Monday, July 30, 2007

Romney Robo Poll?

This evening I received a very strange telephone call.

I answered the phone and was greeted by a kind voice, but I immediately got that familiar "eh, robo call" feeling.

Yep, after a few seconds I began to realize I was listening to a recorded message. Or was I? This was very well done, like no robo call I'd ever heard. Being the political junkie that I am, I listened. I can't remember all of it, but here's what I caught:

It was from....Romney? Why would Mitt Romney be calling me?

Then...did this voice just ask me a question?...Are you a registered Iowa voter? Uh..yes. (great, robo calls are asking us questions now!)

A brief pause, and the voice continued. Are you planning to vote in the Iowa Caucuses? Yes, I answered.

Are you a registered Republican? No.

Are you supporting Mitt Romney? No.

Thank you for participating, and we hope we can count on you to support Mitt Romney blah blah blah.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Obama Crafting a Rural Agenda

Barack Obama wants to hear about the concerns of rural Americans.

During a campaign event in Iowa today, the Illinois Democrat announced the creation of an advisory committee that will collect input from rural residents and work with his presidential campaign to craft an agenda to tackle rural issues.

"It's time to make America's rural agenda America's agenda," Obama said. "It's time we had a government that understood that it's the Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Agribusiness.'"

This rural advisory committee includes some heavy-hitters in the realm of agriculture, like Mike Dunn of Keokuk, the former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs who served during the Clinton administration.
Iowa Independent asked Dunn why he's chosen to work with Sen. Obama. "Last Thanksgiving, as I was visiting with my four sons, I asked them what they thought about the presidential candidates, which ones they liked. They all said Obama. They all said we need a new face, somebody that offers hope, that represents their generation," said Dunn. "And so we have this new leader in Obama, offering hope, not only for America but for the world." Dunn said he has been impressed with Obama's willingness to listen, to bring people together to help create policies for positive change.

Obama's other rural advisors include Gary Lamb, a former president of the Iowa Farmers Union who has also served as chairman of the Iowa state committee of the Farm Service Agency and as an agricultural liaison for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Neil Hamilton will also be involved. He's the director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University.
"These are some of the top agricultural experts in the country," said Obama, "And so I'm really honored for them to be involved the way they are."

Obama used the idyllic rural landscape of a farm on the outskirts of Adel to announce that his rural advisory committee will be traveling Iowa in the next few weeks to visit with rural residents. The ideas that they collect will be brought together in August, when Obama will host a rural summit on quality of life, agriculture and renewable energy.

During the event, Obama discussed the important agriculture legislation that had passed the U.S. House of Representatives just a few hours earlier. "The farm bill that's before Congress now, that just passed out of the House today, offers a real opportunity to make sure our government is serving family farmers and rural communities across the board and not just serving a few."

Obama said that the Senate version of the farm bill will not entirely copy the House bill, and he noted that it will likely put more emphasis on conservation and nutrition. "And it's probably going to be more aggressive in terms of making sure that subsidies are going to people who really need them, as opposed to the folks who've got the most clout in Washington," he said.
Obama noted that over the past decade, more than $1.3 billion in farm program funds have gone to people who are not even farmers, and that must change, he said. "We've even got farm money going to Fortune 500 companies."
"I know that a lot of you may be a little bit cynical about this whole process, because every few years you get politicians out here making promises about how things are going to change in Washington. But I come from a farm state, and I think it's very clear that I've got a record for battling on behalf of you." Obama touted his work with Harkin on the Biofuels Security Act to dramatically increase accessibility of biofuels in the nation's fuel supply.

"As President, I'll keep on fighting for a rural agenda. I'll enforce our trade agreements, and fight to make sure our farm programs help the family farmer who needs them," he said.
Universal health care will also play a part in strengthening rural communities, he said. "I remember the first trip I took to a farm, and discovered that many of the women in farming communities were working just to make sure that they had health insurance for their family. The cost of health care shouldn't lead to a bankruptcy and cause people to shut down their farms."

Obama spent much of the event taking questions and comments from the crowd of about 200, and then went on to Winterset for another campaign rally.

House Farm Bill Passes

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its 2007 Farm Bill on Friday.

The bill passed on a vote of 231-191, despite strong Republican opposition to a provision to fund the bill by closing a tax loophole that has been exploited by multi-national corporations.

The U.S. Senate ag committee is expected to begin writing its version of the farm bill in early September, under the chairmanship of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Kind's Farm Bill Amendment Fails

The U.S. House of Representatives rejected an amendment to the 2007 Farm Bill Thursday that would have eliminated many traditional farm subsidies.

The Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment, submitted by Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, failed on a vote of 117-309.

All of Iowa's delegation in the House, consisting of Democrats and two Republicans, voted against the Kind amendment.

Democratic Presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich also voted no, but two other members of Congress seeking the Presidency approved of the measure --Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., did not vote.

Click here for the vote tally.

The House did not complete debate on the farm bill Thursday, and will reconvene on Friday morning to finish with the submitted amendments and hold a final vote.

Republicans rallied against the bill throughout Thursday's debate, accusing Democrats of attempting to pay for the bill with an unsuspected tax increase. Democrats argued that they are simply calling for the closing of a tax loophole that has allowed multi-national corporations to shelter themselves from taxes by locating their headquarters on Caribbean islands.

Time to Stop Fiddling with the Farm Bill

[Commentary] The U.S. House of Representatives should move quickly today and pass the 2007 Farm Bill without fiddling around with a bunch of amendments. It would be good for Iowa.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson has worked tirelessly for months to forge a series of fragile compromises in writing the legislation. He has done what few expected could be done. Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat from a district not altogether different from Iowa, has put together a bill that has received the blessing of organizations spanning the ideological spectrum -- from the progressive National Farmers Union to the powerful American Farm Bureau Federation.

Iowans had their hand in crafting the bill as well, with Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Leonard Boswell and conservative firebrand Republican Rep. Steve King serving on the ag committee. Both Boswell and King played important roles behind the scenes in moving the bill through the committee.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will push for passage on the House floor today, but the clamour of attacks against the bill grows louder by the hour.

Following a national press conference with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns on Wednesday, Republicans who had supported the bill have begun to split over a financing issue. Those Republicans turning against the bill include none other than Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the senior Republican on the ag committee who stood beside Peterson on Tuesday singing the bill's praises.

The Republicans are taking issue with a proposal to fund part of the bill with a tax on foreign businesses that operate in the United States. Republicans may just be playing games, however, taking advantage of the lack of unity in the Democratic Congress for their own political gain.

The bill is under attack from the other side of the aisle, as well. Many progressive organizations continue to rally behind Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, another of our neighbors representing a district bordering northeast Iowa. Kind has joined forces with Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and others in the House to push their "Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment" in an effort to phase out the federal safety net for farmers.

Kind has good intentions, and many of the proposals in his amendment would work wonders for small and medium-sized farming operations in rural Iowa. His proposals would end the subsidization of mega-corporate agribusiness and channel those funds to important conservation, nutrition and specialty crops programs.

But he goes too far in his crusade to end traditional subsidies. And his approach would harm Iowa's economy.

Farm subsidies were never intended to pad the bottom line of major corporations. That problem needs fixing. But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Federal farm programs in the United States, including price supports and subsidies, have resulted in the most stable, bountiful food supply that any nation has enjoyed in the history of the world.

Subsidies have always caused consternation and bickering, but mass starvation in America is really a thing of the past, thanks in large part to the New Deal liberal ideology that brought us federal farm programs. I'm not saying people don't go to bed hungry in America today -- they do -- but we've come a long way from the soup lines of the Great Depression.

