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Lawmakers discuss issues at Sibley

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 03/05/2013 9:15 AM

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SIBLEY, Iowa — Less than a week before the 85th General Assembly began in Iowa, Sen. David Johnson and Rep. Jeff Smith spent an evening fielding questions from constituents attending Farmer's Night School in Sibley.

With a background in agriculture and another 16 years working on a dairy farm, Johnson is acquainted with issues that concern agriculture. He will be ranking member on Natural Resources, Education and Human Resources committees, and on Health and on Human Services Budget subcommittees.

"Iowa's natural resources are its soil and water," said Johnson. "We are at a critical turning point as environmental groups ramp up their demands while rural representation in the Legislature continues to wane. We need to adopt more conservation practices with the goal of keeping that raindrop where it falls."

Johnson said farmers need to appreciate the excellent leadership provided by Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Iowa Department of Natural Resources director Chuck Gipp.

"The best way to keep regulatory agencies from overstepping is to be proactive," said Smith. "The ag community needs to stay aggressive in finding ways to improve their operations concerning water quality. If the ag community is working to improve their side of the equation then the regulatory agencies will have less of a need to step in."

Smith grew up on a farm near Plover. He farmed for a few years before becoming a farm and commercial lender and branch manager of a bank in Spirit Lake. His committee assignments include administration and rules, commerce, environmental protection, ethics, natural resources and is assistant majority leader.

It is a balancing act governing the many different segments of agriculture that occasionally are in conflict with each other. When conflicts occur, they need to be addressed with science-based research, Johnson said.

Smith said the free market will decide how production agriculture operates.

"There is a place and a market for all types of agriculture, but we also need to keep in mind that farmers in Iowa feed the world. We still need to pursue ways to increase crop and livestock production in a smart way. It is important that we understand this and make sure our government policies reflect this diversity."

Changes have occurred in Extension through budget cuts and programs.

"We cannot let ourselves lose sight of the mission of our land-grant university, Iowa State, at which Extension plays a key role," said Johnson. "In northwest Iowa, we are blessed to have the livestock and crop specialist we have since agriculture is the bedrock of our economy."

Iowa is expected to have a $800 million budget surplus on June 30. Johnson says it will be a major accomplishment to stave off a spending spree. Instead he would rather see Iowa continue to work toward being financially secure to weather the next economic downturn.

"Once funding is appropriated, whether it is a new program or increase to a current program, it is practically impossible to eliminate or reduce that funding," said Smith. "Keeping Iowa competitive worldwide begins with balancing our budget and making sure we do not spend more than we take in."