Miller talks Iowa ag issues
For Iowa farmers, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy will be an issue they’ll live with the rest of their farming careers, an issue that started last year during the 2012 Iowa Legislative session.
“It was a big fight,” said Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge, who spoke Thursday morning with members of the Ag Leaders committee of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance at Perkins Restaurant & Bakery.
Miller, in her fourth year as ranking member of the Iowa House ag committee, said there were lawmakers from both parties who expressed their concern over how to manage and enforce the INRS.
The nutrient reduction strategy is an outcome of the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force.
This group called upon each of the 12 states along the Mississippi River to develop its own strategy to reduce nutrients entering the river and in turn reduce the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone. Iowa’s mandate is to lower nitrate levels by 45 percent and phosphorus loads by 29 percent.
Miller said she argued and won approval for a volunteer effort among farmers to meet these goals, rather than the expense of tasking and paying for inspectors to assure compliance.
She said this is just one public relations battle that rural lawmakers are fighting against urban leaders.
“Agriculture is under attack,” Miller said, “and you need a voice like mine” to help non-rural residents and policymakers to understand rural issues.
She said educating people on both sides of issues is the key to passing good laws.
The 2012 legislative session ended with $16.8 million set aside for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to encourage land management changes to meet INRS goals.
In addition, she said, Iowa State University has created the Iowa Nutrient Research Center to study and make science-based recommendations for cleaner surface water coming out of rural areas.
Miller acknowledged she does not have a deep farming background, but said she studied farming and ag issues because her 9th District is primarily rural; plus the farming industry helped Iowa weather economic stresses of the past few years.
She touted her annual Urban Ag Academy conferences that bring rural and urban policy makers together to give them the facts about Iowa agriculture and to understand Iowa farmers.
This includes helping urban lawmakers understand that corn used for ethanol production creates distiller’s dried grains as feed for livestock, which ultimately feed people.
She said pro-farming measures have been passed with little opposition “because of taking the time to educate people about agriculture.”
She said she sees no danger in consuming genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
“People are still living longer,” she said, “and drought-resistant (seed traits) are feeding more people in arid regions around the world.”
She pointed to broccoli and asked why no one sees broccoli growing in the wild.
“That’s because it’s a GMO,” Miller said, “and everyone eats broccoli.”
Kelly Halsted, executive director of economic development for the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, said she thinks GMOs are helping to feed low-income families.
“Not everyone can afford Niman Ranch,” Halsted said. She said labels such as organic and free range are food choices people can make if they can afford them..
“But,” she said, referring to GMOs, “we’re feeding protein to people at a lower cost so they can better themselves and their wellness.”
Miller said other bills that won approval in 2012 included doubling the tax credit for farmland owners who rent to beginning farmers, and allowing livestock confinement buildings to stand idle for up to five years before they have to be removed.
She said this was allowed because some buildings sit idle waiting for family members to return from military service or college and begin using the structures.
Fort Dodge’s image
Miller said she is proud of the agriculture industry development in Webster County getting widespread attention around the state.
She said in 2003, in a legislative vote about barring foreign ownership of farmland, she was the only Democrat to vote against the measure..
As a result, United Kingdom-based Tate & Lyle developed its plant west of Fort Dodge, which has since been purchased by Cargill, which led to a South Korean company, CJ BioAmerica, opening an amino acids processing plant and establishing its U.S. corporate headquarters in Fort Dodge.
“Fort Dodge is the poster child of what can happen in agriculture and economic development,” Miller said.
Halsted agreed, adding these developments are “bringing an image change to Fort Dodge.”
She said the Growth Alliance has certified another 447 acres of land west of Cargill, earmarked for ag industry development.
Halsted said Webster County is stepping up to do more than growing and grinding corn and soybeans and sending them somewhere else, but adding to their value within the county.
Halsted said during her two years in Fort Dodge she’s seen “more optimism and more pride in the community.
“There’s new construction starting all the time. There have been 12 new retail stores that have opened – that’s one every other month.”
She said the American Business Institute and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) conferences will be held here in the future.