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Meet the candidates for Iowa agriculture secretary
Republican incumbent Mike Naig seeks another term, while being challenged by Democrat John Norwood
DES MOINES — Republican Mike Naig is seeking another four-year term as Iowa’s secretary of agriculture in order to continue to seek new markets for Iowa agriculture products and to continue work on improving water quality in the state.
Democrat John Norwood, a businessman and Polk County Soil and Water commissioner, wants to expedite Iowa’s work on improving water quality and foster an agricultural system that he says would be built to last.
Naig had been working as deputy secretary of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship when, in 2018, he was promoted to the post after former Secretary Bill Northey accepted a position in the federal ag department. Later that year, Naig won election to a full, four-year term as ag secretary.
During an interview, Naig, 44, praised his department’s work over the past four years in response to historic flooding, droughts, a derecho, and return of the bird flu, not to mention a global pandemic.
“We’ve had to be very flexible. We’ve had to be responsive to the times. And, frankly, those were some things that were historic and unprecedented. We hadn’t seen things like that before,” Naig said. “And I’m proud of the way that our team has reflected the agriculture community in how they had to deal with these things, to be resilient and really still get the job done.”
Naig said he is proud of the work that has been done to improve Iowa’s water quality during his tenure, and that he hopes to expand upon that work in another four-year term. He said with dedicated funding from the state in place for the next 17 years, he expects the state can leverage that funding to obtain even more resources through federal and private funding.
The percentage of Iowa’s waters that are deemed impaired declined slightly in 2022, but still is at more than half, according to an annual state Department of Natural Resources report. That percentage has been higher than 50 percent since 2010, according to the report.
“We finally secured long-term, dedicated funding that has allowed us to turn the page now and focus on how do we scale up,” Naig said. “We’re looking at ways to leverage those state resources with federal dollars, with private sector dollars, with farmer and landowner dollars, cities, and how do we just continue to leverage and get more and more efficient in our work and get more and more done.”
Before Norwood moved to Iowa in 2002, he lived and worked for a large water utility in Boston and led an agricultural land trust California. In Iowa, he owns a small business and is a business adviser.
During an interview, Norwood, 58, said the pace of Iowa’s work on water quality issues is not sufficient.
“We can’t do things one at a time and hopefully move the needle,” Norwood said.
He said the state needs to scale up its work, should work more with local drainage districts and develop a strategy that includes all stakeholders, including both the farm operators and land owners on farms where those are separate.
Norwood said he believes Iowa’s agriculture system is unbalanced, with too much reliance on growing corn and soybeans, which can have a detrimental impact on water quality if farmers grow crops too close to waterways.
He believes the state should find ways to encourage farmers to diversify their crops.
“The commodity markets we’re so good at. It’s really the specialty markets we have to get better at, ensuring things that complement the systems. We need that because the foundation of our economy is agriculture. But our agriculture is unbalanced,” Norwood said. “We need to add resiliency. We need to add diversity and inclusiveness. We need to add flexibility to the system.”
Norwood said he feels that some government programs, like crop insurance, may be encouraging farming practices that will be bad for the land in the long-term. He proposes using incentives to encourage practices that will preserve or even improve water quality and soil health.
“I use sort of that model for when you’re a physician: first do no harm. We’re doing things today where we’re harming the system,” Norwood said. “The first responsibility is to protect the resource. If we don’t protect the resource, then we’re trading present productivity for future productivity.
“It’s an intergenerational issue. And I think we have a moral and ethical responsibility not to run the system aground.”
Early voting is underway. Election Day is Nov. 8.
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