Farm programs have helped control the volatility in commodity markets caused by weather disasters and other inherent risks involved with agriculture. And most programs are supposed to operate on a counter-cyclical basis, meaning that when commodity prices are low, farmers get some help. When prices are high, as they are now for Iowa's corn and soybeans, the payments aren't necessary. There's that "farm safety net" you're always hearing about.

Serious reform in our subsidy programs are needed, and most everyone recognizes that the House Agriculture Committee's bill is far from perfect. It simply doesn't go far enough to stop big agribusiness corporations from taking advantage of commodity payments. But as House Speaker Pelosi said this week, the bill is a "critical first step for reform."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ag Secretary Signals Bush Veto of House Farm Bill

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns on Wednesday warned of a likely presidential veto of the 2007 Farm Bill in its current form.

Despite the veto threat, the House of Representatives is expected to take the bill to the floor for a vote this week, and has the support of a broad bipartisan coalition of members of Congress and farm-advocacy organizations.

Johanns said that he and other Bush administration policy advisers are unanimous in calling for a presidential veto of the bill.
"The administration appreciates the work of the House ag committee," said Johanns during a press conference made available to reporters across the country. "We recognize long hours were spent going through many, many amendments. But we believe that the bill put forth by the committee misses a major opportunity. The time really is right for reform in farm policy and we feel strongly that the House bill fails to provide that."

His chief gripes with the bill involve costs and the lack of significant reform in the farm commodity payment system. The bill exceeds the administration's cost proposal by $36 billion, Johanns said, and would require new taxes for funding. "The Ways and Means Committee has now signaled an intention to raise taxes on certain businesses," he said. "Our understanding is this tax increase would be used to pay for the House farm bill. Let me be clear about how I view this. I find it unacceptable to raise taxes to pay for a farm bill that contains virtually no reform."

House agriculture committee Chairman Collin Peterson fired back with a feisty response. "This farm bill is supported by a broad spectrum of agriculture, conservation, nutrition and renewable energy advocates," said Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota. "It represents a carefully crafted compromise that includes substantial reforms and new investments in programs that matter, including fruit and vegetable production, nutrition programs, conservation and renewable energy. Our bill implements Country of Origin Labeling, improves food safety, and paves the way for energy independence while preserving the safety net that our farmers and ranchers need," he said in a press release.

This is not the first time that the Bush administration has issued these kinds of threats, Peterson added. The administration "vigorously opposed the 2002 Farm Bill, which Secretary Johanns and others now praise as 'the right bill at the right time.'"
"Political posturing is par for the course for this administration," he said. "And they have failed to pursue and achieve compromise on any number of issues, including the farm bill. The House Agriculture Committee put together a balanced, fiscally responsible Farm Bill, and I am confident that the House of Representatives will stand with us in supporting this important legislation."

Johanns went into great detail regarding what he calls the bill's lack of "real reform" in farm programs. While the bill does not include hard caps on the amount that an individual can receive in farm program payments, it does include a provision that would eliminate from programs all farm operators making over $1 million annually in gross adjusted income.
"Current law contains an (annual gross income) cap of $2.5 million" said Johanns. "The House bill decreases the AGI cap, but only to a million dollars annually." The House AGI approach would save only $473 million during a 10-year period, he said, but reforms proposed by the Bush administration would save $1.5 billion. He said he believes strongly that there's a point at which people should "graduate from receiving government cash subsidies."

Later in the day, Peterson fired off another press release defending the farm bill and labeling Johanns' statements as a mischaracterization of the facts. "At every turn, the Bush administration and Republican leadership have done their best to stall progress on the 2007 farm bill," he said. "Apparently, the Bush administration and some in the Republican leadership care more about defending the ability of foreign companies to exploit a loophole in the U.S. tax system than they do about supporting the hard-working families and farmers in this country. I hope that they will reconsider their opposition and join us in supporting this Farm Bill that represents a new direction for agriculture policy."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

King Says 'Urban Interests' Meddling with Farm Bill

U.S. Rep. Steve King said Friday he is worried about "urban interests" that have "co-opted wide swaths" of the 2007 Farm Bill.

The bill, which passed out of the House Agriculture Committee last week, might face challenges when it comes up for a vote by the full House this week, said King, who represents Iowa's largely agricultural 5th District and is a member of the ag committee,

"The budget of the commodities title was greatly reduced, while simultaneously the nutrition title was increased," King said in a press release. "We kept the title intact, but essentially, we are seeing money taken from Iowa's cornstalks and sent straight to the cities."

King, a Republican, said this is the result of "San Francisco, Pelosi-led politics." California Democrat Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House.
"We're seeing nothing short of the urbanization of the Farm Bill. It's wrong, and we need the help of every agriculture voice out there to stop this before it gets worse during the House floor debate," he said.

But King did have a lot to say about what he likes in the bill. "The bill should help maintain Iowa's leading role in world agriculture," said King, "and features many updated policies to help producers." He noted his approval of the bill's provisions for dairy producers, and some of the environmental provisions in the bill.

"I made sure the committee included provisions to protect family farmers from attack by environmentalists who have tried to claim that manure is toxic waste," King said. "My provision should make sure farmers aren't forced to follow senseless environmental regulation."

Grassley Prefers to Keep Farm Subsidies Alive Only for Dead People

Dead people are receiving farm-subsidy checks long after they've bought the farm.

That news created a stir this week as the 2007 Farm Bill goes up for a critical vote on Thursday amid intense scrutiny of farm-program payments.

The Government Accountability Office recently released a report showing that during a six-year period, nearly $1.1 billion was distributed through farm programs to those who were not among the living. The revelation of the checks to the dead made the front page of Tuesday's Des Moines Register, and has been discussed widely in nationwide news media.

On Tuesday, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters on a conference call that the mess needs to be cleaned up quickly, and it could be handled by simply having the U.S. Department of Agriculture work with other departments. "There's a whole bunch of checks going out to farmers on Oct. 1, and I think now would be the time for me to get a hold of the secretary of agriculture and say, 'Why don't you do like the Veterans Affairs and Social Security does? They notify each other that somebody's died so they can stop payments after death. Why don't you compare our farmers getting these checks with the people on Social Security, just to make sure we don't continue what the GAO has found that was wrong. Because there's billions of dollars worth of payments going out of the federal treasury to farmers on Oct. 1.'"

One of the reasons that deceased individuals continue to receive subsidy checks involves the rules that deal with estates, said Grassley, a Republican. Sometimes, farmers' estates are not settled quickly, so subsidies often legitimately continue in their name. But Grassley said that such estates only account for a small percentage of the situations where dead people are receiving checks, "and it should only be in estates that it would be legitimate that they be kept open."
If a farmer's estate is kept open simply to continue receiving farm-program payments, Grassley believes that is fraud.

The most common situation, Grassley said, has been when individuals within corporations die but continue to receive payments. Other examples involve the many complicated forms of business partnerships such as irrevocable trusts, limited partnerships and joint ventures. "In all of these other instances, once a person dies, except for the year in which they died, there shouldn't be any other payments made," he said.

The Senate Finance Committee, on which Grassley is the ranking member, is now holding hearings to look into ways to stop people from receiving improper farm-program payments. "We need to be cutting waste, fraud and abuse when it comes to government programs and not raising taxes to find more to spend."

