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Welcome to Episode 30 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast.
January 13 marks the beginning of Iowa’s 2020 legislative session, and this episode features a preview of Iowa Farm Bureau’s legislative priorities in 2020, along with an update (from Iowa DNR Water Quality Resource Coordinator Adam Schnieders) on the significant progress that’s being made on one evergreen priority: protecting and improving Iowa’s water quality.
This episode also includes a conversation with Iowa State University meat scientist Dr. Rodrigo Tarte, about imitation meat products and how they are being marketed.
- Click here to view the transcript +
Narrator: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast from Iowa's leading agricultural news source. Brought to you by the Iowa Farm Bureau. Now, here's your host, Laurie Johns.
Laurie Johns: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. This is our January 13th edition and today marks day one of Iowa's 2020 legislative session. Because of that, today's episode features a preview of Iowa Farm Bureau's legislative priorities in 2020 and an update on the significant progress that's being made on one evergreen priority, protecting and improving Iowa's water quality. This episode also includes a conversation with Iowa State University meat scientist Dr. Rodrigo Tarte. He's talking about imitation meat products and how they are being marketed. We know that that imitation meat is a pretty hot topic these days, so we're going to see what a meat scientist has to say about it. But let's start with a preview of Farm Bureau's priorities for the 2020 legislative session. Spokesman Editor Dirck Steimel sat down with Iowa Farm Bureau state policy advisor Matt Steinfeldt to learn about the issues that Farm Bureau members will be discussing with their state lawmakers this year. Let's see what Matt has to say.
Dirck Steimel: We're here with Matt Steinfeldt, state policy advisor for Iowa Farm Bureau Federation as we get ready for the 2020 legislative session. During the session, Farm Bureau members plan to focus on property taxes and work with legislators to help protect Iowa's property taxpayers. Why is that important?
Matt Steinfeldt: You know, our members work on a lot of issues that affect property taxes because it affects their farm operation. This year for the first time ever, property taxes in Iowa will exceed $6 billion collected statewide. Property taxes have more than doubled in the last 18 years. So as you can see that something that really affects our members and all Iowans. A couple of things we're going to be working on. One is property tax credits, in specific the Homestead Property Tax Credit and the Ag Land Family Farm Property Tax Credit, just working with legislators to make sure those are funded at least last year's levels. In addition to that, our members will also work on a funding mechanism that deals within the state sets supplemental aid for K-12 schools. This funding mechanism was implemented six years ago. And what it does when the state sets allowable growth for schools the state picks up the tab of that funding as opposed to it being split between property taxes in the state. And why that's important is this fiscal year alone, this funding mechanism will result in $62 million that would have directly went onto property taxpayers. So it's an important funding mechanism. It's something that the legislature has to go in and actually extend year by year. So, we'll be working with legislators to extend that into next fiscal year as well.
Dirck Steimel: A top Farm Bureau property tax focus this session will be the funding of a Iowa's mental health system. Why is financing this system important to property taxpayers?
Matt Steinfeldt: You know Farm Bureau members believe that property taxes should pay for property services while people taxes should pay for people services. And when we're talking about people taxes we're talking about sales tax and income tax. Those are the things that make up the state budget and how that ties into mental health is currently Iowa's mental health system is funded by property taxes. In fact, we're one of only a handful of states in the country where property taxes are used to fund the mental health system. Our mental health system in Iowa has evolved a lot over the years. There's a lot more equity in the services and the delivery of those services. The one thing that has not evolved and is not equitable is the funding source. Anytime you fund a people service with property taxes, it creates a lot of inequities, especially for the taxpayer. So our members feel that it's time for the state to make mental health a priority and fund Iowa's mental health system out of the state budget, which is made up of people taxes. When the state does that, they'll achieve two things. First and foremost they will be using a more equitable funding source to fund the mental health system. And next they will also provide dollar for dollar property tax relief when they remove this expense from property taxes and move it onto the state budget.
Dirck Steimel: During last year's summer policy conference, Farm Bureau delegates emphasized the need to maintain future availability of veterinarians for Iowa's livestock industry. What type of state programs would Farm Bureau support to help ensure the availability of food animal vets?
