Why America Needs Farmers (ANF), the economic impact of ag, and a new health plan that’s saving Iowans thousands of dollars: The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 23
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Welcome to Episode 23 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. In this episode, we discuss the Farm Bureau Health Plan (a one-year-old comprehensive health plan that’s saving some Iowans thousands of dollars) and a new study quantifying the economic impact of Iowa agriculture. We also chat with Iowa Hawkeye greats Kirk Ferentz and Matt Kroul about the America Needs Farmers (ANF) cause, as we prepare to celebrate the ninth annual ANF Game Day, October 12 at Kinnick Stadium.
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Narrator: Since 1934, Iowa's farmers have turned to the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman as their trusted news source. Now, The Spokesmen Speaks. Listen in and hear from leading experts on topics important to farmers and agriculture. Now here's your host, Laurie Johns.
Laurie Johns: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks Podcast. This is our October 7th edition and this coming Saturday, October 12th is the ninth annual American Needs Farmers game at Kinnick Stadium. We will have interviews with a couple of Iowa Hawkeyes later in this episode. So whether you're a Hawkeye fan or just a fan of the American Needs Farmers cause, you'll want to be sure to stay with us to hear from those folks and more details about ANF game day. We also have some important information about an affordable healthcare option that you might want to look into this fall and some new numbers showing agriculture's contribution to Iowa's economy. So let's start with a discussion about the Farm Bureau Health Plan. A new option that's been available to Iowans for roughly a year. Now we know this is the time of year when you're considering your health coverage options for 2020 so we hope this interview gets you thinking. Spokesman Editor, Dirck Steimel spoke with Steve Kammeyer who's the Vice President of Farm Bureau Health Plan. There's good information here, especially if you're in the market for a comprehensive health plan at a more affordable price. Listen in.
Laurie Johns: We're here with Steve Kammeyer, our Vice President of the new Farm Bureau Health Plan. Steve, the Farm Bureau Health Plan has been available for about a year now. Refresh our memories on why it was created in the first place and who was it designed to help?
Steve Kammeyer: Well the Iowa farm Bureau Federation has a long history of providing health benefits to its members. We have a relationship that goes back almost 50 years with Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield here in Iowa. And through that relationship we have provided Medicare supplement plans as well as plans in the under 65 market. When the Affordable Care Act was passed back in 2010 we knew it was going to have some impacts on the type of plans we were offering and upon our members. And when the act was actually implemented in 2014 we saw a lot of those concerns basically come into fruition. Most notably what we saw was a steep increase in the cost of health insurance. One thing that the Affordable Care Act did was allowed people that may not have had access to health insurance prior to have access to that coverage without concerns about preexisting conditions, without concerns about underwriting. However, in doing that, what it did was in essence raise the cost for everyone else. So what we have seen in the state of Iowa is the premium rates over the four or five years since the act was implemented have more than tripled here in the state of Iowa. And what that's caused is a different group of people not to be able to get insurance, not because they didn't qualify, but simply because they could not afford it. The premiums had gotten to a point where they were basically unsustainable. As such the Federation in the tradition that it has always done, tried to look for a solution. And that solution was the Farm Bureau Health Plan. So we began work with Wellmark about a year and a half, two years ago to put together a health plan. It was allowed under some legislation passed by the Iowa legislature, signed into law by Governor Reynolds, which in essence allows us to create a health plan that's not subject to some of the guidelines of the Affordable Care Act. Now we're trying to comply as much as possible with all those provisions of the Affordable Care Act but there are some unique differences and we'll talk about those here in a little bit.
Laurie Johns: Steve, who's eligible for the plan and which Iowans is it helping the most?