Part of the problem rests with the lack of enforcement of a law that was enacted in 1987, which requires that a farmer must be "actively engaged in the business of farming" to be eligible for farm-program checks. "I think that it shows that the Department of Agriculture isn't doing their job," said Grassley. "It's quite obvious, if you pay dead people."

There has been an effort to push the USDA to enforce that provision, but, Grassley said, "We have not found them very receptive to that point of view."
He noted one example of a Florida individual who had been dead for five years, and the company that was managing the estate "kept certifying that the person was actively engaged in the business of farming," said Grassley. "Pushing up flowers, obviously."

As debate on the 2007 Farm Bill continues and moves to the Senate, these kinds of problems will be addressed, said Grassley. This kind of waste, fraud and abuse "strengthens the hand of anybody that's cynical about farm programs and helping small and medium-sized farm operations" with the farm program safety net.
And, he said, "It obviously hurts the taxpayers because there's been $1.1 billion going out the back door."

Friday, July 20, 2007

COOL Passes With Farm Bill

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee unanimously passed its 2007 farm bill Thursday, sending the $285 billion legislation to the full House for a vote that could take place next week.

There was a victory in the bill for lawmakers who have been pushing for mandatory country-of-origin labeling on food products. The committee approved language that will finally allow full implementation of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for meat in the farm bill. The provision includes three categories of labeling, one that indicates a meat product was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States; one that indicates that product was not exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.; and one that includes products entirely from other countries. For ground meat, products can be labeled with a list of countries where the product may have originated.

Ag committee chairman Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., issued a statement touting the bill's "investments in conservation, nutrition and renewable energy while maintaining a strong safety net for America's farmers and ranchers."
"We have incorporated some new ideas and important reforms in this Farm Bill," Peterson said, "focusing farm program benefits so they get to real farmers and boosting investment in programs that help those who haven't received benefits through the farm bill before."

As reported on Wednesday on Iowa Independent, some reforms were made in the contentious area of commodity payments, although the changes fall far short of the hopes of many Midwestern lawmakers.

But some progressive organizations are now moving to support the bill, such as the National Farmers Union. "Last night Chairman Peterson did what many believed impossible just a few weeks ago," NFU President Tom Buis said. "The decreased budget baseline created many obstacles but Peterson and the other members of the committee made lemonade out of lemons. Their hard work and long hours have paid off and I believe this bill will have broad support across the countryside. This is a good bill, with a good safety net and good reform," Buis said.

The bill bans a farm operator from receiving payments if gross adjusted income is more than $1 million per year, reducing that threshold from the current level of $2.5 million. And one of the major loopholes in the current farm program, the so-called "Three Entity Rule" was eliminated, a loophole that currently allows operators of large farms to effectively double their commodity payments. The bill also gives farmers participating in commodity programs with a choice between traditional price protection and new market-oriented revenue coverage payments.

Rep. Leonard Boswell, who represents Iowa's Third District and serves as the chairman of agriculture subcommittee on livestock, dairy and poultry, commended chairman Peterson for his work on finding common ground and achieving compromises on the bill. Boswell offered three amendments to the bill, which all passed. One of Boswell's amendments creates a "methamphetamine inhibitor grant program," which would help agricultural retailers selling anhydrous ammonia to purchase a chemical additive that renders the ammonia less useful to meth cooks.

Some other highlights of the Farm Bill include $1.6 billion in new funding aimed at supporting the fruit and vegetable industry in the United States. A new section for Horticulture and Organic Agriculture includes nutrition, research, pest management and trade promotion programs.

The bill adjusts loan rates and target prices among commodities, in an effort to achieve greater regional equity, and cuts federal payment rates to crop insurance companies that are currently making record profits due to higher crop prices.

Conservation has been a key area of expansion in the farm bill, and the bill extends and makes new investments in popular conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program, Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, and many others.

The USDA Snack Program will be expanded as a part of the bill. This is a program that helps schools provide healthy snacks to students during after-school activities. The program will move to all 50 states.

Another key provision in the bill will provide investment in rural economic development efforts and expand access to broadband telecommunication services in rural areas.

While the bill passed the ag committee on a unanimous vote, it is rumored that there may be resistance when it goes to the full House for a vote, as reported here earlier this week. But chairman Peterson stated Friday to reporters that he has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move the committee bill forward through the full House of Representatives.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Three-Star General Stumps For Obama

Retired General Scott Gration visited Ottumwa Thursday on a tour of Iowa communities to support Sen. Barack Obama for President.
A crowd of many veterans and potential Iowa caucus-goers came to the Ottumwa Public Library to hear Gration's presentation.
Be sure to check out T.M. Lindsey's story on Iowa Independent about Gration and his visit to Iowa.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Commodity Compromise Reached in House Ag Committee

A compromise was reached Wednesday on farm commodity payment reforms in the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.

The committee completed its work on the commodity title for the 2007 farm bill, and will continue debate on Thursday for other sections of the bill.

Rep. Leonard Boswell, who serves on the committee, told Iowa Independent via e-mail Wednesday that he is preparing for another big day ahead. "We are probably looking at a very late night tonight," he said.

The commodity title of the farm bill was one of the main points of contention, and took up much of the committee's time Wednesday. While many lawmakers had pushed for a cap of $200,000 in farm program payments per individual, Southern ag interests pushed back and forced a compromise approach.

The committee's compromise bans a farm operator from receiving payments if their gross adjusted income is over $1 million per year, reducing that threshold from the current level of $2.5 million.

The amendment also states that a farm operator who makes between $500,000 and $1 million in gross adjusted income is only eligible for payments if two-thirds or more of their income comes from farming.

One of the major loopholes in the current farm program was also eliminated, a loophole that allows operators of large farms to maximize commodity payments.
The so-called "Three-Entity Rule" loophole will be closed as a result of the committee's amendment.

The "Three-Entity Rule," under current law, allows a farm operator to receive farm program payments directly and indirectly through up to two other entities, such as partnerships and corporations. With this loophole, farm operators have been able to double their take.
The committee is expected to complete its work on the farm bill Thursday, and will send its bill to the full House for a vote.

The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to begin the markup of its version of the farm bill in early August.

Vous Pourriez Devoir Observer Cette Vidéo Deux Fois

Political Dominoes: Farm Bill's Passage Depends on How They Fall

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said Tuesday that the fate of the 2007 farm bill may rest in the hands of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Grassley, a Republican in the minority in the Senate, told reporters during a weekly conference call that Speaker Pelosi wants major reforms in the way that farm payments are structured, but Pelosi and the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., are having difficulty reaching an agreement on legislation.

One of the scenarios that has Grassley concerned is the possibility of a revolt against the House committee's farm bill when it goes to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

Leading that charge would be Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, who has his own version of a farm bill that calls for drastic changes in farm programs.

WHO Radio farm broadcaster Ken Root questioned Grassley about the possible Kind scenario. Root asked, "after all that's going on here in the divisiveness that seems to be happening within the House ag committee, are you concerned that Congressman Ron Kind is going to be able to truly get a revolutionary change in farm legislation on the floor of the House?"

To which Grassley responded, "I've visited with House members who are of my way of thinking, and they're very concerned about it. And I think the only thing that can keep him from winning is if Speaker Pelosi is going to back Chairman Peterson. But I don't see how a speaker of the house can go against her own chairman, when what Peterson wants to do is not so out of tune with the Democratic Party's approach to ag things generally."

Grassley went on to explain that in 2002 when the agriculture legislation was moving through Congress, Pelosi voted with Kind on the House floor to institute an alternate version of the farm bill rather than the agriculture committee version.

