DES MOINES, Iowa – In a public meeting yesterday with Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey requested $7.5 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative as part of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017 budget requests. According to IDALS, the request puts funding at the level of support sought for the soil conservation cost share program, or Iowa Financial Incentives Program (IFIP), over the next two years.
The money would come from the state’s general fund, and is nearly $3 million above the $4.4 million appropriated to IDALS’ water quality efforts in the current fiscal year. Northey points out the request is coming at a time when farmers and ranchers aren’t making as much money, or paying as much in taxes to contribute to the general fund.
“The budget year that we’re talking about starts next July 1 and goes through the following July 1,” explains Northey. “We would expect, right now, corn prices to be lower [at that time] than what they were the last couple years. And so it could well be that producers are making less money, and therefore paying less in taxes. We could well have some ag suppliers as well, whether it’s machinery companies or others, that are selling things to farmers, that are making less money as well, so I certainly understand the challenge that that could create for a state budget. I’d argue that the ag economy has been a very big part of making us be able to have the dollars necessary in the previous year’s state budget to make the kinds of investments that have been made. Ag has seen a very small part of that, and I’d certainly argue that to be able to get the leverage that we can off of these dollars, we need to be able to have an increase here that would help match that farmer investment.”
The farmer investment for water quality in fiscal year 2014 has been noteworthy, with $1.4 million in available state cost-share dollars matched by producers in only five days. However funding for IDALS’ water quality efforts has been unreliable in the last few years; in 2013, Governor Brandstad vetoed $11.2 million in one-time conservation funds for the current fiscal year, citing a revenue shortfall brought on by a drop in farm income, as well as the timing of farm tax payments.
Soil conservation funding has been more dependable. Statewide soil conservation cost-share dollars measured out to $9.5 million in fiscal year 2014. Iowa farmers matched and exceeded that amount, investing $13 million of their own funds for conservation practices like grassed waterways and terraces. In his request yesterday, Northey signaled that his department considers soil and water conservation equally important.
“Our funding is set each year,” Northey says. “Generally now the governor’s going to try and look at a two-year budget. So it may be that we’ll have some consistency here. While that’s been always true with our soil conservation funding – we’ve been fairly level with our soil conservation funding – we’re just ramping up the Iowa Water Quality Initiative funding to get close to that same amount. So, last year we did have some one-time funding that was vetoed, and this kind of back and forth, and some uncertainty, does create some barriers to a good program. We think it’d be very good to have a strong annually-funded [program] with the presumption that the program would continue into the future. That’s why our ask was $7.5 million for the conservation cost-share, and $7.5 million for Water Quality Initiative funding for both of the next two years, with the presumption that this would continue into the future as well.”
In the meeting with Branstad, Northey also requested $1.92 million in both fiscal 2016 and 2017 to support the closure of seventeen additional agriculture drainage wells in the state.
To hear more about Northey’s FY2016 and FY2017 budget request, click the audio player above this story.