By Jared Strong
GRAND JUNCTION, Iowa — Amid ongoing worries about avian influenza that has led to the culling of more than 13 million chickens and turkeys in Iowa in the past year, a priority among agricultural groups for the next federal farm bill is vaccine funding.
They want “enough vaccines for any pandemic that might come to our animal livestock,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday.
Grassley, along with fellow senators Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and John Boozman, R-Arkansas, met with groups in Ames, Grand Junction, and Guthrie Center to discuss the pending federal legislation that governs spending on food assistance, crop insurance, land conservation, and others.
All three Republicans are members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Boozman is the ranking minority party member. Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
Grassley said other priorities among ag groups include:
— Adequate “reference prices” for corn and soybeans, which are the prices that trigger federal payments to farmers when the commodities are selling for less. Grassley said that has a renewed importance because of high costs for fertilizer and other expenses. Farm revenues reached a new record last year but are expected to be diminished this year. Corn and soybean prices are more than 50% higher than they were when the last farm bill was adopted in late 2018.
— Little or no changes to crop insurance, which compensates farmers for yield or revenue losses.
— More money for agricultural research.
— More money to boost agricultural exports.
Despite its name, the farm bill’s biggest expenditure is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which gives money to low-income households to buy food. None of the senators said money would be siphoned from that program in favor of agricultural priorities.
“There’s room for both, and there is a finite amount of money,” Boozman said, “but we’re not going to have a safe, cheap food supply — the safest and cheapest anyplace in the world — unless we take care of farmers.”
The Wednesday meeting near Grand Junction was hosted by the Louis Dreyfus Company ethanol plant, where Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, lobbied the senators for more funding to market ethanol, more use of ethanol as a sustainable aviation fuel, and reliable federal policy that allows the uninterrupted sale of E-15 fuel, which is a gasoline blend that contains about 15% ethanol.
“I would love to see more of these farm-based energy solutions included in the farm bill,” Ernst said. “But right now, it falls under the jurisdiction of (Environment and Public Works Committee). I think that needs to shift and it needs to come under the jurisdiction of the ag committee and be included in the farm bill.”
The year-round sale of E-10 is allowed by current policy, but E-15 can be unavailable in certain states during the summer because of environmental concerns about its greater propensity to vaporize and pollute the atmosphere in warm weather. Ethanol advocates have said those worries are misplaced and point to research that shows E-15 has less pollution potential than E-10.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule that would allow summertime E-15 sales in Iowa and other Midwestern states, but it wouldn’t take effect until 2024. Iowa has sought a waiver to allow the sales this year.
“While it’s just a little bit more ethanol for the car — 10% to 15% — from an ethanol perspective, it’s 50% more ethanol,” Shaw said. “That’s huge.”