If such a scenario were to unfold during this year's debate on the 2007 farm bill, Grassley said it would ultimately result in a simple extension of the existing farm bill. "We surely aren't going to go that direction in the Senate," said Grassley. "And so, if you get down into September, and you don't have a bill, you're going to have an extreme amount of necessity in moving a one-year extension so farmers know before they do their fall tillage what the farm program is next year."

Grassley has been working with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., on an effort to institute payment limitations in farm commodity programs.
"We believe that if the House would include the Grassley-Dorgan payment limit language in their version of the farm bill, it would save close to $700 million," said Grassley. "With the Senate and House trying to find offsets this year, this seems to be a very good step in the right direction, considering the need to find offsets for spending. Our payment limit legislation would not only help find extra money, but it is real reform in the farm program as well."

"The bottom line is that under the current budget situation, we cannot continue justifying to the American public and the urban members of the House of Representatives the high amount of subsidies going to our largest farmers -- in other words, helping subsidize big farmers to get bigger -- making it difficult for young farmers to get started farming and leaving nearly empty-handed those who need the most help," said Grassley.

Instituting payment limits in the farm program has been a hot topic during the farm bill debate. Grassley said that Peterson does not disagree with payment limitations but is having difficulty selling the idea to Southern members of the House Agriculture Committee. "You've got to get Southern votes for your farm bill. And, of course, cotton and rice are very much opposed to these payment limitations, and so I think he's trying to move a bill along."

Peterson convened the House Agriculture Committee Tuesday to draft the farm bill. The initial drafts of the farm bill in the House have included relatively minor changes in the way farm commodity payments are structured. The committee is scheduled to continue its work until Thursday.

Four Replaced on Leopold Center Advisory Board

Four new members have been appointed to positions on the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture Advisory Board.

A statement released today by the Leopold Center announced that among the new appointees are two university department heads, the vice-president of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, and a state agricultural bureau chief. The new members join 13 other board members on the board, representing Iowa educational institutions and agricultural and farming interest groups.

ISU filled two vacancies on the advisory board by appointing Maynard Hogberg, chair of the university's animal science department, and Jack Payne, vice-president for ISU Extension and Outreach.

Hogberg returned to ISU in 2003 after 18 years as head of the animal science department at Michigan State University. Payne came to ISU from Utah State University, where he had been vice president for University Extension and director of the Utah Cooperative Extension Service. They replaced two long-time advisory board members, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Wendy Wintersteen and Allen Trenkle, an animal science professor.

The University of Northern Iowa chose to appoint the new chair of its geography department, Patrick Pease, to one of its two seats on the advisory board. Pease joined the UNI faculty in 2006, coming to UNI from East Carolina University. He will serve in place of Tom Fogarty, a UNI geography professor who spent a decade on the board.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced that the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has designated Maury Wills, bureau chief of Agricultural Diversification and Market Development Bureau, as its representative on the board. Wills replaces Mary Jane Olney, a former IDALS administrator.

Leopold Center director Jerry DeWitt welcomed the new board members. "While we are always sorry to lose experienced, dedicated board members such as Drs. Wintersteen, Trenkle, and Fogarty, and Ms. Olney, we also appreciate the renewed energy and varied perspectives we gain from having new board members. Dr. Payne will provide us with a unique linkage to ISU Extension, which plays an important role in fulfilling the Center's mission. Dr. Hogberg brings to the board expertise in all of Iowa's livestock industry, a critical part of a sustainable landscape. Dr. Pease has done research on wind and soil erosion in North Carolina and other areas, so we will benefit from his scientific background. Mr. Wills offers both state government insights and valuable experience as an Iowa farm operator.

The Leopold Center, marking its 20th anniversary in 2007, was founded by the Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. Its legislatively mandated goals are to identify and reduce negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of agricultural practices, contribute to the development of profitable farming systems that conserve natural resources and cooperate with Iowa State University Extension to inform the public of new findings.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Monroe County Democrats Launch Blog Site

The Monroe County Democratic Party has launched a new blog site, which will be used for updates on activities and events.

County party chairman Joe Judge will serve as blog administrator, so please feel free to contact him about news and events that should be posted on the blog.

I've added a link over on the sidebar here at Smoky Hollow.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ag Foes Face-Off This Tuesday

A big showdown begins next week as the U.S. House Agriculture Committee conducts its markup of the 2007 Farm Bill.

The committee will meet Tuesday morning at the Longworth House Office Building in the nation's capital. The key gunslinger to watch in this shootout is Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who chairs the committee.

Peterson has reportedly been making deals in recent weeks to build consensus on some reforms to the farm-commodity payment system.

Brownfield Network's Steve Kopperud is reporting that Peterson now has the backing of the American Farm Bureau Federation and is close to cutting a deal with Southern members of the committee.

The Southern ag contingent has long fought tooth-and-nail against any sort of payment limitations, and has pushed a version of the farm bill that simply extends the 2002 legislation.

Of late, Peterson has been suggesting payment limits, but he would place limits based on a farmer's gross adjusted income -- rather than a simple limit on maximum payment amounts per individual.

Another faction to watch closely as the shootout unfolds is led by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. Kind's cohorts were defeated in subcommittee, but they likely will make a move on the full House floor to institute an "alternative" farm bill.

Kopperud reports that Kind "has the support of just about every warm and fuzzy enviro, save-the-family farm and consumer group on the planet." Kind's legislation would continue counter-cyclical payments, but only to farmers who have a gross adjusted income of $200,000 or less.

On the Senate side of the farm bill debate, ag committee chairman Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa was quoted this week as saying that he will not allow a farm bill to pass through his committee unless it provides funding for conservation and nutrition programs.

Brownfield Network reported that the Democrat said, "I can tell you, as chairman -- they'll have to carry me out out of here feet first -- but, I am not going to let a Farm Bill get through that doesn't answer the needs of the poorest people in this country in terms of nutrition and food stamps."

As reported this week on Iowa Independent, Harkin will be chairman of the conference committee, which will resolve differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.

Friday Farm News Roundup

The Iowa Department of Public Safety's Intelligence Bureau reports that metal thefts of all varieties have increased in Iowa and other states in the past year, as metal prices have reached new highs. Thieves originally focused on copper, but recently have begun to target other types of metals, including hog feeders, metal dairy equipment made of galvanized steel and stainless steel, and other farm equipment.

A columnist for has dubbed our junior senator as "Tom Harkin (D-Pork)." Read the Bloomberg columnist's screed here. And on the subject of the 2007 farm bill, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns makes his case on the Bush administration's views for the bill here.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently held its first-ever conference with agricultural leaders, and is planning to form an independent federal advisory board to deal with ag issues. Wallaces Farmer is reporting that one of the topics discussed at the conference involved how the EPA can improve its relationship with ag producers and get them more involved with environmental protection.

The Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers is organizing a series of cattle feedlot tours. The tours are designed to provide farmers with information on growing their operations responsibly and successfully.

In the last two decades, the number of farm operators in the United States under age 35 dropped from 16 percent to 6 percent, as noted in this article in BusinessWeek.

Chefs in fancy restaurants are requesting fattier pork. The Des Moines Register reported this week that the demand is growing on the East and West coasts for juicy pork, a move away from the lean and dry pork that has been popular for years.

