa Farm Bureau members were pleased that the 2017 session of the Iowa Legislature approved an increase of more than $2 million in the fiscal 2018 budget to support farmers’ water quality and soil conservation efforts. But they were disappointed that lawmakers were again unable to agree on a long-term funding program for water quality, Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said last week.

"Conservation and water quality efforts are important to farmers and all Iowans," Hill said after the close of the 2017 legislative session on April 22. "We need to continue the momentum that has earned Iowa recognition as a national leader for its successful collaborative, watershed-based conservation efforts."

Along with additional water quality funding, Farm Bureau members applauded the Legislature’s extension of the statewide cap on property tax contributions to Iowa’s mental health system, Hill said. Members are also committed to continuing their efforts to couple Iowa taxes with the federal code on section 179 asset expensing, he said.

Advancing conservation

Long-term water quality funding will continue to be a focus for Farm Bureau and the organization will continue to work with legislators on a policy and funding plan that supports the Water Quality Initiative and continues to advance the conservation efforts demonstrated by Iowa farmers, Hill said.

"Our members are thankful for the commitment of the Legislature and the Governor and Lt. Governor for their commitment to Iowa’s water quality and conservation efforts," Hill said. "We are disappointed a long-term funding source was not agreed upon this year, but our members will continue efforts to collaborate and work with all Iowans to take on the challenge of improving water quality."

Iowa farmers, Hill noted, are making investments to improve water quality. An Iowa State University survey shows they have made some $2.2 billion in investments in the past decade.

"Now we need additional support from the state as a collaborator on our conservation and water quality efforts," he said.

Farm Bureau supported a Senate-passed bill which would have prioritized existing state funds to create a long-term, sustainable funding source to supplement Iowa farmers’ own conservation investments through the watershed approach prescribed in Iowa’s Water Quality Initiative. Unfortunately, Hill said, the plan supported by Farm Bureau did not advance in the House.

Farm Bureau members are committed to continuing their efforts on state tax reform that includes permanent coupling with Section 179, the Iowa Farm Bureau president said.

"We are entering a fourth year of a struggling farm economy, and coupling Iowa tax with federal tax code is an important economic tool for farmers to help provide some certainty," Hill said. "Farm Bureau has a successful track record of working with lawmakers on important tax issues, and our hope is that coupling with section 179 is at the front of the line when legislators return to Des Moines to work on tax reform next session."

In other key measures supported by Farm Bureau during the 2017 session, lawmakers approved:

- A broad bill that includes language that would require a form of identification to vote, as well as eliminate straight-ticket voting.

- A measure that exempts farm structures from the state electrical licensing and inspections program. In 2009, the Iowa Electrical Examining Board strayed from the statute and required farm structures to be included in the statewide licensing and inspection program.

The Electrical Examining Board’s decision was reversed by an Iowa district court, and this bill updates to Iowa Code to clearly state that farm buildings are not subject to state electrical licensing and inspections.

  - A bill to require agencies to submit a jobs impact statement for all proposed administrative rules. This bill would align Iowa Code with an executive order issued by Governor Branstad in 2011, which required a jobs impact statement for all proposed rules.