Steve Kammeyer: Well in order to be eligible, first of all, you have to be an Iowa Farm Bureau Federation member. And that's because this is considered a member benefit and a group plan. You have to be 18 years of age or older if you're the primary applicant. You can't be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. The ones who are going to benefit the most from this plan, frankly, are those that can't afford the type of coverage that they have today. Those would include folks that might purchase an ACA policy, but simply because of their income do not qualify for subsidies. It could be folks that are employer covered by an employer plan, but the employer plan doesn't cover them or doesn't cover their dependents and it makes it too expensive. We had a great example of a couple of teachers each work for a different school district. Each school district paid 100% of the single rate for their health insurance. They had a baby and one of them had to add the baby to the family plan. Well, this school's only offered an individual or a family plan. To add that baby to one of their plans was going to cost over a thousand dollars. So that helps those folks that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford that, be able to get a plan that makes sense for them. So it's really those that don't have access to the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, those that don't have access to affordable coverage because either their employer or their spouses employer doesn't pay that much towards the coverage. And then the third group is those that are either uninsured currently or covered under either short term policies or some of these Christian Sharing Ministry Plans. Our plans are much more comprehensive than those are and they provide a much more secure long-term solution for those folks.
Laurie Johns: What kind of savings are participants seeing? Do you have some examples of that?
Steve Kammeyer: Yeah. On average we see that the Farm Bureau Health Plan rates are about half of the unsubsidized ACA rates. And when I say on subsidized ACA rates, I mean after someone qualifies for those tax credits. So for those folks that qualify for tax credits and qualify for subsidies, the ACA plans are a great solution. But we have a lot of our members that don't qualify for those. So those are the folks who are going to be helped the most. We have examples of couples that have saved $15,000 to $16,000 a year on their premiums. We had a young lady here in central Iowa that saved almost $6,000 a year on her premiums. We've seen people literally cut their premiums in half.
Laurie Johns: How comprehensive is the coverage from the Farm Bureau Health Plan? Does it limit your doctors or hospitals and is there coverage for prescriptions?
Steve Kammeyer: And that's a great question because one of the criticisms early on when this legislation was being considered was these were going to be skimpy plans. They’re not skimpy plans at all. In fact, we modeled these plans after existing ACA plans in the marketplace. So they're going to provide, in essence, the same level of benefits that those plans offer. The two primary differences between our plans and an ACA plan are that one, our plans are underwritten, which means you do have to pass an underwriting in order to get enrolled in the plan. And two, these plans have a $3 million lifetime maximum. Now it's very rare for someone to hit that limit, but it is a protection device we've put in place in order to help control the liability of the plan. In terms of doctors and hospitals, we use the Wellmark HMO network here in the state of Iowa. That covers every hospital in the state. It covers probably 97% to 98% of all the physicians here in the state. So it's a very comprehensive network. There is coverage and comprehensive coverage for prescriptions. You can pick those up at basically any pharmacy in the state. So yes, we believe the benefits are first class and the members will appreciate them.
Laurie Johns: How do Iowans sign up or learn more about the Farm Bureau Health Plan?
Steve Kammeyer: So the best way to learn about the plans is to go see your local Farm Bureau agent. Those folks have all been trained, educated in terms of what the plans are, what they cover, how to get enrolled in them. Unlike the ACA plans, which require you to enroll during a certain part of the year unless you have some type of special event the Farm Bureau Health Plans are available year round. You can enroll at any time that it's important to you. Maybe you've lost your employer based coverage, maybe you've retired, whatever it might be. This gives you the opportunity to enroll at any point. And again that Farm Bureau agent can help you do that.
Laurie Johns: Anything else that members should know about the Farm Bureau Health Plan?
Steve Kammeyer: I guess the only thing I would add, Dirck, is that while these plans are a great fit for a lot of people, they aren't necessarily the perfect fit for everyone. Again, as I mentioned earlier, if you qualify for some those subsidies under the ACA plan, those subsidies probably are going to make your rates very affordable and those are the best plans for you. If you have access to a great employer based coverage, again, that's a great opportunity. For those on Medicare this isn't a plan that they should be looking at. This is really designed for that section of folks that have to buy their own plan or can't afford their employer based plan. And we know that's a pretty good subsection of our membership, whether that be farmers, whether that be small businessmen, whatever that is. And we do think that this fits a niche and that niche is very important for those members. So we're extremely pleased with the results of the plan. We look forward to doing this for many years to come.