After sitting idle for nearly three years, the Iowa Quality Beef Supply packing plant in Tama may soon be sold. The Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier reported this week that investors from the Middle East nation of Qatar may be interested in purchasing the packing plant.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is having a big gathering next week in Colorado, where they will discuss environmental policy issues affecting cattle operations. The 2007 Cattle Industry Summer Conference will be held from July 16 to July 20 in Denver.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Leopold Celebration Brings a Minnesotan Home to Iowa

From Ames to San Francisco to Minneapolis, Mark Ritchie's journey in life has been about much more than the places he has lived. But after spending most of his professional life in Minnesota, he still considers Iowa home.

Ritchie is now serving as secretary of state in Minnesota, the culmination of decades of work as an activist in politics and agriculture.
Ritchie is no stranger to Iowa State University and the sustainable agriculture movement, so he was a perfect choice to deliver the keynote address at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture's 20th anniversary celebration Wednesday.

"This turned out to be a different kind of invitation," said Ritchie, who graduated from ISU in 1971. "Because as I sat down a few weeks ago -- kind of talking with my wife and thinking about what I was going to say -- it began to come back how much this is, in fact, home for me. Tom Harkin was the first person I ever voted for. Iowa State was the first place I ever skipped classes. I grew up in Nevada, Iowa. I'm an Iowan."
But, he admits, "It's a little complicated to get elected in Minnesota if you're an Iowan."

Ritchie, now age 54, first came to Iowa as a youngster. His father had worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. "Some of you know there was a research laboratory, used to be a research laboratory there, then they turned it into a nerve-gas research facility, and now it's a beautiful library. But it used to be one of the premier research laboratories -- until they built the big one here in Ames, the National Animal Disease Laboratory. In fifth grade, my brother and I were informed that we were moving to Iowa. To a town called Nevada. And we were instructed how to say it properly."

His father, who was part of the "first wave" of major research at the animal disease research laboratory in Ames, had plenty of life experiences to impart to his son. "He was a Marine in the Second World War, was stationed in China, and saw people dying of starvation. As he would say, not just hungry people, dying people."
"And it so affected him, it affected him from a faith, a religious faith, so he decided to dedicate his life to finding the solutions to hunger. And from his point of view that had to do with solving the problems of production." Those experiences gave his father a path and a direction in life.

Likewise, early life experiences helped shape Ritchie's worldview and gave him a cause for action.

He attended ISU during a historically tumultuous period. "You could pay for college detasseling and roguing corn and baling hay and walking beans," he said. But he added, "it was a time, in 1968, when things could get in the way of studies. In particular, for me, the war in Vietnam."

He said he began looking more carefully at his world. "Looking at my little home town and Iowa State and my country. And it was a time of great movement, of great upheaval, of great activity. And there were movements. There was a civil rights movement and there was an anti-war movement and there was a women's movement. There was a movement around education."

That time and that place and those movements, and a supportive community at Iowa State and in Iowa,(comma) gave Ritchie "the ability to see and to hear and to understand and to be inspired." Those movements gave him "the internal belief that we can do something. And I was blessed to have Iowa State here as part of that path. In that moment of activity and of change, it also began to change me, in terms of my understanding of a community that I was part of and what I should be doing to make a contribution to that community."

Ritchie went on to explain how agriculture became his cause for action. "My first thinking about agriculture didn't really come to me because my father was a lifer in the USDA," said Ritchie. "What moved me to start thinking about agriculture was the physical things that I could see that were easy to understand. You know, I could drive from Ames to Nevada, that eight miles, and I'd know that I was driving past the richest farmland on the planet and I was watching farms going broke. What was that about? I knew that there was plenty of food, but I was working with kids who didn't have enough food. What was that about? We were becoming increasingly aware that there was an ongoing impoverishment and exploitation of farm workers in the middle of the richest nation on the planet. What was that about? Those contradictions were just part of the process for me, of beginning to think about what I could do and what role I could play in making a difference."

Like many others during the 1960s and 1970s, Ritchie ended up in San Francisco. He moved there with a group of people from Iowa, who went about trying to create an alternative food system. "It's kind of easy to say no to a war that's based on lies and hubris. That's one thing, but how to build a different economy -- how to build a different approach to agriculture, how to build a different kind of food system so that children and everyone has access to not just plenty of food, but healthy food -- that was a different problem."

"For me, beginning to understand that when there was a direction in society that needed to be changed, that there were policies, government decisions that were central to that, then I began to understand. This process of understanding how policy makes the future, and people make the policy, began to affect how I understood what my role should be."

He became active in what he described was a "quiet revolution of sustainable agriculture."

Then the farm crisis began to tighten its grip on rural America. Land values began to plummet. "It turned out as land prices fell and banks started foreclosing and small farms started being squeezed, then middle-sized farms started being squeezed and going out of business. Then we started seeing the kind of consolidation that we're still talking about today," he said.
The situation began moving people to "extreme thought and extreme action and to extremism. And it took awhile, for those of us who had the experience of political movements to understand that what was needed was another movement. To go from the quiet revolution of sustainable agriculture to the public movement of changing policy -- of legislation."

Ritchie's path did not take him right away to elected office. He worked by creating nonprofit organizations to further his goals. But others in the movement became active in politics and in their faith communities. "We had the understanding from other life activities that we had to put them together, that we had to push. And we began to think about what we could do about policies in the future. And the policies being made by people. And there was this 'catalyst convergence' that happened when the Leopold Center was born," he said. "There was a convergence of the passions that people were pursuing in different parts of our society that helped give birth to the Leopold Center."

That's why, Ritchie said, he's very proud, wherever he is, to say he is an Iowan. "Because the Leopold Center was that kind of vision turned into action that brought forth the consensus, and that's what gave it the strength and the vitality to survive the counter-assault that took place."

Ritchie, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite Party, was elected Minnesota secretary of state in 2006. He previously worked in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and served 20 years as the president of the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a public research center working with businesses, churches, farm organizations, and other civic groups to foster long-term economic and environmental sustainability in Minnesota. He and his wife, Nancy Gaschott, live in Minneapolis.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Leopold Center Celebrates 20th Anniversary

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is celebrating a significant milestone this week -- its 20th birthday.

Based at Iowa State University in Ames, the center was created in 1987 by the Iowa Legislature as part of the 1987 Groundwater Protection Act in an effort to increase the sustainability of Iowa agriculture. Its mission has been to conduct and sponsor research to reduce negative impacts of agricultural practices. During that time, the center has focused on assisting with the development of emerging alternative practices and getting the word out on its findings.

The milestone was marked by a two-day celebration on the ISU campus, complete with a festive luncheon showcasing Iowa-grown foods like fruits from Berry Patch Farm and grilled chicken from family farms in Audobon County.

Pictured above, visitors to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture's 20th anniversary celebration had the opportunity to taste "place-based foods" at the Local Food Tasting and Talks table.
The midday festival was complete with displays of innovative technologies developed to improve the environmental impact of agriculture.
Iowa State University agricultural and biosystems engineering expert Mark Hanna, left, explains the display of an impellicone, an award-winning fertilizer application system designed at ISU. The system has the potential to reduce the amount of anhydrous ammonia needed to be applied to crops.

Jerry DeWitt, director of the Leopold Center, spoke with Iowa Independent about the events Wednesday. "We're looking at not only the successes of the last 20 years of the Leopold Center here in Iowa, but we're looking at what the future should be," said DeWitt. "Where should we be going, what new directions. So with the 300 people here today in Ames, we're having workshops, presentations, interactive work and demonstrations that speak to the questions of how do we put more people on the land."

The day's workshops and demonstrations included talks on maintaining the land's capacity for self-renewal, planning an energy-efficient landscape for Iowa and an Iowa local local foods show.

