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Welcome to Episode 53 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. This special episode features a one-on-one conversation with U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (on September 23, 2020) regarding derecho and COVID-19 relief, the RFS and other important national ag issues.
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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.
Zach Bader: Welcome to this September 23rd edition of the Spokesman Speaks podcast. I'm Zach Bader, and we appreciate you tuning in for this special episode featuring U.S. Senator Joni Ernst. Typically we're in between podcast episodes, but Senator Ernst was gracious enough to call in this morning and share some updates on the important ag issues that she's been working on in Washington. And of course we wanted to share her news with you as quickly as possible. Of course, if you're already a subscriber to the Spokesman Speaks podcast, you were the first to know about this exclusive interview. If not, you can find us in your favorite podcast app subscribe and never miss a future episode. Now here's Spokesman editor, Dirk Steimel with Senator Joni.
Dirck Steimel: We're here with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst to visit about issues facing Iowa farmers and others in agribusiness during 2020. Good morning, Senator, thanks for joining our Spokesman Speaks podcast. You recently completed your 99 County Tour of Iowa. What are some of the key issues that you heard from Iowans during your meetings around the state?
Senator Joni Ernst: Every year, my 99 County tour gives me the opportunity to hear directly from Iowans in every corner of our state. So I can bring their ideas and concerns with me as I continue my work in the United States Senate. And on this year's tour, I met with Iowans and rural communities across the state, including our pork producers, dairy producers, biofuel, producers, researchers, conservationists, and much more as chairman of the Senate Agricultural Subcommittee on rural development and energy. I always make it a priority to meet with and listened to Iowa's ag community. In my visits, we discussed quite a few things, but primarily we discussed my work to uphold the renewable fuel standard, get rid of those gap year waivers and expand access to higher blends of ethanol like E15, ensure a fair market access for producers was very important and helping deliver relief to farmers impacted by COVID-19. And the derecho that we saw in August.
Dirck Steimel: You recently viewed areas of Iowa hit by the duration with Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Purdue, Governor Reynolds, and Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig. Why is it so important that USDA and other agencies step up to assist farmers affected by this devastating storm?
Senator Joni Ernst: Well, we have had quite a year. And so whether it's the COVID-19 pandemic, the derecho or the drought 2020 really has been quite a year for Iowa's ag community. And since the devastating derecho, I've been on the ground to hear from folks in impacted areas and help where I can. And I knew that our farmers needed relief, which is why I called on USDA to grant Governor Reynolds request for a secretarial disaster designation. Fortunately, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue did come to Iowa to see the damage firsthand. Heating our calls on that very day, then Secretary Perdue announced as approval of Governor Reynolds request for that secretarial disaster designation. And it was for 18 counties allowing Iowa producers to go ahead and access USDA disaster programs and farm service agency, emergency loans. And then just last week, I did outline a few additional areas that USDA can help us with as farmers are rebuilding and preparing for next year. So one allowing an actual production history, yield exclusion to disaster impacted counties so that our producers receive adequate crop insurance coverage in future years. Next of course, give the risk management agency the maximum amount of flexibility to not require farmers to harvest crops that have been destroyed. Next move, the due date for producers to pay their crop insurance premiums from the end of September to December 31st of this year, and then ensure additional Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs (CFAP) payments are issued for base acres and not harvested bushels due to crop damage from the disasters. And then finally provide farmers a streamlined process to apply for grain storage loans to assist in rebuilding damage from the derecho. I know all of us, whether we saw firsthand or saw pictures, but the grain storage just devastated across the state of Iowa, as well as our crops
Dirck Steimel: Beyond the financial impact. Are you concerned about the emotional stress on farmers through this difficult period and what can Congress and the administration do to help farmers navigate mental health issues caused by the pandemic, the drought and the duration?
Senator Joni Ernst: Yes, if there's one thing that I know about Iowa farmers it's that they are resilient, but that doesn't mean that they need support and mental health struggles affect folks everywhere, including our ag community. And even before the pandemic and the derecho I've worked to bring this issue to light. I actually teamed up with my democratic colleagues, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin on a bill that we called the Farmers First Act. We knew that suicide rates among farmers were high and we had to do something to address it. So through our bipartisan bill, which is now law, we've reestablished, the farm and ranch stress assistance network created helplines and support groups and provided suicide prevention training for farm advocates. And right here in Iowa, we've actually seen two projects, Agrisafe, and Farm and Ranch wellness, receive the resources to help find ways to provide mental health support to our state's ag community. And as we're working through these dark days, I've called on the administration to help us provide more mental health support to our farmers. And we have great state partners, partners like Ag Secretary Mike Naig have put in place a resources coordination center to provide farmers with help and support. And folks, we, we all know you can always count on a farmer, but when our farmers need a helping hand, let's make sure they can always count on us.
Dirck Steimel: Senator in your recent column, in the Spokesman, you noted that scrapping the Waters of the U.S. Rule was a key victory for agriculture. Why was that so important for Iowa farmers?