Laurie Johns: Some good food for thought as you consider your health coverage options in 2020. Thanks for joining us on the podcast, Steve. From healthcare, we're going to switch gears and talk about agriculture's contribution to Iowa's economy, especially when it comes to the value added by livestock farming. The Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers teamed up with Decision Innovation Solutions to analyze the 2017 Census of Agriculture. It's a comprehensive national study that's conducted every five years. And based on what they found, they were able to calculate the value that agriculture creates for Iowa's economy in terms of jobs and dollars. And I'm here with the Executive Director of the Coalition to Support Iowa Farmers, Brian Waddingham. Welcome Brian.
Brian Waddingham: Well, hello Laurie.
Laurie Johns: For 15 years I know that the Coalition, also known as CSIF, has been helping Iowa livestock farmers grow and helping them do it, right?
Brian Waddingham: Yeah! The Coalition, we help livestock farmers grow their farms responsibly and successfully. In the last decade and a half, we've assisted 4,500 livestock farmers with questions about their farms and you can really break that down into four key areas. Number one is citing new barns and feedlots. Number two is interpreting the more than 250 pages of rules and regulations that apply to livestock farms. Thirdly it's neighbor relations. We want to make sure that the farmers have a good relationship with their neighbors and the community in which they live. And then finally, the fourth key area is best management practices like planting trees through our Green Farmstead Partner Program.
Laurie Johns: And the Green Farmstead Program's really growing.
Brian Waddingham: Yeah. In the 10 years that that program has been around, we've planted more than 75,000 trees on livestock farms.
Laurie Johns: Wow. We like that.
Brian Waddingham: It’s a great story. And again, trees are the best good neighbor enhancer out there. And so we think that's why farmers are really stepping up to plant trees as they want to be good neighbors. They want to do things right and they want to get along with everybody in the community
Laurie Johns: And hey, as a master gardener, I like to hear that farmers are planting more trees. That's pretty nice. That's pretty nice. And we know the value of livestock farming in Iowa. We know it's valuable, but it's kind of good to know the numbers behind it because things change all the time. And I know that the Coalition, CSIF has done, again, another economic study to give us a snapshot of livestock farming in Iowa. And you've got a new one out now. Why don't you tell us about it.
Brian Waddingham: The new 2019 Iowa Agricultural Economic Contribution study is now out. It's available on our website at supportfarmers, but it really highlights the importance that livestock agriculture plays in the state of Iowa.
Laurie Johns: And it is important.
Brian Waddingham: Oh, it is very important. It's actually one of the key drivers of Iowa's economy. In 2017, Iowa agriculture contributed $121.1 billion to the state economy, which is up even 10% higher than in 2012.
Laurie Johns: Good heavens. And there's a lot of jobs at stake here when it comes to livestock farming, cause it's not just the farmers raising the hogs, the cattle that, you know, the poultry, that type of thing. It's all those businesses that provide services in companion with that.
Brian Waddingham: Yeah, that's right. Livestock farming and jobs associated with processing of livestock products has about 186,000 jobs in the state of Iowa in 2017 and that is up from 123,000 in 2012. So we've seen phenomenal growth in the livestock sector. And yes, it does. It employees, veterinarians, bankers, feed manufacturers, ethanol plant employees. And that list goes on and on. So livestock is critical to our state's economy.
Laurie Johns: And we know, of course, that agriculture is critical to the state's economy. That's like one out of every five jobs. Yeah. 20% of the employment base comes from agriculture. That's good news. And when it comes from livestock farming, there's a lot of different kinds of ways that folks raise livestock today and a lot of different livestock. We're always known for being number one in hog production, right? So how does that one sit this year?
Brian Waddingham: Yeah, hogs are still number one in the state of Iowa. Egg production's, number one. Corn's, number one. Soy beans, I believe, is number two this year or in 2017 at that time it was. So again, just Iowa continues to be an agricultural state and really impacts the economic contribution to the state's overall economic health.
Laurie Johns: Is there a certain type of livestock that generates the most jobs?
Brian Waddingham: I would say right now we're probably seeing that in the pork sector. Especially moving forward as these new pork processing plants come online. But also we do have poultry processing plants, cattle processing plants. So, we do have a lot of different opportunities out there in Iowa's livestock sectors.
