Iowa Farm Bureau delegates successfully added policy provisions to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) national policy book to increase funding to repair America’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure, protect a farmer’s standing in federal safety net programs in the event of prevented planting and clarify rules for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) during the AFBF annual delegate session last week in Orlando.

"We have to feel very proud because there were many ideas and concepts that came out of Iowa that were incorporated in AFBF policy this year," said Craig Hill, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) president. "It’s a very good indication that our strong grassroots policy development process in Iowa develops sound policies that resonate with other Farm Bureaus all over the country."

Road, bridge funding

The AFBF delegates from all 50 states approved a resolution forwarded by Iowa to support increasing the Federal Highway Trust Fund fees to reflect increases in fuel economy and inflation. The additional revenue would be directed for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges.

The policy measure, approved earlier by IFBF delegates, is designed to address the consistent underfunding of transportation infrastructure with an increase in user fees for the first time in more than 20 years, Hill said

"Transportation infrastructure is an issue that we have been concerned about in Iowa for many, many years, and we finally got the opportunity to recommend a remedy in our national policy," Hill said.

"Our delegates felt that the user fee system is the fairest way to fund the improvements we need to make, and the delegates at the national meeting agreed."

Prevented planting rules

The AFBF delegates also sup­­ported an Iowa policy that would protect a farmers’ Actual Production History (APH) in the event of prevented planting. Some have proposed that farmers receiving prevented planting payments through the federal crop insurance program should be penalized by lowering the farm’s APH and lowering potential safety net payments.

"Our members felt that it wasn’t fair for a farmer to get penalized just because they weren’t able to plant," said Joe Heinrich, IFBF vice president. "And the delegates here in Orlando agreed with that."

The AFBF delegates also clarified the organization’s policy on a rule surrounding UAS, often called drones. They adopted policy that allows the use of UAS beyond the visual line of sight as long as they are controlled by "sense and avoid" technology.

"There are a lot of questions about the liabilities and the concerns around this new and promising technology, and we are working our way through that," Hill said. "We want to make sure that farmers can use UAS technology and gain the benefits of it, but also avoid concerns about trespass and liability."

Heinrich said he was encouraged that the AFBF delegates approved an Iowa-supported policy to rework federal rules so universities could have better access to UAS research. "That was a big one because right now universities have to go through the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) commercial licensing process," he said. "It is really important that universities are able to do that kind of research to help farmers understand the potential of this new technology."

Iowa delegate Derek Von Ahsen also spoke up to defeat an amendment that would have recommended that farmers voluntarily report tillage practices and cover crop plantings to the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"I just felt the policy offered more potential for agencies, like the EPA (Environmental Pro­tection Agency), to watch over what farmers are doing and what kind of conservation practices we are using," said Von Ahsen, the voting delegate from Iowa County Farm Bureau. "It was voluntary in the proposal, but those have a way of becoming a mandatory over time."

Other new policies

In addition, AFBF delegates ap­­proved new policies that covered a wide range of agricultural topics, including risk management, regulatory reform, immigration and biofuels. Some of the key policies adopted:

• Added cottonseed to the list of oilseed crops eligible for farm programs.

• Sought to prohibit federal agencies from attempting to sway public opinion regarding rules that are open for public comment, whether by social media or other means, as the EPA did in the Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule.

• Supported fair and open world trade that benefits agriculture. In particular, AFBF voted to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

• Reaffirmed support for the use of genetically modified plant varieties and other innovative technologies. Delegates also called for a voluntary and uniform labeling system for products designated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

• Called for flexibility in the H-2A program that would allow workers to seek employment from more than one farmer. They also called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to assist in solving the continuing shortage of agricultural workers.

• Maintained their strong sup­­port for biofuels and the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Other delegates representing Iowa at the 2016 AFBF meeting were IFBF District 4 Director Doug Gronau of Crawford County, Internal Study Committee chair Dave Seil of Webster County, Jennifer Cash of Cerro Gordo County, Mary Van Zante of Marion County, Kevin Poen of Calhoun County and Trent Stalzer of Hardin County.