"We're talking about food and health systems, we're talking about the bioeconomy and energy, where we're headed," said DeWitt. "And we're talking about production agriculture and how can we sustain that down the road. So today's activities are about getting input, listening, and figuring out what do we do in the next 20 years. But more importantly, what do we do in the next three to five years to make profitable agriculture that sustains the land and that's good for the community."

The Leopold Center is named for one of the heroes of the environmentalist movement, Aldo Leopold, a man considered by many to be the father of wildlife ecology. Leopold, whose Iowa roots can be traced to Burlington, is the author of A Sand County Almanac, one of the most-influential works in the environmental movement that spurred millions to change their thinking about the world in which we live.

Iowa's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is a fitting tribute to his legacy, with a long list of accomplishments that have been celebrated during this week's anniversary. The center has been instrumental in groundbreaking research at Bear Creek in Story County that has served as a model statewide for more than 64,000 acres of buffers and erosion control practices, and has been recognized as a national leader in food systems research aimed at adding value to cropland production. When people are looking for information on local foods and the concept of "food miles" traveled from farm to table, they look to the Leopold Center's website as the top site on the internet accessed for such information.

The anniversary events kicked off Tuesday, with a series of educational tours of Iowa locations like the Whiterock Conservancy and The Homestead. Other tours on Tuesday included visits to sustainable dairies and vineyards.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie delivered the keynote address for Wednesday's events.

Ritchie, who grew up in Iowa and is an ISU graduate, is the founder of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a public research center that works to foster long-term economic and environmental sustainability.

Wednesday's schedule of workshops and seminars were led by experts in the fields of local food systems, renewable fuels and soil sciences -- all with a focus on agricultural sustainability.

At right, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie gives the keynote address at the anniversary celebration. Ritchie is an ISU graduate and has been involved in promoting sustainable agricultural practices for much of his life.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Edwards to Elevate Food Safety Issues into National Debate

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards today called for sweeping reforms to increase the safety of the nation's food supply.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Edwards called for all authority for federal food safety inspection to be shifted to the Food and Drug Administration, creating one central regulatory authority to be responsible for overseeing food safety in the United States.

Edwards also called for the implementation of the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law that was passed more than five years ago but was never put into effect. The time is right for these issues to be elevated to the level of a national debate, he said.

"Food safety is a very serious issue for America," said Edwards. "It's time, I believe, that we stop giving in to big agribusiness and food importers, stop delays in laws that provide for food safety. That means, specifically, that we need to have mandatory country-of-origin labeling, and it needs to be implemented and put in place. It was passed five years ago but has been repeatedly delayed by special interests."

With recent reports of contaminated pet food, livestock feed, seafood and other problems, Edwards said that we've heard enough about bad food products coming into the United States, particularly from China, and it's obvious that this is a very serious issue for the safety of the American consumer. "Particularly because of the fact that we eat more imported food now than ever," said Edwards. "The average American is eating about 260 pounds of imported foods a year. We're inspecting about 1 percent, which is clearly not adequate. For country-of-origin labeling, a law has already been passed; it needs to be enforced beginning immediately."

"The second thing is, we ought to overhaul our (food safety) agencies, which I think are really a jumble," he said. That means "consolidating responsibility for food safety in the FDA, so that we have one agency that's responsible for overseeing food safety in America. And we also need to give the FDA the power they need to do their job effectively. Which includes the capacity to actually get food off the shelves that they think is dangerous."

Food inspections are currently handled by a number of federal regulatory agencies, including the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, causing the need for changes, Edwards said.

"The problem now is, I think if I remember correctly, we have about 15 different agencies that have responsibility for regulating some part of our food supply. They're enforcing between 30 and 35 different laws. One example is you have different agencies that are responsible for regulating meat lasagna versus vegetable lasagna. You know, an open-faced ham-and-cheese sandwich is inspected by the USDA, and a closed-faced ham-and-cheese sandwich is inspected by the FDA. This makes no sense. Which is typical, I might add, of the problems with bureaucracy in the federal government. But in this specific area, it has the potential to create real problems for the safety of Americans. So what we want to do is consolidate that in the FDA so that they know that they have responsibility for the food inspection system. We need to beef up the agency. We need to give the FDA, just one regulatory body, a very clear responsibility for making sure that our food is safe. And that way, it's not being spread among other agencies and there's no cracks that exist."

The low number of inspections of imported food are also a concern for Edwards. "At the ports, as I mentioned earlier, only about 1 percent of our food in being inspected. That's down from about 8 percent over the course of the last 10 to 15 years. That inspection rate needs to be significantly increased. And we also need to make sure we're working more effectively with other countries around the world who are helping us with food inspections." Edwards said that at least 10 percent of imported food should be inspected.

Edwards emphasized the importance of food safety issues not only to Iowa farmers but to consumers all across the nation. However, he discussed some of the rural and agricultural proposals that he will push to the forefront in his presidential campaign.

"I do believe there are some very specific things we need to do to help family farmers. Specifically, that includes enforcing our anti-trust laws against anti-competitive mergers and unfair pricing. We need a very strong national ban on packer ownership of livestock, so that we can stop the spread of large corporate ag interests. I also think we need a national moratorium on the construction and expansion of hog farm lagoons, which I know is important to Iowans and very important to my state of North Carolina. And finally, we ought to help family farmers by limiting farm subsidies to $250,000 per person and also closing some of the loopholes that have been taken advantage of in payment limits. Beyond that, I've also proposed a number of things to help rural America, like getting capital to small businesses that are operating or starting up in rural America. Building out broadband, giving incentives to teachers who are willing to locate in small towns, a whole range of things that I think can help strengthen rural America. I think I have a very strong not only farm agenda for family farmers, but a comprehensive agenda for rural America."

Friday, July 06, 2007

Power Plant's Switch to Switchgrass Could Come by Fall 2008

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack wrapped up a weeklong tour of Iowa renewable energy facilities Friday with a visit to the Chariton Valley Biomass Project in Chillicothe.
The biomass project is the result of 10 years of study and development in the burning of switchgrass to generate electricity, and could move to full commercialization as soon as next year.
Loebsack, right, is pictured with Ed Woolsey, president of Chariton Valley Switchgrass LLC, in front of piles of coal at Alliant Energy's Ottumwa Generating Station near Chillicothe. As the biomass project moves forward, some of those piles of coal will be replaced with bales of switchgrass hay.
Woolsey led Loebsack on a tour of the biomass facility, which is adjacent to the Alliant Energy power plant and connected by 1,500 feet of tubes that were constructed to carry pulverized switchgrass to the boiler.
The biomass project recently completed a series of test-burns of switchgrass in the power plant.
Dora Guffey, a specialist with Chariton Valley Resource Conservation and Development, has been involved in many phases of the project. Nearly all of the pieces are now in place, she said, for a full-scale commercial biomass operation, including permits from the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "We're wrapping up the research and development phase and working toward full commercialization," she said. The power plant could begin continuously burning up to five percent switchgrass as soon as fall 2008. "We've overcome some tremendous hurdles, but now we're in the home stretch."
Woolsey is pictured explaining some of the biomass handling equipment at the facility. The operation is equipped to receive baled switchgrass, pulverize the grass into small particles and transport it over to the power plant through a series of tubes.
The project has been co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but significant cost-sharing has been provided by Alliant Energy and many other project partners.
Securing steady funding has not always been easy during the 10 years of development.
One of the difficulties in starting in an entirely new industry is that the playing field is not level, Woolsey said. "There are very few energy sources that are not subsidized in one way or another," said Woolsey. "But it's really easy for funding sources to start and stop when you're dealing with the government. That makes budgeting very difficult."
But Woolsey is proud of what has been accomplished with available resources. "We've probably got the most in-depth research on sustainable energy sources as any project in the world," he said.
During the tests, about 12,000 tons of coal, which normally would have been hauled from Wyoming, were replaced with renewable switchgrass planted, grown and harvested by local Iowa farmers.
One of the main benefits of burning switchgrass is the reduction in harmful emissions from the power plant. During testing phases of the project, sulfur-dioxide emissions were reduced by nearly 62 tons because of the low sulfur content in switchgrass.
And carbon dioxide, the primary culprit blamed for global warming, was reduced by 50,800 tons during the tests. An added bonus is carbon sequestration -- switchgrass absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows and stores it in its deep root system. This natural process also improves soil conditions in the fields.
The environmental benefit is just one of the reasons Woolsey has high hopes for the project. "One of the biggest drivers of this technology is the rural economic development aspect" which, he said, gives farmers an additional commodity they can raise on marginal land.
Loebsack, a Democrat who represents Iowa's 2nd District, agreed. "Renewables are important for a lot of reasons," he said. "One of the most important is the benefit to Iowa's economy, and for environmental reasons as well. I know we're out here standing next to a big pile of coal, and I'd like to see us get weaned from these fossil fuels."
Switchgrass is just one possible plant that can be used as biomass. It's a perfect fit for Iowa because it is a native perennial prairie grass that can reduce soil erosion by as much as 95 percent compared to row crops. And it can be grown with significantly fewer herbicides and fertilizers.
Loebsack's tour also took him to the Clipper Wind Energy Turbine plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City's University of Iowa power plant where there is a study on oat hulls as biomass, and to several other Iowa renewable fuels plants.