Laurie Johns: Okay. Is there anything that surprised you from the study?
Brian Waddingham: I think one of the biggest surprises that I had was that, you know, we know how important livestock is to Iowa's economy. But what I think was maybe a surprise to me was that livestock farming and processing accounted for about $48.5 Billion dollars in economic contribution to the state, which is up more than $17 billion from 2012. So those are just real big numbers and I think, you know, it should make everybody feel good that livestock, is important to the state's economy and that livestock farmers that are out there every day doing what they do best are contributing to that local community, keeping main streets going, keeping people in church pews on Sundays, keeping pupils in desks during the week. So again, livestock farmers do provide a lot of opportunities here in the state of Iowa.
Laurie Johns: So livestock farming is important and it's important that livestock farming is done right. And so if folks have questions, I mean, it's hard to get your head around all that. How many pages of regulations? Like lots of them. Lots lots lots. They need to call the Coalition.
Brian Waddingham: Yeah, cause we know with the planting and spraying and hay and, and harvesting and doing chores, farmers don't have an opportunity to keep up with those 250 pages of rules. So that's why they can call the Coalition. We can come right out to the farm, sit down with them, see where they're at today, what resources they have available, where they want to end up and then do our best to make it all happen. And in a lot of those cases it is to bring a son or daughter or grandson or daughter back to the farm. So it's a real feel good at the end of the day when you know you've helped a family bring the next generation back.
Laurie Johns: It's hard to top that. Is there anything I haven't asked you want to add?
Brian Waddingham: I would just say if you want to see a complete study, and more importantly maybe what the economic contribution to your county is, as we have that broken out by counties on our website, just go to supportfarmers.com/IowaAgIntel for more information.
Laurie Johns: Thanks Brian. Yeah, that's right. Farming matters and not just in Iowa. Agriculture brings food, fuel, fiber and innovation to the entire nation. Celebrating that is what drives the Iowa Farm Bureau American Needs Farmers partnership with the Iowa Hawkeyes. While the ANF decal on Iowa's football helmets started back in the 1980s as a way to show support for farm families hit hard by the National Farm Crisis, you know, it's just as important today as it ever was. But don't just take my word for it. Hawkeye Football Coach Kirk Ferentz is a fan too.
Kirk Ferentz: Well, I was actually here as an assistant coach when the ANF logo went on our helmets. That was 1985 season. And we were going through a very difficult period and Coach Fry had the idea. Mainly it's just a way to heighten awareness not only in our state, but nationally just to the importance of what our farmers do. And I think since that time you know, we've been proud to wear the helmet logo during my tenure here. I think it just, it really signifies the importance of what our farmers do for not only this state, but for the entire country. Basically, Iowa feeds the country and, you know, the work that the farmers do, their families do is just I think, so commendable. They've been just inspiring with their work ethic, with their perseverance. A lot of that they do and display on a daily basis. Those are things that we try to hope our team will embody some of those same exact traits. So you know, more than anything else, it's just a way for us to salute a great people and also hopefully heightened awareness nationally as to the value and the importance of what it is they're doing on a daily basis. And not to mention all challenges that they're facing at this very, very challenging times.
Laurie Johns: Former Hawkeye star Matt Kroul remembers when Coach Ferentz brought back that ANF decal on Iowa's football helmets. It was 2009.
Matt Kroul: I still remember the day that Coach brought it back, brought us in the auditorium. I remember Coach Ferentz kind of giving the speech and you know, there was probably of 120 guys, there's maybe five farmers in there, but it really hit home and I still remember, you know, sitting in that chair and he gave a good 10 - 15 minute explanation of why and what it meant to him and the whole background from the mid 80 crisis and why Coach Fry did it and why he wants to do it forever and until he's done or forever, it's on the Hawkeye helmet, why it's going to be there. So I still remember vividly that day. So, you know, definitely special at that moment. You know, growing up here and growing up on a farm, hit me, it hit home that day and hopefully it'll be there forever.