Matt Steinfeldt: You know, our members would support a variety of approaches or programs. First and foremost, probably some type of loan forgiveness program for the veterinarian themselves who will serve in those rural areas for the food animal needs out there. We'll also look at some economic development incentives where local communities can invest in a rural vet clinic. Also look at mentorships in addition, we'll see if there's any sort of transition tax incentives for retiring veterinarians. Our members recognize that livestock is vital to Iowa's economy and we want to make sure that we can help ensure that in the future we have availability of private practice food, animal vets across rural Iowa.
Dirck Steimel: Conservation and water quality have been Farm Bureau priorities for years. And especially since the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was implemented back in 2013. During the upcoming session, what will Farm Bureau's focus be in the area of conservation and water quality?
Matt Steinfeldt: You know, we'll continue to focus on advancing the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and that starts with continuing to ramp up Senate File 512. If you remember, Senate File 512 was passed a couple of years ago and it created a long-term dedicated funding source for the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. This fiscal year Senate File 512 will fully ramp up and for the nonpoint source side, which is agriculture side, that funding will increase from $4 million up to $15 million. In addition to that, the point source side will increase to $12 million. So as you can see, this as a big ramp up year for Senate File 512. Senate File 512 is important because it funds our Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Our Nutrient Reduction Strategy is our nationally recognized targeted watershed approach to continue to advance efforts for nitrogen and phosphorus. So it's incredibly important to Iowa, Iowa agriculture and all Iowans that we keep investing in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy. And additionally, as this funding ramps up for Senate File 512, we just want to make sure that the state maintains the current funding levels for our underlying programs such as a conservation cost share program and ag drainage well program.
Dirck Steimel: There's been a discussion about the natural resources and outdoor recreation trust fund. In the event that the legislature does increase the sales tax and financing for the fund is triggered, what is Farm Bureau's view on how the funds should be distributed?
Matt Steinfeldt: You know, our members are going to focus on that distribution formula and we're going to make sure that the formula emphasizes water quality. If you'll remember the distribution formula for the natural resources. Outdoor recreation trust fund was created about 12 years ago. A lot has changed in the last decade. In fact, Iowa didn't even have a Nutrient Reduction Strategy until 2013 about six years ago. I think our members recognize that the legislature put the distribution formula in code for a reason so that it could be changed because they recognize that Iowa's priorities change over time. So should the funding for this formula. So we're going to work on changes to the formula that will get more money towards water quality and soil conservation. In particular, our members will focus on making sure that the formula includes the Nutrient Reduction Strategy as well as increased funding for lake restoration and additionally add funding for stream restoration.
Dirck Steimel: Are there other issues that Farm Bureau members will focus on during the 2020 session, Matt?
Matt Steinfeldt: Yeah, there's a couple more issues. One of them will be our members are going to work with lawmakers to help develop a Farm Driving Permit Program. Basically this would allow minors to operate a vehicle for farm purposes. The system would be similar to a school permit where Iowans between the age of 14 and a half and 16 years old would be allowed to operate a vehicle for farm purposes. Some of our surrounding states have created a similar program and I our members think that the Iowa legislature should take a look at this to help create some efficiencies for our farm families. Another issue our members will work on involves the siting of electrical generating facilities for wind and solar. And when we're talking about this issue, we are not talking about wind or solar that someone would install on their farm, on their business or at their house. Our members are talking about utility industry scale generating facilities from wind and solar. And basically, what our members want to see is some sort of statewide consistent standards instead of the county by county patchwork of rules and regulations that we currently have in Iowa.
