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Grassley hopes to tackle beginning farmer issues on ag committee

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:23 PM

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NEW HARTFORD, Iowa —A new committee brings challenges for Rep. Pat Grassley, a New Hartford Republican. In addition to making agriculture a top-tier committee, beginning farmers will be a priority as he takes the helm of the House Agriculture Committee.

"I want to take a few committee members and form a working group to review current policies relating to beginning farmers," Grassley said. "Some things could be outdated. Maybe something is working, but it needs to grow or it needs some tweaking. You don't necessarily have to pass new legislation to affect change."

Everyone agrees it's difficult for young people to get involved in farming, Grassley said.

"Most of the people I know who are younger and want to get back on the farm or grow their operation are doing it through livestock," Grassley said.

"Sweat equity is a great way to get started, and when you're young you have the ability to do that," Grassley said. "Before we make a bunch of new programs, we need to look at what we have. If something's not working then I'm comfortable moving forward."

Grassley also hopes to review all agricultural rules to make sure policies are up to date and working.

While chairing the economic growth committee during his last term, Grassley sponsored a bill requiring a rules' review. If a rule is passed by the federal government, state regulators can't take it further without legislative action. He'd like to see a similar bill introduced this session.

"To have an unelected person creating rules and regulations, I'm not comfortable with that," Grassley said. "The people in the coffee shop can't talk to the person in Des Moines who is making their lives more difficult but if they see me they can get all over me."

The nutrient reduction strategy, laid out by Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, will likely come before the committee.

"There will be a request for additional funding tied to the plan," Grassley said. "At this time no one is really sure if we're going to need a specific piece of legislation to implement the plan, or if secretary Northey working with the DNR will have the ability to do that. They're trying to be proactive rather than reactive. If there's something that needs to be done, that will definitely move to the top of the list."

It's important for Iowa to show the federal government that the state's agriculture industry is taking action to protect the environment, Grassley said.

"I've said this 10,000 times, the soil is how farmers make their living," he said. "I don't know many farmers whose objective is to put more soil in the stream or over fertilize so it goes in the water. I cover a lot of territory with a lot of production agriculture, and I see more and more waterways going in and more no-till and with the price of fertilizer, farmers aren't going to waste it."

Grassley said he's happy to look at every bill that comes before the agriculture committee.

"I'm not saying I'll move it, but I'll give it a fair hearing," he said. "You have to start the conversation to know if the issue is relevant."

The new ag chairman held a joint meeting in Wilton last week with Northey to talk with Iowans about agriculture, and they hope to schedule more meetings around the state. Grassley said people are welcome to come to his town meetings if they want to talk about agricultural issues. Each year, he hosts a meeting in every town in his district.

The ag committee will also have a conversation about the affect of the drought. The panel will bring in experts to talk about what the 2013 forecast looks like.

"I don't know if we truly understand the impacts of the drought," Grassley said. "It might be significant. It might be insignificant. We don't want to spend all our money based on growth and revenue when a lot of that was because of agriculture and then have a dip."