Laurie Johns: This year, Matt becomes the eighth former Hawkeye added to Kinnick Stadiums ANF Wall of Honor. The Wall of Honor recognizes former Hawkeye players who exemplify the tenacity, work ethic and character of Iowa's farmers. We had a chance to visit Matt on his family's farm near Mount Vernon. It's just off of Highway One. And as you'll hear, Matt fits in perfectly with our growing family of ANF honorees.
Matt Kroul: You know, growing up 15 minutes away, I always had a dream of being a Hawkeye and then having ANF come full circle and being on our uniform. Yeah, represented university. I've always taken a great pride in that and everything I do. And that's in your community socially. Now from a farming standpoint, being the ANF honoree, definitely a special group of guys, those previous seven guys. So being the eighth guy and seeing that list and how they not only manage themselves in the community but manage their football careers, and now some are actually involved in agriculture as well. You know, continue that vision and that look that we as Iowa football players and now ANF Wall Honorees want that to be forever. So, uphold that standard I guess is the best way to put it.
Laurie Johns: Now that Matt's playing days are over, he has another legacy to uphold.
Matt Kroul: The Wolf family, which are my grandmother's family, settled here mid-1860s. So we've been farming ever since then. Switched over to the Kroul name 1954. And then it was my grandfather, father and now myself that are farming the same land. So I run about 1,200 acres owned and rented, do all sorts of stuff. Mainstay has been pumpkins for about 20 years. We sell pumpkins right here off the farm. Produces is big for us. Sweet corn. And then we have the normal stuff, a normal farm, normal row crops, corn and soybeans. Around 150 head of beef cows as well. So kinda hit all angles. And then lastly sell firewood year-round too. So very diverse farm. You know, it's kind of spurred itself the last 20 years into what it is. So we’ve been doing a community support agriculture program now for 6 years. There have been about 50 families, this year we’re doing 90 families. Basically this year we're delivering directly to your door. So each week, mine runs for 17 weeks, end of May through end of September, each week we deliver a full bushel of vegetables, produce, whatever's in season that time of year. So it’s kind of a way for people to engage with us directly. Get fresh produce picked that day or the day before delivered on their doorstep. And it kind of opens people's eyes to what else we can grow in Iowa, rather than corn and soybeans, beef, which we do. But as you can see around us, vegetables A-Z, it kind of opens people’s eyes of the seasonality of produce too. We don't have tomatoes year round here in Iowa. We have maybe two months, two and a half, maybe five months if you grow them inside. So it gives people an idea of, you know, the waves, like I said the seasonality of produce, and hopefully it opens their eyes and gets them to try something new.
Laurie Johns: Part of the Kroul Farms evolution has been their increasing use of conservation practices, which is a source of pride for Matt and his family.
Matt Kroul: Some of the practices we employ at Kroul farms, we're big believers in cover crops. So we put about 160 acres of a rye grass, clover, not only for a soil runoff and top soil conservation, but, you know, conserving our pastures. We're able to graze those cover crops, as well. So believe in those, we believe in CRP, we believe in conservation. We do a lot of contour strip farming. As you can see, we're kind of down in a river basins. So we get a lot of, you know, the Cedar River is you know, half a mile away. So everything we do, we buffer our creeks. We have buffer strips to contour strips to get some of that runoff. And, hopefully absorb some of those nitrogen issues that we know that Iowa has and some water issues that we're trying to combat as our little acreage. Like I said, about 1,200 acres that surrounds us. We try and manage the correct way and that's not only row crop ground, but in our, pastures and timber ground. You know, hopefully sustainably managing our timbers in a way that we get new growth. We only take the mature trees and doing the right thing from that standpoint too. So kind of first circle. And that's around 150 head of beef cows that we rotate every couple of weeks to make sure we're not grazing those pastures too much at one time. You know, we're treating everything the right way and, you know, every facet of what we do, not only from a produce standpoint, but row crop and cattle is hopefully done the right way.
Laurie Johns: Matt knows that it's not easy to get started in farming, but he's proud to be part of the next generation of young men and women who've embraced agriculture as their calling.
