Iowans want conservation, opportunities for beginning farmers and agricultural diversity
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 06/25/2012 1:59 PM
STRAWBERRY POINT, Iowa — Support for conservation, opportunities for young farmers and more agricultural diversity were among the things people attending U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley's farm bill listening session last week at the Strawberry Point Public Library want to see in the next farm bill.
Jack Knight of Luana, a commissioner with the Allamakee Soil and Water Conservation District, doesn't want a decoupling of conservation compliance from farm bill subsidies.
"Conservation compliance is the only tool we have to deal with soil loss complaints and soil erosion," Knight said. "You take that away from us and erosion would get a lot worse really fast. It's the only thing holding people back from plowing up and down the hill. Conservation compliance is the thin line between the dust bowl and good farming."
Liz Nieman, a Delhi farmer and president of the Delaware County Farm Bureau, said her family has a diversified livestock and crop operation and they would use good conservation practices whether or not they were required.
"I don't know that tying conservation compliance to crop insurance is needed because we'd do it anyway," she said. "On the flip side, there is concern that tying conservation compliance to crop insurance could result in the FSA office picking favorites."
Nieman said that she hates to see the debacle from the previous farm bill repeated when farmers had to operate without a new program.
"That was a headache," she said.
Kevin Meyer of Sumner said he doesn't like the federal government involved in crop insurance. He thinks private industry could do a better job of running the program.
Meyer said crop insurance has helped him with marketing, and it got him through a bad year.
Meyer said he will use conservation practices whether the government requires them or not because he wants to pass his ground on to his children and grandchildren.
"I like the conservation programs," Meyer said. "Let me decide whether I'll use them or not. I might be able to do something that works better than what the government is doing. But we need to produce a product to feed the world."
Dan Specht, who has a grass-based cattle operation near McGregor, said he's concerned that there is no conservation compliance or payment limitations in the Senate proposal.
"If all the money goes into insurance subsidies, it really opens the door for unlimited concentration of wealth and land ownership," Specht said. "It opens the door to outside investors to buy up land. There's no restriction on who's going to get in. I'm concerned about opportunities for people to start farming when they have to compete against established high yields. It's going to be really hard for anyone unless they're part of a family that can transfer that risk over. If young people try to farm with other crops or other ways of farming, it's going to be impossible for a beginning farmer to try to get into grass-based dairy for instance."
Phil Specht, a McGregor dairy farmer, said he supports the Casey bill and is opposed to the dairy reform proposal in the Senate farm bill.
"Prices have been extremely volatile in dairy," Phil Specht said.
Casey's proposal would continue the Milk Income Loss Contract program or allow dairy producers to enroll in the Livestock Gross Margin-Dairy program. The bill repeals the Dairy Product Price Support Program and establishes a two-class system under Federal Milk Marketing Orders, one for fluid and one for manufactured products.
Jeff Klinge of Farmersburg would like a system that encourages more diversity and not one that rewards farmers for growing more corn and soybeans. A program supportive of cattle production is good for the environment because cattle equals conservation. Fruit and vegetable production has grown among young members of Practical Farmers of Iowa, a group to which he belongs.
"Right now 98 percent of the fruits and vegetables we eat in Iowa come from somewhere else," Klinge said. "We can do a lot better than that."