Senator Joni Ernst: Well, and 2015, they Obama administration finalized a rule that expanded the definition of WOTUS and it gave the federal government authority to regulate water on 97% of the land in Iowa. It created confusion and burdensome red tape for Iowa's agriculture industry and many, many others. So immediately I took action and introduce legislation that would have notified the Obama administration's rule. It did pass both the house and the Senate with bipartisan support and the bill was promptly vetoed by President Obama. So when President Trump was elected, we got to work yet once again to get Obama's harmful WOTUS rule off of the books. And in late 2018, the Trump administration released a proposed rule to replace the Obama Administration's 2015 WOTUS rule with a new rule that provides much needed predictability and certainty for farmers by establishing very clear and reasonable definitions of what qualifies as a water of the United States. The new navigable waters protection rule was just finalized a bit earlier this year. So, now we need to make sure this rule isn't undone by future administrations and replaced with that Obama era rule or an even more extreme version. And that's why I helped introduce the defined WOTUS act, which is a bill to legislatively define the waters of the United States and make a reasonable workable definition of the term permanent.
Dirck Steimel: Circling back, you've always been a big supporter of renewable fuels and have advocated for protecting the renewable fuel standard. Why is a robust biofuel sector so important for Iowa agriculture and for the state in general?
Senator Joni Ernst: Oh my gosh. Well, it is, it is so, so important. As the number one producer of corn ethanol biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol, our renewable fuels industry is a huge, very important sector of Iowa's economy. It generates almost $5 billion of Iowa's GDP over $2.4 billion in household incomes, and it supports 47,000 jobs across Iowa. That's just across Iowa. I grew up on my family farm in Southwest Iowa and still live in that same rural community today. And I know just how much our farmers do for all of us. And as a result, I've continued to stand up for our hardworking farmers and producers and defend the renewable fuel standard. Recently we have seen some big wins for Iowa's biofuel community. And as you probably know, I've been calling for these gap year waivers to be thrown out since they were announced. And just last week, they administration listened to my calls for action. This will provide more certainty, of course, for the biofuel producers who for too long, I've been yanked around by the EPA. We also saw the administration uphold the commitment to help increase access, to E15 by allowing E10 pumps to use E15 this will help drive up demand for corn and ethanol, but, you know as we know the fight for Iowa's renewable fuel industry and our farmers is not over and I'll never stop being relentless advocate for Iowa agriculture, holding EPA to their commitments and making sure that RFS is the law of the land.
Dirck Steimel: Do you have any further updates on congressional action on Corona virus relief yet for 2020?
Senator Joni Ernst: Well, we all know that COVID-19 has been very, very hard on our ag community and I'm continuing to fight to get folks the relief that they need in the latest coronavirus relief bill. I work to include $20 billion in additional funding for agriculture to support producers, growers, and our processors. The package also included a bill I support that would allow our farmers and producers to utilize the paycheck protection program. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats let politics get in the way and they, and they blocked the bill, but all continued to engage in discussions with my colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans on a pathway forward. So our folks can get relief. Now, there is one other important thing that Congress needs to get replenished and that's the Commodity Credit Corporation. And just earlier this week, we saw speaker Pelosi playing some games with this routine funding. Iowa farmers will not be used as political pawns. The Commodity Credit Corporation has routinely been funded in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way for so many years. And given the challenges that are facing farm country right now, this is not the year to end that bipartisanship. So I'm glad that our democratic friends decided to join me in standing with our farmers and providing these hardworking men and women, the certainty that they need. It's also pretty clear that it would be unlawful for USDA to use this money to bail out oil refineries, but just in case we've also made sure big oil can't skirt the law on this one. The CCC is meant to support our farmers and it will stay this way. So there are some updates coming from Congress, we'll continue working hopefully in a bipartisan way to get this much needed funding to our farmers.
Dirck Steimel: Well, thank you so much, Senator, is there anything else you'd like to tell Iowa farmers on this podcast?
Senator Joni Ernst: Well, I want to tell our Iowa farmers that I appreciate them so much for all that they do to feed fuel and close our great world and just keep on keeping on. I want them to stay safe as we're rolling into harvest and always stay strong.
Zach Bader: We really appreciate Senator Ernst, making time in her busy schedule to join us on the podcast. It's tough to stay current on all of the important national ag policy updates during the harvest season. So it's good to touch base directly with Senator Ernst and hear how she's working on our behalf. Now that's it for this episode of the Spokesman Speaks, but I know that you've got a bit of extra windshield time this time of year. So if you've got a few more hours in the tractor, truck, or combine, I'd encourage you to stick around and listen to some other recent podcast episodes that you might've missed. For example, we've got some recent episodes with tips for managing crops that were damaged by the derecho and the drought. We've got tips for marketing your crops after harvest. And we've got a story about how an Iowa farm celebrity corrected some misinformation about cattle and greenhouse gas emissions in a misleading Burger King ad. And she did that by inviting Burger King executives out to her farm in August. If you missed that episode, you'll want to be sure to catch up with that one. And if you're subscribed to the podcast, you'll be the first to know when we release a new episode, like the special episode that we have planned for next week, featuring Emily Kerkleberg, who's a farm safety and health expert for the University of Minnesota. Of course, harvest is an especially stressful time that introduces unique safety risks. And no one has a better understanding of those risks than Emily. Emily has actually lived through the devastating experience of having two family members lose limbs in agricultural accidents. So she brings us advice and perspective. That's not only based in research. It comes from personal experience. It's an important conversation that really applies directly to the completely unprecedented harvest season that we're going through right now. So again, I hope that you'll tune in for that special episode next week. Until next time I wish you and your family, a safe and successful week of harvest. Thanks for the work that you're doing, that supports all of us 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, Google play, and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.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 and expert advice that matter. 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.