Iowa’s Farming Future Depends On Sustainability and Diversification

Iowa’s heritage is agriculture.  Our love for and relationship with the land runs deep in our culture with thousands of Iowans working to produce the food, fuel, and products that we depend on every day.  But, we know that agriculture is always changing and today we are at a critical crossroads that will impact rural communities, our economy and our land for decades to come. We need to ensure the changes made are towards sustainability but that will only happen if we have the will to make it happen.  As your governor, I will work with farmers to make Iowa agriculture productive, sustainable and profitable.  Today, outside interests are making Iowans choose between these values but I believe it’s time we support and empower farmers to not have to make a choice but to realize all three.

What is emerging today in Iowa’s agricultural sector resembles far too much the extraction industry where natural resources are mined for the profits of a few, and often out-of-state corporate interests, and the damage left behind becomes the responsibility of everyone else to pay for the cleanup.  Current policies have encouraged industrial-scale commodity and livestock production, which has created an unsustainable system in Iowa that damages our environment and public health, forces family farmers off the land, and undermines the vitality of our rural communities.

Our incredible topsoil is eroding at an alarming rate as trees, waterways and wetlands are bulldozed to extinction.  When the external costs of cleaning up our water, the devaluation of neighboring property and the adverse impact on tourism and quality of life are taken into account, the price we are paying is simply too high.

We must begin today to plan for our agricultural future by taking aggressive measures to diversify our crops for the markets of the future and practice sustainable farming to preserve our most valuable natural resources.  Our vehicle fleet in the U.S. will likely be half or more electric vehicles in the next 15 to 20 years, significantly decreasing the demand for ethanol.  More countries are increasing production of corn and other commodities and President Trump’s trade policies threaten access to foreign markets. These factors will very likely lead to a reduction in demand with prices for corn and soybeans continuing to fall below the cost of production.  

Iowa needs a different approach that allows us to maintain our leadership position in agriculture and at the same time improves the quality of life across all our communities. I know we can do this because I’ve lived it. I grew up in southwest Iowa on my family’s farm.  Family farms are like small family businesses – they are part of the community, committed to the wellbeing of their neighbors, and supportive of preserving the natural resources of the state. As governor, I will fight to bring this approach back to Iowa so that we can grow and produce in a sustainable way.


Here is where we start.

Investing in Public Research:

We need to support our farmers with world class, public research.  Science and innovation are the keys to developing an agricultural system that succeeds economically and protects our state’s environment and natural resources.  Governor Reynolds and Republican legislators have failed to support public research at Iowa State University and as a result agribusiness has captured our land grant university to serve themselves instead of farmers.  The effort among Republicans to defund the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University is the exact opposite of how we can achieve a sustainable future for farming. Instead we should be doubling Leopold funding.

By increasing the state’s investment in the public research, we can identify and implement better and more efficient farming practices that will enable farmers to rebuild soil health while increasing profitability and protect our water.  We need to support and lead when it comes to innovations in agriculture. This type of approach helped expand practices such as cover crops, rotational grazing, and reduced tillage that have created a more productive, sustainable approach to farming. Let’s recommit as a state to driving and embracing innovation to create a truly 21st Century approach to agriculture.

A Real Strategy for Water Quality:

The problem with water quality is undeniable and it has reached a crisis level. Decades of over-application of fertilizer has created the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico and now it’s reaching hazardous levels in Iowa.  Last year alone, more than 4.6 million tons of fertilizer was applied on Iowa farmland.  Accelerated runoff from fields with no cover crops or buffer strips leads to extremely high levels of nitrogen and nitrates that threaten public health. As a result, the municipal water systems need to remove the nitrates, greatly increasing operational costs when much of the problem can be managed at the source, specifically the farm fields themselves.

As governor, I will ensure that appropriate resources are invested to address this critical public health issue. First and foremost, we need to direct far more federal, state and local funds to the nutrient reduction strategy. This program brings together policymakers, farmers, and scientists to identify and implement strategies that reduce farming nutrients in our water. The scale of the problem will require a significant and longstanding commitment from the state that is simply not being considered at the statehouse this year.

Getting farmers to either reduce fertilizer use or adopt practices that reduce runoff and soil erosion is critical. To that end, the state needs to seriously consider policy that not only encourages good practices, but also discourages practices that diminish water quality such as assessing a surcharge on fertilizer and farm chemicals used in the state and direct those funds back to farmers who are utilizing these more sustainable practices.  As your governor, I will also advocate for federal policies that make assistance to farmers contingent upon meeting enforceable, sustainable farming and land conservation practices.

This legislative session, Governor Reynolds is advancing a half measure that will not address many of the systemic problems that are undermining the safety and quality of our water. Her proposal does not set meaningful goals, does not measure results, and does not allow the state to hold anyone accountable. This is not a strategy. It’s an effort on her part to dodge a tough political issue going into an election year and we should expect more from our elected leaders.

Responsible Livestock Operations

The livestock industry is important to Iowa. However, exporting meat and poultry at the expense of our family farmers and communities and the degradation of our environment is not progress. Livestock and crop production need to be integrated.  Reversing the current trend toward the separation of the two is critical for for a sustainable, ecological balance. Better animal welfare, better water quality, greater soil health and greater profitability for Iowa farmers can and must be achieved. 

As governor, I will support a moratorium on confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) until we can bring together all stakeholders to establish a completely new Master Matrix framework that protects our environment, landowners and communities.  The lack of any real or enforceable regulations in the current Master Matrix has resulted in polluted waterways, undermined land values for those living in rural communities, degraded local lands, and discouraged tourism.

Republicans say they believe in local control, but they continue to stand in the way of allowing individual communities to establish their own regulations or limits when it comes to CAFOs. As governor, I will work to give local control to county governments and citizens to set limits above the statewide regulations on CAFO’s.  We must empower local governments to respond to situations such as the impact of CAFO’s on tourism and other local economic factors as well as unique geological conditions where animal waste run-off threatens underground aquifers and surface water sources for drinking water and recreation.

Encouraging Family Farms:

Our goal must be a profitable agricultural economy made up of diverse family farm operations.  Profits from a statewide sustainable farming network should benefit our farmers, our communities and all of Iowa. If that is lost, an important part of our state’s economic fabric will be permanently torn.  Iowa’s farm fields cannot simply be split up among large corporations if we expect to maintain strong, safe, and vibrant communities. As governor, I will promote policies and programs to encourage and enable future generations of Iowans to choose farming.