- Elected, state officials at ag forum tell audience that Iowa needs to plant seeds of farming today to grow tomorrow’s farmers
WILTON, Iowa — The new chairman of Iowa’s House Agriculture Committee said he plans to enlist one of Iowa’s newest and youngest legislators to help him with his most important legislative goal for the upcoming session — getting more young people into farming.
Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, joined Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and area legislators Tuesday for a discussion on agricultural issues at the Wilton Community Center. About 90 people attended.
Grassley, who’s 29 and is the grandson of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he is tabbing Rep.-elect Bobby Kaufmann, a 27-year-old livestock farmer and small business owner from Wilton and a fellow member of the Agriculture Committee, to help other young people get started in production agriculture.
Like Grassley, Kaufmann is also a kindred political spirit — emphasis on the “kin.” His father is Jeff Kaufmann, an Iowa state representative from 2005-13.
Grassley said Kaufmann will head up the effort “with a full-on review of what works and what needs tweaking” to help young people gain a financial foothold as they begin their agricultural careers.
Grassley said he already has one idea for doing that: the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has, he said, between 30,000 and 40,000 acres of tillable land under its control. “I can envision a way [where] beginning farmers would have one of the first seats in line” to farm some of that ground, he said, perhaps through a lottery system.
It would also help young producers, Kaufmann added, if the federal government can “figure out what to do with the death tax. That’s a big inhibitor.”
Northey, a fourth-generation farmer from Spirit Lake who’s in his second term as the state’s top agriculture official, touted two of the biggest contributors to Iowa’s economy: its agriculture sector and that sector’s biggest customer, China.
Iowa’s $30 billion farm and livestock economy put the state second in the nation, behind California, a fact “many of us take for granted,” Northey said.
China buys 60 percent of the world’s traded soybeans, and Iowa produced 9 million acres worth last year. Of the $20 billion China spent on agricultural imports last year, $14 billion was on soybeans, so Iowa farmers are well-positioned — especially, he said, following last year’s visit to Muscatine and Des Moines by that nation’s new leader, Xi Jinping.
“The Chinese are buying soybeans because they have livestock to feed,” Northey said. “Half the world’s pigs live in China, and they’re not backyard pigs anymore. They’re fed in facilities like ours.”
Northey said he hopes Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposed budget, which will be unveiled next week, will call for $2.4 million for Iowa to devise a nutrient strategy to reduce farm runoff into waterways.
“We believe farmers can do a better job managing themselves,” rather than “some inevitable regulatory approach” from the federal government, Northey said. “If it’s voluntary and you see your neighbor[trying new practices to prevent runoff], and if you’re not being told to do it, you will have more of an open mind about it.”
The House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Rep. Tom Sands, R-Wapello, who was present along with fellow legislators Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, and Mark Lofgren,
R-Muscatine, said House Republicans will once again try to reduce the state’s commercial property tax rate, “but not put the burden on agricultural and residential (property) taxpayers. There is a growing number of people in urban Iowa who think farmers should be paying more.”
But, as Northey reminded the crowd, Iowa is comprised of 36 million acres — and 30 million of them produce crops that feed the world.
Afterward, Alec Osland, president of the Muscatine High School FFA chapter, said he found the 90-minute forum “interesting, because I learned a lot.”
He called the potential emphasis on helping young farmers “a real eye-opener. I think using DNR acreage for young farmers was the best suggestion of the whole program.”