Matt Kroul: You know, I think there's tons of statistics out about the average age of a farmers like Bobby Ron, but like 60, like 58, 60. So having my class, millennials, we'll call them, getting back into ag and whatever division that is, as widespread ag is in this state, you know, you've got the equipment guys, you've got the co-ops, you've got all these different levels of financial institutions. We're all connected. So I think any way that my generation or my age people can get involved in agriculture is big. And not only just the grassroots of farming, you know, like this place, but involved in some sort of sector and that's always going to be alive and well in this state. That's what we're built off of. And I think the more of the younger population that gets involved, the better we'll be.
Laurie Johns: So what's Matt's advice for other young farmers?
Matt Kroul: Something I say all the time is adapt, overcome and succeed. So I think you apply that every day in agriculture, you're dictated by the weather, you're dictated by prices, commodity prices. So have a plan, be ready to adapt. Especially this spring with what some of these farmers went through with Mother Nature and the last couple years with prices the way they are keep that mindset of adapt, overcome and succeed and you know, you'll be good. Some days it's not going to be fun, but think about those three words and just keep pushing, keep grinding and I think that’s how it relates to football in a way too. You’re gonna have down plays, you’re gonna have down games, seasons are gonna be up and down and that's daily life on a farm. How fast you recover or how fast you put your nose to the group and work makes a difference.
Laurie Johns: Not only is Matt proud to be a farmer, he's proud to share agriculture story.
Matt Kroul: Ag is important today and kind of what we're built off here too is educational standpoint. You know, any person thinks they're educated because of the internet. You know, we've got everything out there and everything's visible and everything's transparent and a lot of experts. But I think our point of being in ag and a farmers today is the tell the story, I guess until that, you know, the large proportion of farmers are doing it the right way, you know, caring about water quality, caring about the product they put out, you know, taking care of the land and leaving it better than when they took it over. So I think that's something we're trying to do as farmers this day, especially, you know, 2019 is leading into those, into these years where we need to feed the world. And it's expanding at a rapid rate. And I think, like I said, large proportion cares about that. So I think, you know, as an average citizen or consumer or someone that's never, you know, stepped foot on a farm is just to educate yourself. And that's getting out to the farm, seeing farms. And I think, you know, majority of farmers will talk to you how they do things, why they do things, why they think certain practices are in their minds acceptable and the right thing to do to be sustainable and to grow enough food for everybody. So I think, to me, American Needs Farmers because it's the, the roots of Iowa. It's what we've grown on, it's what we always will be. And it's at the forefront of everyone's daily life. It's banking, it's equipment guys. It's the small towns in general that we love and live in every day. The rural economy, if it isn't strong, a lot of things fail. So hundreds of products that you would never think about. You know, a lot of things are made from corn that you don't know about. A lot of things are made from soybeans that we don't know about, and byproducts of everything. So I think, like I said, just hit on that whole, the base foundation is what Iowa is on, is everything ag and it's kind of, it might be your job might be someone else's, but it's very intertwined in everything we do, not only from an economic standpoint, economy standpoint, but a product standpoint as well.
Laurie Johns: Well said. Matt. There he is folks, Matt Kroul. Congratulations on being named to the ANF Wall of Honor and want to thank you and all of the other designees for being an advocate for America's farm families. You know, I mentioned earlier that ANF is a partnership between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa Farm Bureau. Since Iowa Farm Bureau came on board to help raise the stature of ANF, the sale of ANF merchandise and other donations through ANF have contributed nearly $170,000 to Iowa's food banks. We also initiated ANF game day. It's an annual football game to celebrate America's farmers. That football game is this weekend, October 12th at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes take on Penn State and we're going to be there three hours before the game to greet everybody, all kinds of Hawkeye fans, farm fans, you name it. We're going to be at the ANF Legends tent now that's just south of Kinnick on the south side of Kinnick Stadium and we're gonna share the good word about America's farm families. If you'd like to join us, be sure to visit AmericanNeedsFarmers.org for all the details. That's all for this week's Spokesman Speaks. Be sure to tune in for our next episode of the podcast, October 21st. 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.
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