Our final day in Washington DC found us on the opposite side of the Hill, visiting with our Iowa Congressmen. Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) members, I-LEAD and CAT conversed with Congressman King, Braley, Loebsack, and Latham on many issues directly affecting their farm operations and the agricultural industry as a whole. A few members also met with members of the House from Hawaii, Montana, California, and Louisiana to voice their concerns and share their view points on the following topics:
- WRRDA – Members thanked the Iowa delegation for their support of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA). Increased funding through a higher barge user fee fuel tax would support increased funding for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, allowing for the improvement of our lock and dam systems. Currently, there is an $8 billion backlog for construction and rehabilitation projects needed for important transportation outlets, causing direct concern for the future of Iowa grain transportation down the Mississippi River. If not addressed, these projects will not be looked at again until 2090, which will be too late for Iowa’s farmers.
- CWA-WOTUS – The Clean Water Act-Waters of the U.S. has become an increasing concern for farmers in Iowa and the Midwest. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has threatened to put stricter standards in place for all steams, creeks, rivers, ponds, etc. Currently, they only have jurisdiction of navigable waters in the U.S., however with this new act, the EPA is reaching to or beyond their Congressional limits, asking for jurisdiction of all waters hydro-logically connected to those currently under their protection. This would include groundwater, ditches, culverts, pipes, intermittent streams, farm and stock ponds, etc.
Producers have already made it a priority to protect our nation’s natural resources through voluntarily use of water conservation practices. The proposed regulatory piece of legislation has good intentions, but does not improve the clarity of what waters of the U.S. is. The rule can be interpreted in different ways, which can cause confusion and may delay conservation practice implementation due to uncertainty in permit requirements and fear of fines.
- RFS – Corn ethanol helps to diversify America’s fuel supply and economy, reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Ethanol can be thanked for 380,000 American jobs, 87,000 of which are directly employed by the production of ethanol, and contributes over $43 billion to our nation’s GDP. The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) is supported by the Iowa delegation, continuing to fight back in the House on attempts to weaken or repeal RFS.
With the benefits of this by-product in mind, it is difficult to understand why there is still such a push back from government to consumers. During talks with non-corn members of the Senate and House, one argument against ethanol was due to acre switching – the act of increasing field corn acreage at the expense of sweet corn production. As Iowa corn farmers, we chuckled at this comment, but were also taken back by the lack of consumer education on agriculture practices. This is a scary reality that producers must face on a daily basis and continue to combat through educational efforts, like Capitol Hill visits.
- MAP/FMD & TPP – Foreign trade agreements are pertinent to the success of Iowa’s and the United States’ agriculture industry. Many misconceptions can hinder free trade internationally; therefore the Iowa Corn Growers have made it a priority to ask for support for full funding of the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development Program (FMD). These programs maintain our competitiveness in the global market place. A potential free trade agreement, Trans-Pacific Partnership, between the U.S. and 10 other countries of the Asian-Pacific region, is being looked at and is encouraged by America’s producers.
- Safe and Accurate Labeling Act – An ask to House representatives for the co-sponsorship of this bill was a top priority of members during our meetings. This piece of bi-partisan legislation to create a new, single federal framework for regulating the use of labeling of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology, would prevent individual state-mandated GMO labeling laws. A state-by-state patchwork of GMO labeling laws would mislead consumers, raising the price of groceries for American families without any benefit to advancing food safety. The FDA, our nation’s food safety agency, needs to be able to set our nation’s food safety and labeling laws, not political campaigns or state legislatures.
GM technology has reduced the use of pesticides and chemicals, allowing farmers to produce a safe and reliable food supply for the last 30 years. In particular, corn growers have been able to make their operations safer and more efficient, resulting in 69% less soil loss, 20% less herbicide usage, and 65% less insecticide usage. These advancements will continue to allow us to produce more with less, resulting in conservation of our planet.
All of the topics were openly accepted for discussion and our positions were supported by our House representatives.
After a productive morning with our Congressmen, the I-LEAD team was invited to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Lockup suite. Many had looked forward to this tour all week, as this is one of the single most important and influential agencies to the grain and livestock commodity markets. NASS produces over 450 agricultural reports each year, providing timely, accurate, and useful commodity statistics.
Our time with NASS convened with a tour of their highly-secured facility located in the USDA headquarters. During the production of an agricultural report, the suite goes into full lock down, doors locked and guarded, alarms set, windows sealed, as to prevent any premature information from being leaked to outside parties who could unfairly influence our commodity markets.
During quarterly agriculture report composition, the statistician cohort will spend 12 hours in the suite, only allowed out into the hallway to use the restroom, therefore the suite is completely self-sufficient, including its own printing and server rooms. In order to release the information uniformly, members of the media are allowed into the suite 1.5 hours prior to the release in order to formulate news releases. Once the atomic clock strikes the time of release, a kill switch for the server is turned on and all information is released at the exact same time.
NASS collects, cleans, and summarizes data collected through voluntary surveys submitted by producers via phone, paper, and the internet, as well as face-to-face interviews. Regional offices assist with data collection that is then summarized by those in the national office. Over 900 employees ensure the data is accurate and collected appropriately. The government agency is made up of four departments, including statistical, methodology, ITD (computer security), and survey development, working for the common purpose of providing the most useful statistical information to the market. The NASS Chairman of Ag Statistics, Mark Harris, asked for our assistance to encourage producers to submit requested surveys, saying that these surveys help them get a more accurate look at the overall market. All submitted information is protected by law and never shared on an individual level. To learn more, visit www.nass.usda.gov.
Our time in Washington D.C. opened our eyes to the influence an individual can have on legislation if we take the time to do so. As said at Wednesday’s Corn Congress session, “Communications addressing our issues are more credible when presented by farmers.” I encourage you to write, email or call our law makers to share your story and explain how the proposed legislation will directly affect your operation. As we were reminded, they are in their positions to work for you.
On behalf of the I-LEAD Class 6, I would like to thank the Iowa Corn Growers Association for providing us the opportunities to further our careers and leadership positions in the agricultural industry. The last two years have served as a valuable learning experience, expanding our knowledge on international, domestic, and policy influences that exist for our industry. In addition, I would like to thank our parents, spouses, children, and other family members for their encouragement and understanding that our time away from home was spent strengthening our skills to provide a better future for our beloved agricultural industry. We have made great connections, have built life-long relationships, and have made memories that will last a lifetime. Carly Cummings is a program assistant at Iowa State University Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative. Cummings, who is also a current graduate student, grew up on a farm near Pleasantville. She is a past member of the Iowa Corn Collegiate Advisory Team.