|By DOUG SCHMITZ
ARLINGTON, Iowa — Sixty members of the Iowa Corn Growers Assoc. (ICGA) earlier this month met privately in Washington, D.C. with state senators and Congressmen to discuss such broad topics as the E85 project to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes upgrades on the locks along the Mississippi River.
“The entire Iowa delegation is pretty much on board in support of agricultural issues,” said Arlington, Iowa corn grower Tim Recker, an ICGA board member. “They understand the importance of a strong farm policy, and a viable livestock industry that has consistent and reliable regulations. All Iowa congressmen understand the importance of the river and transportation system, and support the WRDA.”
ICGA President Keith Sexton said the meetings with U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin, and U.S. Reps. Leonard Boswell, Steve King, Tom Latham, Jim Leach and Jim Nussle “gave us a chance to thank them for the excellent work they’ve done in the past and to discuss our key issues in some detail.”
“In general, we have a good working relationship with all of the congressional delegation from Iowa,” said Sexton, a Rockwell City, Iowa corn grower. “And since there are no do-or-die issues, we spent a good portion of time thanking them for their support on issues we have lobbied them for.”
First up on the ICGA meeting with the delegation was the WRDA (Senate File 728), which authorizes the U.S. Secretary of the Army to construct various projects for improvements to rivers and harbors of the United States, which include navigation, ecosystem restoration, flood or storm damage reduction and other related purposes.
Sexton said all seven Iowa delegation members attending the meetings supported upgrades to the Mississippi River infrastructure system, which 81 U.S. senators signed.
“We realize the issue is not complete and even when the bill does finally get to the floor of the Senate, there will be some amendments brought forth that, if they pass, will really water down the purpose of it,” Sexton said.
“We anticipate yearly vigilance will be necessary to secure the funding for them. Sen. Grassley was very supportive of the locks and dams project, and Sen. Harkin needed to hurry back to the Capitol, but he was a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, so we assumed he would be in agreement also,” he said.
Recker added that both Grassley and Harkin understood the importance of an updated transportation system to “supply the world from the Midwest.”
ICGA members also urged the Iowa members of Congress to support the E85 corridor project, which could establish E85 fueling locations on I-80 and I-35 from one side of the nation to the other, especially since both U.S. interstate highways intersect in Iowa.
Initiated by Ford and VeraSun, the E85 project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through its Clean Cities program, which would make an E85 pump available for motorists every 40 miles along major interstates across the nation.
“We are requesting department funding be increased to allow them to offer competitive grants to organizations that would administer this program,” Sexton said. “We prefer competitive grants rather than an earmark so there is accountability.
“We want the pumps strategically positioned rather than first come-first served,” he added. “All of our delegation was aware of the program and open to increasing funding for that purpose.”
Another important issue the ICGA members raised was Iowa’s role in the 2007 Farm Bill.
“(ICGA) has actively been promoting the concept of a revenue-based commodity title rather than a price-based one like we currently have,” Sexton said. “All were favorable to the concept, but cautioned that major changes are difficult to achieve and the transition is usually incremental.”
Sexton said Grassley advised the ICGA not to prematurely promote a change that would drastically reduce farm support because of the potential damage it could do to the National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA)’s negotiating stance at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“The beauty of the revenue proposal NCGA is focusing on is that it contains a “green box” support mechanism with an added “amber box” support that will distribute all the funds Congress is willing to allocate,” he said.
“And if there is a Doha agreement that calls for cuts in our amber box spending, we can cut the ‘amber box’ portion, add a ‘new-blue box’ portion and ‘legally’ provide an equivalent measure of support as the current program.”
The congressional meetings were combined with the NCGA’s Summer Corn Congress, where the ICGA joined other state grower leaders for extensive discussions on farm bill alternatives and helped elect members to the NCGA board.
Recker said the Iowa congressmen were very interested in the ICGA’s farm bill concept.
“They were very receptive to a revenue-based policy that would improve the farm bill and also add incentives to the conservation program,” he said.
Other topics covered in the meetings included funding for corn genome research, energy prices, and natural gas drilling and renewable energy, as well as the ICGA’s request for state lawmakers to oppose an attempt to classify manure as a hazardous waste.