Laurie Johns: Sounds like a full plate of issues again in 2020. Thanks for that update Matt. And thank you by the way, to all of the farmers out there listening to this podcast who make time to meet with their lawmakers. You know, your voice has set the direction for Farm Bureau's advocacy work and your personal stories bring these issues to life. And lawmakers want to hear from you. Your personal stories show lawmakers and all Iowans for example, the work that you're doing to not just grow food but to improve Iowa and that's certainly the case when it comes to conservation. Last month, Iowa Farm Bureau assembled a panel of water quality experts from Iowa State, Iowa Department of Ag, the Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council to talk about the progress that Iowa's making in water quality protection. One of the panelists was Adam Schnieders, who is the Water Quality Resource Coordinator for Iowa DNR. I caught up with Adam afterwards to pick his brain about conservation and water quality progress. So I'm here with Adam Schnieders, fresh off our water quality panel discussion where we had farmers and folks from the media that you had a chance to talk to and take some questions. What are your overall thoughts of the outcome and what you thought was discussed in the need, why this is important?
Adam Schnieders: I think it's always a great opportunity to share all the work that's been going on for over the years. But to hear from Iowa State, Department of Ag and some of our private public partners through the Iowa Nutrient Research Education Council, DNR, a lot of this work goes back decades, sometimes years since the strategy started with new programming, new partnerships, new things. And so usually I think as Iowans we always look forward at things and what's the next thing we're going to do? And rarely do we sometimes look back, say, well, what have we accomplished in many ways? And so to hear the different perspectives from everyone to talk about here's what's happened and why these things happened in 2019 specifically and all the history that led up to them I think was an important to hear from the different groups like Iowa State and the Nutrient Research Center. That was a new thing. That was after the strategy was put into place at the legislature founded and our three regents universities are a part of. And just hear all the great work that's happened over the last six years is really incredible. All the new things that farmers can use on the landscape and the new practices that weren't even thought of when we started, that's just really neat to see. And then of course, seeing how those are delivered onto the landscape through different programs and education and those types of things is great to see. Also it showed that there's a lot of farmers interested in trying to move things more quickly. I know that's something we see from the public and from the press as far as are things happening fast enough? Usually with the strategy folks are focused on, you know, there's not much argument I should say on the science behind it. Folks agree with that. The kind of the research, some of the things that we're trying to accomplish, almost all of it focuses is on that pace of change and putting some context to the story about how long some of these things do take to build, to design, to put on the landscape, to contract out these things do take time. But we've seen over history with some of our programs that things can happen as long as you're persistent and work at it year after year. We've seen that on the conservation side, especially with some of my more permanent practices and the landscape like terraces, ponds, water and sediment control basins, things like that. We've really seen those increase over the last 30 years. We know nitrogen is a big focus now. And so if we see more of these nitrogen practices that are relatively new to the practice game you could say, or any of the cost share game, those new practices getting, our state agencies or federal agencies used to some of these things.
You putting those out there, educating farmers may not even heard of these things or even cities in some cases, that takes time to build up, get that education out there so people can trust the practice, know it, and then figure out how it can work best in their specific operation.
Laurie Johns: And it is hard when you talk about time then we're talking about patience and I don't know if all Iowan's necessarily have that, but you're right, it is very important to know before we can understand what we need to do to make progress to find out where we actually are.
Adam Schnieders: Yeah. Iowa State code, recent laws were passed that required the state to look at progress from the 1980 to 1996 baseline. I know it's a weird set of numbers and years. It was based off the Gulf of Mexico work of the Federal Hypoxia Task Force to use that time frame as a baseline for measuring progress. And so a lot of the work we've done over the last couple of years since that law was passed is figuring out, well, where were we at that time frame and where are we today? And then where were kind of when the strategy started too. So we're kind of taking all of this work and trying to make it fit into this measurement process. One of the things that we recently completed was mapping all the conservation practices we could see from LIDAR imagery or the imagery flown over with airplanes and lasers effectively to see, alright is that a terrace, is that a pond dam? And so we completed that mapping process and saw in 2010 that timeframe when LIDAR was flown a tremendous amount of conservation practices on the landscape in Iowa. That was likely built over the last few decades to put on the landscape, if not longer. Some of these things are probably been around four decades back into the 50s, 40s probably in the 30s for some of these terraces you would guess, which is impressive to see how some of these permanent practices can stay out there for that long. And so one of the things we're looking at, well we know we did this in 2010 what can we compare that back to aerial photography in the 1980s cause that's our measure for progress. And what is it looking like today? Cause we did the LIDAR stuff in 2010 what is it now in 2018 what types of progress are we seeing and were finishing up that work. We're working with Iowa State statistical lab to do some of this analysis. We've completed the GIS work by and large as a few final details we need to tweak. We're hoping to be able to say or to find out what was the practices in the 80s, 2010 and then in 2018 roughly. And we know for sure we've seen an increase in the amount of those types of practices, terraces, ponds, water and sediment control basins. So we've seen an increase in those from the 80s to today. And so we'll get more detail on that data hopefully in the coming months. And we'll be sharing that as we get it.
