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Iowa Soybean Association members and staff have an updated policy playbook to reference while advocating for issues impacting farmer competitiveness.
Delegates from the state’s nine crop districts approved new guiding principles during the association’s annual policy conference in December. The 15-page document affirms ISA polices regarding conservation, trade, biofuels and a host of other issues.
As the Iowa Legislature began it’s 2019 session on Jan. 14, Michael Dolch, ISA policy director, said the document, which contains a variety of new, tweaked or existing policies, will aid lobbying efforts in Des Moines and Washington. “I think we arrived at a very workable document,” he said. “It will guide us when we’re at the Iowa state Capitol or the U.S. Capitol.”
Dolch and the ISA producer services team traveled around Iowa in the weeks leading up to the policy meeting. More than 2,000 miles were logged soliciting input from ISA members.
The feedback was critical, he said, so the ISA’s resolution committee could update policies before the conference. “This policy is for soybean farmers, by soybean farmers,” Dolch added. “It exemplifies the grassroots engagement of ISA.”
At the annual policy meeting in December, ISA leaders and delegates examined, updated and ratified the 2019 policy document.
Soil, water management
One of the more notable policy changes pertains to soil and water conservation districts and watershed management. Delegates approved new language concerning state soil and water conservation districts and watershed management plans. More details were included in the policy, such as state soil and water conservation districts should be the primary jurisdictional organization providing leadership and coordination for local watershed initiatives.
The new policy also states farmers within watersheds should be consulted with and engaged in the development, implementation and review of watershed management plans. And state soil and water conservation districts and watershed management authorities should work to coordinate urban and rural stakeholders to support comprehensive watershed management planning and implementation.
Improving water quality will continue to be an emphasis for ISA in the 2019 state legislative session. “The document is great to direct our policy efforts when speaking with legislators,” said soybean grower Tom Adam, ISA District 9 director from Harper. “We made some refinements that were necessary, like watershed planning based on changes in state law and the environment.”
Conservation is a persistent priority of soybean farmers at the state and national level. The ISA updated, with a handful of nays, its policy stance on the Conservation Reserve Program. ISA reaffirmed its support for the land set-aside program, but with a few changes and additions.
ISA now supports CRP contracts that enable differential payments, enhancements and re-enrollment sign-up. Soy farmers support focusing enrollment on environmentally sensitive lands and conservation objectives such as the Iowa Monarch Pollinator Strategy. Support of CRP enrollment for “historically unprofitable lands” was eliminated since, according to some members, the term was too subjective. Ground may be unprofitable for row crops in some areas but not for pasture or forage.
ISA District 7 Director Jeff Jorgenson of Sidney supports the new CRP policy. “There are differences among what is unproductive land from north to south and east to west,” he said. “I think leaving the unprofitable part out was the right thing to do.”
EPA’s small refinery exemptions
A new policy this year opposes small refinery exemptions under the Renewable Fuel Standard to a refinery or entity that is operating profitably. The Environmental Protection Agency recently approved a waiver for Exxon Mobil Corp.’s refinery in Montana for the 2017 compliance period despite reported company earnings of nearly $20 billion. Rules say waivers are based on the financial situation of the refinery, not the owner, according to EPA. “We need to keep pushing on biofuels legislation,” Jorgenson said.
What other issues will ISA focus on at the federal level this year? In Washington, ISA’s focus will partly turn to implementation of the new farm bill, said Dolch, in a recent interview. Implementation is as important as the final text, as oversight is key to ensure USDA and other government agencies write rules and administer programs as intended by Congress. Albeit largely status quo, the new farm bill does provide some peace of mind with improvements to commodity programs, conservation programs and commodity loan rates.
Trade policy, exports critical
ISA will work to protect and expand market access, as well as increase funding for the USDA Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program. One additional priority of note is the engagement of the Trump administration in support of a regulatory framework that reduces barriers for soybean farmers.
It’s extremely important that ag groups effectively communicate positions with policymakers and their staff, Dolch said. He served as Sen. Joni Ernst’s ag policy adviser before joining ISA. “The real work begins now,” Dolch added. “The policies are set. It’s time to implement them at the state and federal levels.”
ISA’s policy document can be found at iasoybeans.com under the policy section.
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