Presidential hopefuls discuss sustainable ag at last weekend’s Heartland Forum


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Photo by Julia Poska, 2019. 

Julia Poska | April 4, 2019

Last weekend, four 2020 presidential candidates and one likely contender gathered in Storm Lake, Iowa to discuss their visions for struggling rural America at the Heartland Forum. Here’s what each said about sustainability and agriculture:

Julián Castro: The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama was asked a question about promoting eco-friendly family food farmers for economic, social and environmental resiliency.

“Our family farms help feed America—and the world, really—so we need to make sure that they can succeed, and also that people in these rural areas and rural communities can have clean air and water. Number one, I would appoint people to the EPA who actually believe in environmental protection,” he said. He specifically discussed boosting funds to enforce the Clean Air and Water Acts.

Rep. John Delaney (D-MD): Delaney’s “Heartland Fair Deal,” which he discussed at the forum, lays out plans for investing in negative emissions technology and focusing on climate resiliency and flooding.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): Klobuchar said she would re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement on her first day in the White House. She also discussed her experience on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“What we’ve learned over time, is that [if] we’re going to get [the Farm Bill] passed… we need to have a coalition of people who care about nutrition, people who care about farming and people who care about conservation,” she said.

She said she wants to keep Farm Bill conservation programs strong.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH): Hailing from the industrial “Rust Belt,” Ryan has little experience with rural areas, but he said he believes the two regions face many of the same issues and should come together politically. He spoke to opportunity in the clean energy and electric vehicle industries, which he would like to see driven into “distressed rural areas” to replace lost manufacturing jobs.

He also spoke about Farm Bill conservation programs; “These are the kind of programs we need to ‘beef up,’ no pun intended,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Senator Warren did not speak about sustainability directly. Her platform mainly focused on addressing monopolies in agribusiness to support small, family farmers. One of her proposals is to break up the Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto, a merger that was heavily criticized by environmentalists. 

The Heartland Forum was moderated by Pulitzer prize-winner Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Times, and two reporters from HuffPost. Those news organizations organized the event alongside Open Markets Institute and the Iowa Farmers Union.

 

Statewide monarch butterfly conservation strategy released


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The Cerro Pelón Reserve near Macheros is the second most populous monarch butterfly roosting site in Mexico during the winter months. (Dylan Hillyer/personal collection)
Jenna Ladd | February 28, 2017

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium released its statewide strategy for the conservation and advancement of the monarch butterfly on Monday.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Strategy aims to recover monarch butterfly populations in Iowa and North America. Developed by the consortium-a group of more than thirty organizations including agricultural and conservation groups, agribusiness and utility companies, county associations, universities and state and federal agencies-the strategy provides necessary resources and information to advance the well-being of monarch butterflies in Iowa and across the continent.

A recent report found that the population of monarch butterflies that spend the winter months in Mexico decreased by 27 percent in 2016, primarily due to extreme weather events and the pervasive loss of the milkweed plant. Milkweed is the only plant in which female monarchs will lay their eggs as well as the primary food source for monarch caterpillars. According to the consortium, about 40 percent of monarchs that overwinter in Mexico come from Iowa and its neighboring states. In the last two decades, the total monarch population has declined by 80 percent.

Monarch butterflies provide vital ecosystem services including pollination and natural pest management. They also serve as a food source to larger animals such birds and bats.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Chuck Gipp said, “We didn’t get to this point overnight, and we aren’t going to improve the population overnight. But we have a really strong group across many different areas of expertise working together to improve the outlook for the monarch in Iowa and beyond.”

The strategy provides scientifically-based conservation practices that include using monarch friendly weed management, utilizing the farm bill to plant breeding habitat, and closely following instruction labels when applying pesticides that may be toxic to the butterfly.

In June 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether or not to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Wendy Wintersteen is dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. She said, “This strategy is critical to rally Iowa agriculture, landowners and citizens to continue to make progress in restoring monarch habitat.”

On the Radio: Farm Bill


Photo by Todd Ehlers; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the recently passed farm bill and what it means for Iowans. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

6 Ways the Newly Passed Farm Bill Will Impact Iowa


Photo courtesy of Brandon Hirsch, Flickr.

The new farm bill, passed by Senate last week will affects Iowans in several ways, from boosting access to locally grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets to protecting wetlands and prairies, the Des Moines Register said.

Here are six ways the farm bill impacts our state directly:

  1. Farmers win safety net
  2. Local food gets boost
  3. Land, water find protections
  4. Food stamps status quo
  5. Beginning farmers get help
  6. Research

To read more about the bill and Iowa, click here.

Conservation Reserve Program in Iowa


Tom Vilsack announcing adding 400,000 acres to the CRP. Photo by USDAgov, Flickr.
Tom Vilsack announcing adding 400,000 acres to the CRP. Photo by USDAgov, Flickr.

Iowa Public Radio details the efforts of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in Iowa.

The CRP is a program where farmers receive money to keep portions of their land out of production. This reduces runoff, prevents erosion and creates more habitats for migrating birds.

Read about CRP and its future here.

Farm bill could lead to less organic agriculture


Photo by Sarah Cady, Flickr.
Photo by Sarah Cady, Flickr.

The new farm bill extension that went into place on January 1st could limit the amount of organic agriculture.

This new legislation cuts most funding for organic agriculture programs. This includes a program that reimburses much of the cost of organic certification.

For many farmers, this means that they will not pay the $800 it costs annually for organic certification.

Listen to the whole story here.

Nine Month Farm Bill Extension Maintains Status Quo


Photo by MarS, Flickr.
Photo by MarS, Flickr.

As part of the Fiscal Cliff deal, the nation’s farm bill was extended for nine months with minor modifications, an outcome that pleased few and left many substantial issues to be resolved by a new Congress.

Farm bills are typically designed to cover five year periods, but the compromise reached by Congress and voted on with the Fiscal Cliff legislation extended most existing policies through nine months. The legislation extended three tax credits for biofuels, maintained direct payment subsidies to farmers at current levels, and kept current Conservation Reserve Program policies for environmental set asides.

See NPR’s All Things Considered and the Sioux City Journal for more reaction to the farm bill extension and commentary about farm bill policies.