Government

Iowa ag secretary candidates talk about priorities

Chad Ingels, Iowa State University Extension watershed specialist
Chad Ingels, Iowa State University Extension watershed specialist
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Five candidates are competing for the party nomination for state agriculture secretary in the Republican primary election June 5. The Des Moines Bureau asked each of the candidates a series of questions. Some responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

RAY GAESSER

l Residence: Corning

l Age: 65

l Family: Wife Elaine, two children

l Professional and political experience: Farms 6,050 acres with soybeans and corn

l Website: gaesserforiowa.com

Q: What would be your No. 1 priority as secretary of agriculture, and what steps would you take to achieve it?

A: Since one-third of Iowa’s economy is agriculture, my goal is to ensure we have strong, healthy farms that create strong, healthy communities. We will achieve that through what I call responsible, profitable agriculture. What that means is an equal focus on sustaining and growing markets for farmers while creating jobs through training in the trades, especially jobs that will come from increased conservation. We will put more of our resources in conservation and technology so rural Iowans will find employment in high-skill fields such as welding, logistics, electrical, (and) as tilers (or) cover crop specialists.

Q: Iowa recently passed water-quality legislation that makes more than $282 million available over 12 years. What will be your priorities, and how will you measure progress? Should the three-eighths-cent sales tax revenue Iowans approved as part of the Iowa Water and Land Legacy be a part of the overall plan to address water quality?

A: This funding is a catalyst toward a comprehensive $5 billion plan to reach Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. We’ll identify conservation cost-share programs and funding from private sources, the legislature, federal agencies, cities upstream and revolving loans plus the three-eighths-cent tax increase. Baseline research and cost-benefit equations will encourage cover crops, with data on affordability and timing on recouping their investment. We’ll track how many young people start farming, graze with livestock and those in resulting ag-related jobs in rural communities. Water sampling also is a reference point.

Q: In terms of livestock numbers and animal waste, what steps would you support to protect Iowans’ air and water quality, and quality of life?

A: Animal husbandry is a key component of Iowa farming. Farmers breathe our same air and drink the same water, so sustainability matters to them. They responsibly create waste management plans for storage and recycling and determine field nutrient needs. The master matrix is a good tool for siting facilities. Responsible, profitable agriculture also distinguishes when a site isn’t suitable. Successful livestock and poultry farmers communicate with neighbors, mitigate environmental impact and open doors for new farmers and help create additional rural jobs.

CHAD INGELS

l Residence: Randalia

l Age: 49

l Family: Wife Tammy, three children

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l Professional and political experience: Hog farmer, watershed specialist at Iowa State Extension and Outreach, Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, West Central school board member

l Website: ingelsforiowaag.com

Q: What would be your No. 1 priority as secretary of agriculture, and what steps would you take to achieve it?

A: Accelerating the implementation of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy and continuing our state’s efforts to improve water quality would be a top priority. Our current voluntary approach is the right one, but I believe we can enhance the effort by engaging and empowering farmer-led watershed groups to develop flexible incentive programs that may vary based on local watershed conditions. For example, it may cost more to make cover crops work in north Iowa than it might in the south, so the public cost-share or incentives should reflect that added farmer investment.

Q: Iowa recently passed water-quality legislation that makes more than $282 million available over the next 12 years. What will be your priorities, and how will you measure progress? Should the three-eighths-cent sales tax revenue Iowans approved as part of the Iowa Water and Land Legacy be a part of the overall plan to address water quality?

A: It will be quite important to use the water quality funding as efficiently as possible, and from my experience local, farmer-led watershed improvement groups can provide the best return on the public’s investment. This initial $282 million funding stream is a good start, but we will need to do something more, given an estimated cost of more than $4 billion to achieve nutrient reduction goals. Approving the three-eighths-cent sales tax could bring in over $2 billion in the same 12-year time period. However, before it is passed, the funding formula should be adjusted to focus primarily on the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, at least for the first decade.

Q: In terms of livestock numbers and animal waste, what steps would you support to protect Iowans’ air and water quality, and quality of life?

A: Iowa farmers are managing livestock better and more efficiently than ever before and with less environmental impact. Livestock manure resources are also being managed as a reliable crop nutrient source better than ever, with an emphasis on protecting water quality. The challenge comes with odor. Funding research and development that focuses on odor mitigation will be a priority to achieving some harmony on the livestock issue in parts of rural Iowa. Encouraging farmers to work with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers as they plan livestock facility growth will benefit neighbor relations and quality of life.

CRAIG LANG

l Residence: Brooklyn

l Age: 67

l Family: Wife Mary, four children, seven grandchildren

l Professional and political experience: 1,200-acre dairy farmer, president of Iowa Farm Bureau Financial, chairman of Grow Iowa Values Fund, vice chair of Iowa Economic Development Board

l Website: craiglangiowa.com

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Q: What would be your No. 1 priority as secretary of agriculture, and what steps would you take to achieve it?

A: I would work aggressively to promote soil health. Healthy soils create wealth and Iowa farmers are losing out on millions of dollars per county of untapped revenue by not following healthy soil practices. With continued low commodity prices and questionable foreign markets, it is imperative our rural residents diversify their farms. ... We have a pressing need to protect and regenerate Iowa’s 29 million acres of farmland. I’d like to see our cover crop acreage increase from 1 million to 5 million acres and prove that farmers can lead by demonstration with their desire to build our soil productivity and improve our waterways.