Laurie Johns: Now there's some things that LIDAR can't capture, some types of practices.
Adam Schnieders: Right. And a lot of the focus of practices you're likely going to see moving forward are some of the nitrogen reducing practices. Wetlands you can see that's something that's going to be visible. But a lot of the new practices are going to be under the ground, a bioreactor, a saturated buffer. Some of these things you don't see. Farmers using nitrogen inhibitor or when they apply nitrogen or if they follow the four Rs, for example, these things are invisible to someone driving by in a way. Laurie Johns: Or flying over.
Adam Schnieders: Or flying over. Exactly. So it's one of those things you may not know unless you're intimately involved with the operation. And so capturing those things can be a different challenge if you can't use necessarily the imagery in a sense. So that's why this is limited to just a subset of the dozens of practices we're trying to focus on to meet the goals of nutrient strategy.
Laurie Johns: Well let me ask you, with all of these things in mind and some of the questions that were brought up even by the media, is there one misnomer that you would like to correct right now? Anything that comes to mind, you're like, hey, maybe we need to consider this. Maybe here's one more thing. Just you know, that you want people to know.
Adam Schnieders: Just that it's a lot more complicated than people probably give it in many cases, and that a lot of these things take persistence. And we have examples of like this through larger efforts over time that I could highlight. But the idea of, hey, we need to see more wetlands out there, for example. Okay. Obviously there's a money aspect to them to build a wetland. They need to be sited, they need to be engineered and designed. And then ultimately a contractor has to build it likely in the off season or when the fields available in the spring, in the fall. So there's limited time window and one of our combinations scenarios to try to meet the ambitious goals of the strategy. It looks at 4,000 wetlands for example. Well if you were to build a wetland every single day to get up to 4,000, it would take you 11 years if you were to have some sort of wetlands stamping machine or you can go out on the landscaping and Kaboom, Kaboom, Kaboom. One every day for 11 years and you can meet the 4,000 goal. Obviously that doesn't exist to do that every day. So what can we do today with the way the game boards are set up for us to operate and how can we get more wetlands out there faster? For example, how can we get more saturated buffers out there and more quickly, everything's about that perception about we need to see the landscape change faster. No one disagrees with it. Everyone wants to see that. A lot of the arguments as to how you go about that. But some of these things, they get these practices out there. It's not just, hey, just do it. There's a lot of process that has to go into getting any of these types of practices out there typically. And so the more we can see all these things working together, the more we can make that easier for folks to do. Whether that's a city or a farm operation. That's what we're trying to focus on to help increase that pace and scale, to meet these goals. I think what's encouraging is when you see some of the things we talked about with LIDAR and the amount of investment already in conservation for some of these practices, you know that if we're persistent on some of these things in focus, like the strategy is doing that we have a good chance of meeting these types of goals, but it's gonna take years of work to get there. And how can we all work together to stretch our dollars to get more done in a collaborative cooperative way with cities, agriculture, everyone working together to try to achieve it. Cause the alignment's all there to do it. It's just what things can we do better?