Friday Farm News Roundup

Missouri hay producers have been targeted by a scam. The Kansas City Star is reporting that the Missouri Department of Agriculture has warned hay producers to be wary of a scam involving requests of farmers to wire transfer funds to a hay hauler who will supposedly pick up loads of hay.

After months of hearing about the impending corn shortage, now people are talking about the coming corn glut, as in this article in the Seattle Times. Why? Well, all of the signs are showing that there will be plenty of corn. Some are even starting to use the term "bin-buster" in reference to this year's corn crop.

Business Week published an article this week about the difficulty that young people are having as they attempt to acquire land to begin a farming operation.

The Iowa Learning Farm targets its educational efforts at improving water quality, as reported on Farm News Iowa.

The Des Moines Register reported this week that an Iowa State University professor has devised a way to make biodiesel cheaper, faster and better.

Here are some more rumblings about a simple extension of the 2002 Farm Bill.

Iowa Farmer Today has an article about a farmer who is keeping a close watch for terrorists (foreign or domestic).

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced the appointment of three new bureau chiefs this week. And Gov. Chet Culver announced the appointment of Paul Johnson to the Environmental Protection Commission.

The Catholic Rural Life Conference is pushing for changes in the federal farm bill, as reported in this article on the Catholic Online website.

Loebsack Visits Switchgrass Co-Fire Facility

Rep. Dave Loebsack wrapped up a week-long tour of Iowa renewable energy facilities Friday with a visit to the Chariton Valley Biomass Project in Chillicothe.
The biomass project is the result of ten years of study and development in the burning of switchgrass to generate electricity.
"As a country we are never going to drill our way to independence and so we must aggressively pursue alternative energy sources," said Loebsack.
Loebsack is pictured with Ed Woolsey, president of Chariton Valley Switchgrass LLC, in front of the piles of coal at Alliant Energy's Ottumwa Generating Station near Chillicothe. As the biomass project moves forward, some of those piles of coal will be replaced with bales of switchgrass hay.
Woolsey led Loebsack on a tour of the biomass facility, which is adjacent to the Alliant Energy power plant and connected by 1,500 feet of tubes that were constructed to carry pulverized switchgrass to the boiler.
The biomass project recently completed a series of test-burns of switchgrass in the power plant. Dora Guffey is a specialist with Chariton Valley Resource Conservation and Development, and has been involved in many phases of the project. Guffey said that nearly all of the pieces are now in place for a full-scale commercial biomass operation. "We're wrapping up the research and development phase and working toward full commercialization. We're fully permitted by the DNR and EPA." Guffey said that the power plant could begin continuously burning switchgrass as soon as the fall of 2008. "We've overcome some tremendous hurdles, but now we're in the home stretch."
Woolsey is pictured explaining some of the biomass handling equipment at the facility. The operation is equipped to receive baled switchgrass, pulverized the grass into small particles and transport it over to the power plant through a series of tubes.
The project has been co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but significant cost-sharing has also been provided by Alliant Energy and many other project partners.
Securing steady funding has not always been easy over the ten years that the project has developed.
Woolsey said that one of the difficulties in starting off in an entirely new industry like this is the fact that the playing field is not level. "There are very few energy sources that are not subsidized in one way or another," said Woolsey. "But it's really easy for funding sources to start and stop when you're dealing with the government."
But Woolsey is proud of what has been accomplished with the resources that have been available. "We've probably got the most in-depth research on sustainable energy sources as any project in the world," he said.
During the tests, about 12,000 tons of coal that would normally have been hauled from Wyoming were replaced with renewable switchgrass that was planted, grown and harvested by local Iowa farmers.
One of the main benefits of burning switchgrass is the reduction in harmful emissions from the power plant. During the testing phases of the project, sulfur-dioxide emissions were reduced by nearly 62 tons because of the low sulfur content in switchgrass.
And carbon dioxide, the primary culprit blamed for global warming, was reduced by 50,800 tons during the tests. An added bonus is carbon sequestration -- the fact that switchgrass absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows and stores it in its deep root system. This also improves soil conditions in the fields.
Environmental benefits are just one of the reasons why Woolsey has high hopes for the project. "One of the biggest drivers of this technology is the rural economic development aspect," he said, giving farmers an additional commodity that they can raise on marginal land.
Loebsack agreed. "Renewables are important for a lot of reasons," he said. "One of the most important is the benefit to Iowa's economy, and for environmental reasons as well. I know we're out here standing next to a big pile of coal, and I'd like to see us get weaned from these fossil fuels."
Switchgrass is just one possible plant that can be used as biomass. It's a perfect fit for Iowa, because it is a native perennial prairie grass that can reduce soil erosion by as much as 95 percent when compared to row crops. It can be grown with significantly less herbicides and fertilizers.
In addition to the Chariton Valley Biomass Project, Loebsack's renewable energy tour also took him to Cedar Rapids where he toured the Clipper Wind Energy Turbine plant, the University of Iowa power plant where there is a study on oat hulls as biomass, and several stops at ethanol and biodiesel plants.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

New Blog for Aidan and Ariel

I created a new blog just for Aidan and Ariel. The new blog will be the place for personal stuff, like photos and videos of Aidan and his favorite puppy, Ariel.

There is a permanent link in the sidebar that will take you to it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Obama Asks Iowans To Turn The Page

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama stressed his ability to change politics at campaign rallies today in Oskaloosa and Pella.
Obama repeated a common theme of his campaign. "People want a different kind of politics in this country," said Obama. "They want to turn the page on a politics that has been broken, and they want to write a new chapter in American history."
At both the Oskaloosa and Pella events on this July 4 holiday, this refrain drew some of the loudest cheers and applause from the crowd.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama speaks to a capacity crowd at Smokey Row cafe in Oskaloosa. He was joined by his daughter, Sasha, and wife, Michelle.
While Obama does not say it outright, he may not only be aiming this call for change toward the politics of President George W. Bush.
In a subtle way, Obama's rhetoric calls to mind the divisive political climate during the presidency of Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton.
The rally in Oskaloosa began early for a holiday morning, with the crowd filling the seats at Smokey Row cafe well before 9 a.m.
The venue was soon filled to capacity, with a line out on the town square sidewalk.

Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor told Iowa Independent that the cafe comfortably seats 250, and that the standing-room-only crowd was quite larger than that.
Obama's stump speech touched on most of the top issues of the 2008 campaign, discussing the war in Iraq, terrorism, health care and energy policy.
After shaking hands and visiting with attendees of the Oskaloosa rally, Obama and family quickly drove to the neighboring community of Pella for a rally at the home of Dan and Heather Vroom.
Pella is a heavily Republican community, but that didn't seem to stop Obama from attracting a crowd that filled the front yard and spilled out onto the residential street.
Before speaking to the crowd in Pella, a press conference was convened in the backyard of the home where Obama fielded questions from reporters.

Obama was answering questions as his daughters and other children attempted to jump on a trampoline before being ushered back into the house.
Obama hit on the same themes when speaking to the crowd in the front yard, continuing to identify himself as the candidate that can change politics.

He noted his successful fund-raising efforts, and was quick to mention that most of his fund-raising has come from average citizens.
"We got a little bit of attention this last week because we raised a lot of money," he said. "People are still trying to figure out how we did it. We don't take money from federal lobbyists. We don't take money from PACs. The reason is I don't want to be serving the drug companies' agenda or the insurance companies' agenda on a health care bill. I don't want to be serving the oil companies agenda on the energy bill. I want to be serving your agenda. People have responded and 90 percent of the donations we got are for a hundred dollars or less. Because you're ready to take your country back."
Obama was scheduled to continue on the campaign trail in Iowa after leaving Pella. He traveled to Des Moines to attend Independence Day events with his family.
Obama may be feeling quite at home on the campaign trail in Iowa. He misspoke twice during the day's events, saying "Illinois" in place of Iowa when talking about renewable fuels.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tank Locks Help Curtail Meth Labs

State and federal officials claimed a major victory today in the battle against methamphetamine production in Iowa.
Law enforcement officials recently completed a project to install locks on tanks of anhydrous ammonia in all of Iowa's 99 counties.

An anhydrous ammonia tank lock was demonstrated today at a press conference with state officials in Des Moines. Tracy Gathman, general manager of Two Rivers Cooperative in Pella and a representative of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa locks up the tank.

Anhydrous ammonia is a farm fertilizer that is commonly distributed all across the state, but it also happens to be one of the chemicals needed to illegally manufacture methamphetamine.

County sheriffs in rural Iowa struggled for years with the problem, as thieves would steal the ammonia from farmers and agribusinesses. Then when they were finished with their clandestine labs, meth cooks would often dump their by-products in rural road ditches, leaving a toxic mess for Iowa taxpayers to clean up.
Those problems are now in decline, as statistics announced today show an 89 percent drop in the discovery of meth labs since 2004. Figures released today from the Iowa Department of Public Safety's Division of Narcotics Enforcement indicate that approximately 1,500 meth lab incidents were recorded in 2004. This year, the state is expecting that figure to drop to about 160.
The installment of nearly 24,000 tank locks on anhydrous ammonia tanks across the state was funded primarily through the Community Oriented Policing Services Meth Hot Spots program, money secured by Sen. Tom Harkin in his work on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Harkin said that while the tank locks have been an important tool in reducing meth lab activity in the state, it has been a coordinated series of steps including tank locks and other efforts that have stopped meth labs from operating in Iowa. "Locking up these tanks is a simple and inexpensive, yet critical and highly successful step in curbing the production of meth in our state," said Harkin.
Harkin also noted another successful meth-fighting strategy that can be credited to scientists at Iowa State University. Researchers have created a calcium-nitrate additive that is now being mixed with anhydrous ammonia, rendering the ammonia much less useful to meth cooks.
Add these efforts together with new controls on pseudoephedrine, another drug that is used in the meth-making process, and the result is far fewer meth labs in Iowa.
Harkin also emphasized the need to work to reduce the demand for methamphetamine through family- and jail-based drug treatment programs, specifically in underserved areas.
Harkin was joined today at the state capitol by Rep. Leonard Boswell, Lt. Gov. Patty Judge and other state officials in discussing the success of the crackdown on meth-making.
Boswell is the co-chair of the House Meth Caucus, a group that is working in Congress to find more solutions to the problems associated with methamphetamine.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey also applauded the efforts in Congress to secure funding for the tank lock program. "It's a voluntary program, but it takes dollars," said Northey. "It's so tough to make real progress, but this is real progress. As a farmer, I feel great about having a safer product out there."
Iowa Public Safety Commissioner Gene Meyer said that the reduction of meth labs has allowed resources to be diverted to other drug trafficking problems. Cleaning up a meth lab is an expensive and dangerous task. "For every pound of methamphetamine that is created, there are six pounds of toxic waste," said Meyer.
Lt. Gov. Judge said that Iowans are now safer thanks to the coordinated efforts of agriculture retailers and county sheriffs, and she thanked Harkin and Boswell for their work in Congress.

Iowa Independent visited with Monroe County Sheriff Dan Johnson, who has seen the meth problem grow throughout his years in law enforcement. "Yes, these programs have been very successful in stopping meth labs," said Johnson, adding that there has been a significant drop in the amount of meth labs found in Monroe County. He credits the controls on pseudoephedrine as being the most important step in curtailing meth production.

Biden Calls for Cuts in Farm Subsidies

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden called for a significant change in the way federal farm subsidies are distributed today at a campaign event in Des Moines.
Iowa Independent asked Biden for his views on the 2007 Farm Bill and the farm subsidy system. "I think we have to cut back farm subsidies for the agribusiness organizations," said Biden. "Small farmers are being killed in my state."

The Delaware senator continued by touting his experience with agricultural issues. "Agriculture is the biggest industry in my state," he said. "I come from the DelMarVa Peninsula. Delaware, Maryland and Virginia not the Del-New York-Connecticut Peninsula." Biden said he comes from a state where there is a $3 billion industry in agriculture, most notably in the production of broiler chickens.

Biden said that the "foremost important things in the ag bill" are an emphasis on conservation and land preservation. He then went on to say that it is important to "make sure that we cut subsidies for the agribusiness organizations, and we should limit those subsidies to a dollar amount well below what the last farm bill had."

He also noted the importance of promoting alternative biofuels in the agriculture bill.
"And I feel very good that Tom Harkin, as the chairman of the ag committee, will play a major role in determining the outcome of that bill," he said.

While Biden did not specify a dollar amount that he would support as a limit to farm subsidies, another Democrat in the race for president, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, has recently done so.
Richardson joined Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards in proposing a dollar figure cap on federal farm subsidies. He said he supports the Grassley-Dorgan bill, which would place a limit of $250,000 as the total amount that an individual could receive in farm subsidy payments.
"Today, two-thirds of American farmers receive no subsidies at all," said Richardson in a statement sent to Iowa Independent. "The current system too frequently supports wealthy absentee land owners and huge agri-business companies at the expense of small farmers."

Iowa Independent reported last week that Sen. Hillary Clinton, widely seen as the front-running Democrat in the race for president, is not currently supporting a specific limit on the amount that individuals or corporations can receive in farm subsidies.