Q: Iowa recently passed water-quality legislation that makes more than $282 million available over the next 12 years. What will be your priorities, and how will you measure progress? Should the three-eighths-cent sales tax revenue Iowans approved as part of the Iowa Water and Land Legacy be a part of the overall plan to address water quality?

A: My first priority would be to aggressively grow the use of cover crops. (The funding) is an important commitment to Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy because it provides funding for farmers and communities to help reduce nutrients in our rivers and streams. However, it is not nearly enough money to accomplish everything necessary in the recommendations in (the Nutrient Reduction Strategy). ... I would encourage farmers to rotate crops and plant cover crops. ... I’d also recommend expanding watershed activities that have proven very successful. ... I would support the three-eighths cent sales tax if all the revenue was used for water quality projects.

Q: In terms of livestock numbers and animal waste, what steps would you support to protect Iowans’ air and water quality, and quality of life?

A: I would not support any changes in the matrix. Iowa’s livestock and poultry industry is important to Iowa’s overall financial health. I’ve recommended a goal of doubling our bovine industry. Iowa cattlemen purchase 1.4 million head of the animals they feed from outside our state. Why not increase the cow-calf numbers enough to supply our own calves? Our soils were created by millions of buffalo that roamed our prairies and the beef industry offers the same value to creating healthy soils.

MIKE NAIG

l Residence: Des Moines

l Age: 40

l Family: Wife Jamie, three children

l Professional and political experience: Appointed Iowa secretary of agriculture, former deputy secretary

l Website: mikenaig.com

Q: What would be your No. 1 priority as secretary of agriculture, and what steps would you take to achieve it?

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A: We must maintain our position as global leader in agriculture. One of my top priorities as secretary is to expand markets and trade for Iowa livestock producers, crop farmers and agribusinesses. I support a robust renewable fuels market and continue to advocate for policies that open new markets for Iowa farmers and agricultural products. Water quality and land stewardship are also high priorities for me as secretary. As Bill Northey’s deputy secretary, I helped lead implementation of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and continue to pursue public-private partnerships that build on our water quality momentum.

Q: Iowa recently passed water-quality legislation that makes more than $282 million available over the next 12 years. What will be your priorities, and how will you measure progress? Should the three-eighths-cent sales tax revenue Iowans approved as part of the Iowa Water and Land Legacy be a part of the overall plan to address water quality?

A: The water quality legislation passed this session is a positive step forward in our water quality efforts. It provides a dedicated source of funding that we can leverage to secure additional funding from outside sources. These resources will help expand our efforts to implement projects in priority watersheds across the state. And, as we approach the fifth anniversary of the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, we will move beyond demonstration to broader implementation of proven conservation practices such as bioreactors, saturated buffers and wetlands. Any funding as part of the Iowa Water and Land Legacy should be part of a broader tax reform discussion.

Q: In terms of livestock numbers and animal waste, what steps would you support to protect Iowans’ air and water quality, and quality of life?

A: Animal agriculture adds tremendous value to Iowa agriculture. It creates new demand for our grain, helps farmers diversify their farming operations and creates new opportunities for beginning farmers. ... As secretary, I encourage the adoption of farming practices that help protect our land and water. This includes expanded use of cover crops, which build soil health and water quality and provide grazing opportunities for livestock. As secretary, I will continue to bring together livestock producers, commodity groups and communities to encourage continued collaboration and implementation of practices that support animal agriculture and protect our natural resources.

DAN ZUMBACH

l Residence: Ryan

l Age: 57

l Family: Wife Michelle, four children, two grandchildren

l Professional and political experience: Farmer, state senator, West Delaware school board, Delaware County Fair Board

l Website: danzumbach.com

Q: What would be your No. 1 priority as secretary of agriculture, and what steps would you take to achieve it?

A: My priority is to be a nonstop ambassador for Iowans and Iowa agriculture. The world looks to the United States for a safe, dependable food source, and the heart of food production is here in Iowa. The Department of Agriculture needs a leader to work throughout the state, country and around the world ensure we have fair and open trade. My experience in the Iowa Legislature has provided me with the ability to collaborate and communicate with local, state, and federal officials to help achieve the needs of Iowans.

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Q: Iowa recently passed water-quality legislation that makes more than $282 million available over the next 12 years. What will be your priorities, and how will you measure progress? Should the three-eighths-cent sales tax revenue Iowans approved as part of the Iowa Water and Land Legacy be a part of the overall plan to address water quality?

A: I was able to directly work on the water quality bill as chairman of the Senate Ag Committee. This legislation is an excellent starting point to improve Iowa waters. I am also a supporter of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, and believe we need to continue to educate farmers, as well as urban areas, on best practices for conservation and caring for Iowa’s watersheds. The Nutrient Reduction Strategy has developed practices with preloaded, measurable water quality improvement values. The three-eighths-cent tax will be decided by the Iowa Legislature, but it is important the program structure is focused on water quality.

Q: In terms of livestock numbers and animal waste, what steps would you support to protect Iowans’ air and water quality, and quality of life?

A: Consumer demand and profitability will drive livestock numbers in the state. Manure management plans, regulated by the DNR, ensure proper rate, volume, and placement of natural fertilizers generated by livestock. Less than 20 percent of Iowa crops utilize animal waste as fertilizer with the vast majority using commercial products for plant food. Organizations such as the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers are available to help farmers use scientific data to ensure suitable scale and location of livestock farms. This service is free to producers and is supported by commodity groups, farm organizations and agribusiness.

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