Laurie Johns: You heard Adam, it's going to take persistence, but we're on the right track, thanks to the collaborative work of farmers and their urban partners. So keep up the great work. Let's take another leap forward this year. Now from water quality we turn to another topic that's going to be top of mind for farmers in 2020 and beyond. Imitation meat. Well, I'm guessing a lot of you saw the recent announcement that Impossible Foods, the folks who made the imitation beef burgers are now going to start offering plant-based imitation pork at Burger King restaurants later this month. We know this issue isn't going to go away anytime soon, so it's important we learn all that we can and start to talk about that and get all the expert advice that we can. And you know that's where Dr. Rodrigo Tarte comes in. He is a meat science researcher at Iowa State University and he recently covered the topic of meat alternatives during a presentation at the Iowa Turkey Federation's winter convention. Afterwards Spokesman reporter Corey Munson caught up with Dr. Tarte to ask some questions of his own. So they want to know just how big is the market for imitation meat anyway? Now we're not just talking about the vegetable-based imitation products, but want to know if lab grown imitation meat will reach stores soon. So let's hear what Dr. Tarte has to say right now.
Corey Munson: Can you tell us a little bit about the current state of the meat alternative industry? Kind of what's on the horizon? What have we seen this year? What's coming up?
Dr. Tarte: Well, there's a lot of activity in this market segment at the moment. First of all, it's fair to say that it's a very small, in spite of all the, what we hear about in the news media and social media it's still a very small section of the market, but there's a lot of activity going on. We have of course, companies that are resonating with the public at the moment, like Impossible Foods with their Impossible Whopper and so forth and Beyond Meat. But we're also seeing more traditional meat and food companies that are getting into this space as well. Large companies that are creating their own brands and in some cases acquiring other established meat alternative brands as well. There is also some consumer surveys out there that indicate that consumers do show an interest. Many consumers do show an interest in at least learning more about plant-based eating and what that means. But at the moment it's estimated that about 5% or so of people actually follow a plant-based diet, strictly a plant-based diets. So again, it's small, but there is a, a lot of activity going on.
Corey Munson: One of the things you noted during your presentation was some of the messaging behind products like Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger. Can you kind of describe what the philosophy of those companies are? What are they putting out there in addition to just a product they're kind of selling a way of being that's beyond just, oh, here is an alternative to your fast food burger.
Dr. Tarte: Yes. One of the things that makes these two companies unique is their messaging and all you really have to do is visit their websites and you're going to a glimpse of that. As I said this morning in my intervention of the convention. It's not just the product that they're selling. They have a social message, usually around both of them around environmental issues and issues related to climate change. The use of animals for animal welfare and so forth, or whether animals should be used for food to begin with. So they have very strong messaging. And this, like I said, this morning, resonates with some consumers, especially some of the younger consumers where when they're, you only know when you're buying a product and there are other products like that, right? So we buy some products because of what the company stands for and so, and if the company stands for something that I strongly believe in than I'm more likely to accept flaws in the product. Right? So the pragmatic, I have to be perfect, but I really believe what they stand for. And this is one thing that makes them unique, even when you compare them to the other meat alternatives or plant-based meat alternatives that are out there. And they have been out there for many years and many of those are companies that are owned by larger food companies. And so the messaging on these two companies Impossible and Beyond goes beyond that. Okay. So it's a social message. It's a much as they're trying to get out there. What I was trying to get at in my talk this morning is so what's the message of our industry? So how do we kind of the message, I think animal agriculture, there are a lot of positives about animal agriculture, beginning with how we do things, how we, you know, work with the environment. We're good stewards of the environment and the product that we put on a consumer's plate, the nutritional implications of that as well. So eating meat from a nutritional perspective, meat protein is not the same as plant protein. Okay. And so there are some positives, but it's how do we get that message out? Okay. To counter companies that have a very clear messaging. They have a very clear message and very clear objectives and a very clear mission of what their product is really all about. Whether your companies actually stand for.
Corey Munson: One of the topics you discussed during your presentation was the current status of the cultured meat movement. Can you first describe kind of what cultured meat is and then second, tell us what the current state of the industry is and when we might see this product appear on shelves?
