Haig addresses water quality, NAFTA at Farm Bureau meeting

Iowa’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig was the guest speaker during the 2017 Jones County Fair Bureau Annual Meeting. Naig spoke about water quality in Iowa and how important the ag industry is in Iowa. (Photos by Kim Brooks)

Gavin Timm, a 2017 graduate of MHS, was the recipient of Jones County Farm Bureau’s scholarship this year. He was awarded $300.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Jones County Farm Bureau held its 101st annual meeting last week, June 13, at the Citizens State Bank Youth Development Center in Monticello.

     The guest speaker for the evening was Mike Naig, Iowa’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

     “It’s great to be on the Great Jones County Fairgrounds tonight. We hear great things coming from here,” praised Naig.

     No stranger to farming and agriculture, Naig grew up on a farm just outside of Cylinder, Iowa, located in the western part of the state near the Minnesota border. Naig said today, Cylinder has a population of less than 100 people.

     In her address to a room full of attendees, Naig spoke on several key agriculture issues/topics: water quality, the agriculture economy, the transition of government in Iowa and nationwide, trade, and the EPA.

     “I don’t have to tell you all about what’s going on in terms of the economy across our state, the agriculture economy, the tight margins, the impact that that has up and down the value change in agriculture,” expressed Naig.

     He said the tight economy has led to consolidation of everything from equipment manufacturers to seed dealers.

     “As we travel the state, we (Naig and Sec. of Agriculture Bill Northey) remain very optimistic about what’s happening, about the resiliency of Iowa agriculture.”

     One example of Iowans exhibiting just how resilient they are is the 2015 avian influenza (bird flu) outbreak in 2015, the largest animal disease outbreak in U.S. history.

     “That is one good example of that resiliency and how we can go through a really terrible time and then emerge on the other side in better shape,” said Naig.

     During that outbreak, the State of Iowa lost half of its laying hen population, about 30 million, as well as a significant part of the turkey population. Naig said those raising such livestock were able to bounce back. Numbers from November 2016 showed that the numbers of laying birds in Iowa increased by 65 percent.

     “That’s a heck of a recovery that the bird industry has seen,” said Naig. “This is in our DNA. We can do this; we’ll survive some of these tough times.”

     Water quality is huge in Iowa, and Northey has a goal of to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the State of Iowa’s waterways by 45 percent.

     “We’re talking a significant change in how we look at conservation, how we look at water quality,” urged Naig.

     He said this would eventually impact the Mississippi River basin, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

     While we also need to be focused on protecting the state, Naig said improving water quality also involves preventing soil erosion.

     “We view it frankly as one of the most important freedom-to-operate issues that faces agriculture today,” he said. “It’s one of those things that we better pay attention to over time or we could end up with literally regulations, somebody in D.C., somebody in Des Moines, telling you how you’re going to farm, how much fertilizer you’re going to use, which kind of practices you’re going to use.”

     Improving water quality is not something that is going to happen over night, nor is it strictly a rural issue. Naig said it involves both urban and rural landowners.

     “We want to encourage you to look at your land, look at your operations in new ways and try to figure out what we can do to improve water quality and do a better job of conserving our soil as well.”

     The state is in its fifth round of offering a cost-share program for landowners for certain practices such as cover crops or no-till, and Naig said they are seeing a tremendous response.

     “Over the last four years, we’ve had 3,800 farmers that have applied for those cost-share dollars, mostly for cover crops. Those dollars have impacted half a million acres,” he said. The program has helped 56 different demonstration projects across Iowa, with 150 different partners involved.

     As part of the cost-share program, Naig said they would like to see public and private dollars come into play as well so government funding doesn’t have to be the only source of assistance.

     With President Trump wanting to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), Naig said that could impact Iowa.

     “Iowa’s number one and number two trading partners are Canada and Mexico,” he said. “Regardless of what happens at the national level, we have high hopes when it comes to NAFTA, re-negotiations we need to make sure that we do no harm to agriculture.”

     When it comes to the EPA, Naig said the state needs to be vigilant when it comes to renewable fuel sources, like ethanol, which is important to Iowa’s economy. Roughly 39 percent of Iowa’s corn crop goes to the making of ethanol.

     “This is a significant user of Iowa corn,” said Naig.

     “We’ve seen some signals that the Trump Administration, the President, has said he’s 100 percent supportive of renewable fuels,” added Naig. “Let’s hold him to that. Let’s make sure he lives up to his end of the bargain on that.”

     Overall, agriculture in Iowa supports 25 percent of the state’s economy. It makes up 20 percent of the jobs in Iowa, too.

     “It matters to people’s livelihoods,” praised Naig. “It matters to our communities.”


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