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Budget woes hit ag department

By Staff | Oct 10, 2009

Bill Northey

Even though Iowa is first in the nation in producing a number of ag commodities, the state’s ag department is going to take as hard of a hit as any division of state government.

That was the assessment that Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey offered an audience Friday morning at Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative.

Department responsibilities regarding inspections and safety must continue, despite how hard his department is hit, Northey said.

“Those are just problems we can’t not do,” Northey said.

Iowa agriculture has grown from a $12-billion business in 2002 to $20 billion in 2007, Northey said. The reasons, he said, are higher yields and prices and more feeder cattle coming back to the state. That increase does not include the biofuels industry or meat sales, Northey said. Northey put special emphasis on his optimism about seeing more feeder cattle in the state with competitively priced ethanol feed co-products.

Northey said after Gov. Chet Culver Thursday announced a 10 percent cut in state spending for the year, the ag department’s budget was cut to 16.8 million. That’s down from the $18.7 million for the current year and $22 million for last year. The new current-year ag budget is in fact the same for the state as in 1994.

Said Culver, “2011 is worse. They say it’s a billion upside down in a $6-billion budget.”

“We’re going to have to quit doing some of the things in state government that we’ve been doing,” Culver said. “We simply can’t take 20 percent off our meat inspections away. We’ve got to have them. We’re just going to have to get it from somewhere else.”

Iowa Lakes General Manager Terry Bruns asked about the ag department’s position on national legislation addressing climate change – legislation that could hike gas by 77 cents a gallon, according to Bruns.

“As you go around the state, there’s a lot of concerns from folks,” Northey admitted. Those concerns include people questioning if climate change is really happening and whether measures the U.S. would take would even make a difference. “Can we as a government manage emission of carbon,” Northey pondered.

Grain elevators would be heavily impacted with higher fuel and electric costs, something that would be directly passed on to farmers, Northey said.

Northey said though that the hypoxia task force that came to Iowa in September came away with a favorable impression that Iowa farmers were working to reduce nitrogen and phosphate runoff into drainage ditches and eventually streams.

“They had no idea how technical farming is, how complex it is,” Northey said. “They seemed to be genuinely impressed by what was going on.”

Northey openly showed great pride at the number of Century Farms and Heritage Farms in the state. Century Farms are owned by the same family for 100 years while Heritage Farms are owned by the same family for 150 years. Northey noted 66 new Heritage Farm awards made this last year and 16,500 Century Farm awards made in the state to date.

“We’ve got to have that be part of ag as well,” Northey said of the pride of family farming.

Others present offered concerns over draining area lakes. Comments were also made on the development of cellulosic ethanol process development and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).

“Now the business end of it is overriding what your heart is telling you what you ought to do,” one man said.