Dr. Tarte: Cultured meat involves, the technology actually involves growing muscle cells in a lab setting. Something we call cell culture. So we first start by you biopsy an animal you from that you take cells that we call satellite cells. Eventually we grow those in a cell culture medium, in a laboratory setting at the moment. And those eventually differentiate into what we call muscle cells. So you have what looks like it's a real muscle cell, but you haven't actually had to harvest it from directly from an animal except for that initial biopsy. This technology right now is not available commercially. It's still in the R and D stage. There are at least three dozen companies, all of them startups around the world, some in the United States and many elsewhere, who have received funding and are doing research in this space. Now, of course, I'll try to be the first to market with a viable product. They're focusing on things such as beef and pork and seafood and poultry as well. So right now, I personally don't envision seeing products at the store for a number of years if that ever does happen. There are some, they have made some significant strides, but there's still a number of roadblocks that remain, things that need to solve from a technical perspective. We have to think of scale as well. So it's easy to envision it when I'm doing it on a lab bench stop and, and see that, Oh, in principle it kind of works. But when I scale that up to a commercial industrial size operation, what is that going to look like? And if this technology is to replace some or all of traditional animal agriculture, what does the size of the industry need to be? It needs to be very, very, very large and while it's also been promoted as potentially having a lower carbon footprint and lower environmental impact, that is still a question that we don't have a clear answer to because no one has actually scaled this up. So we don't understand what all the inputs and outputs of that system are going to be. There will be inputs and outputs just like there is to every process. So we don't really have a full understanding of that. One other thing that a cell cultured meat industry at the moment is struggling with is how to go beyond a product that resembles ground beef. It's very easy to make a product that resembles ground beef. That's not that difficult. But how do you structure it in a three dimensional way that will have the texture of say a pork chop or a ribeye steak or something like that or a chicken breast?. Okay, how do we recreate that when we don't have a bone structure? And then you've got to remind that that meat is not just muscle cells. There's adipose tissue. There are flavor components, there are color components that are all part of that. So this is what these companies are focusing on right now is how to go beyond just the ground. Two things. First of all, how to get it to, to a price point where consumers will be a viable technology and getting consumers who will actually going by the product. They're making great headway bringing down the cost -- it's still not there. It's still very expensive on a per pound basis. So that's one thing they need to bring down. And then the next frontier is how to make that actually how to go beyond just ground and make it actually reassemble what we call a whole or intact muscle product.
Laurie Johns: Well we certainly appreciate those thoughts from Dr. Tarte. And you know, one takeaway that certainly sticks with me is our opportunity to talk about the unique benefits of real meat, not to mention milk and eggs, including the nutrition of animal-based proteins and the many ways that farmers care for their animals and the environment. But now how do we share those messages broadly with consumers? Can I make a suggestion? Head out to FarmStrong.com and you can play Hilton South Farm Strong Challenge and you can share that contest with your friends and family. The Farm Strong Challenge is a joint promotion offered by Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa State University Athletics. So here's how it works. Fans answer three multiple choice questions about the nutrition of meat, milk and eggs along with questions about the many ways farmers care for their animals and the environment and put it all together, they get a chance to win two all session passes to the Big 12 Conference Men's Basketball Tournament in Kansas City. I know, isn't that neat? And who knows? You could win those prized seats, but you'll definitely walk away better informed about the benefits of real meat, milk and eggs. So again, check out the Hilton South Farm Strong Challenge at FarmStrong.com. And yeah, encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same. That's how we share this good news about livestock farming. One of the many ways we can all do that. So one last thing as we wrap up this episode. If you're a young farmer and you haven't already signed up for the Iowa Farm Bureau's Young Farmer Conference, well you need to head out to IowaFarmBureau.com and register by January 17th. Right around the corner. January 17th. Now this conference is January 31st and February 1st in Altoona and you'll be in good company joined by more than 500 other young farmers from all around the state. So check out all the details and get registered at IowaFarmBureau.com. That's all for this episode of The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. Be sure to tune in for our next episode, January 27th. And until next time. Thanks for reading The Spokesman. Thanks for all the great stories and the inspiration and thanks for listening to The Spokesman Speaks.
Narrator: Thank you for listening to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from The Spokesman at IowaFarmBureau.com/Spokesman. You can also find and subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at Podcast@ifbf.org.
About The Spokesman Speaks Podcast
Since 1934, The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can find episodes of the podcast here or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneInRadio, or Radio.com.
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