DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The head of Iowa’s agriculture department is once again asking state leaders for financial help to better prepare for potential animal diseases like bird flu. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey says his request (on Monday) for $500,000 would be used to train livestock farmers to increase bio-security efforts when responding to outbreaks involving foreign diseases like bird flu, which hit the state in 2015. The disease killed 48 million birds nationwide, including 24 million Iowa laying hens.
The request, made during an annual budget hearing with Gov. Terry Branstad, mirrors Northey’s request one year ago to combat the same issue. Branstad didn’t include it his budget recommendations last January, citing limitations to the state budget. A Branstad spokesman says the governor will evaluate the latest request.
The Shelby County “Fire Danger” index continues in the “Moderate” category, this week. Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Seivert says the public should continue to call-in and report their planned burns. Doing so reduces unneeded emergency responses, and allows local chiefs to be more aware of activities in their area. The “Moderate” rating will continue until at least Thursday, Dec. 1st.
A former state legislator in the 1980s and ’90s who worked on environmental issues is suggesting current lawmakers should impose the state sales tax on farm chemicals. David Osterberg, a University of Iowa professor said “I’m taxed if I go down to my Ace Hardware and buy some 10-10-10 fertilizer to put in my garden, but if you buy tons of it, you don’t pay any tax.”
Osterberg represented Mount Vernon in the Iowa House for a dozen years. He’s the founder of an Iowa City-based think tank that recently issued a report that concluded the voluntary approach to reducing farm chemical run-off isn’t working in Iowa. “The ag community ought to be doing a whole lot more than they are,” Osterberg says. “Cost-share is good, but I think that we ought to get some of the funds for that cost-share program from a tax on fertilizer.”
Billions in state and federal tax dollars have been dedicated to on-the-farm projects that prevent both soil and farm chemical run-off. Other groups are lobbying legislators to raise the state sales tax by a fraction, to finance water quality and outdoor recreation projects. Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake says taxing farm chemicals or raising the state sales tax for ALL purchases won’t happen in a Republican-led legislature. “I have not heard any conversation about increasing a tax,” Upmeyer says.
Upmeyer suggests there are ways to redirect already-existing taxes toward water quality initiatives. “It’s a topic that’s important for Iowans. We’ll continue to look at that. We’ll have a variety of ideas moving forward,” Upmeyer says. She says there may be more federal tax dollars available for farmland conservation projects. And she says the state is already spending about 300-million dollars on water quality activities. Republicans will control the debate agenda in both the House and Senate in 2017.
Improving water quality in the state has been a big topic of discussion this year, and there are already several projects underway testing different methods to improve the runoff from farm fields. Shane Wulf is the project coordinator of the Miller Creek Watershed project in southern Black Hawk and Northern Tama County. It’s one of the eight initial demonstration projects funded by the state Water Quality Initiative.
“We are trying to show off these practices working with some proactive producers who put these practices on the ground in high visibility areas, and then it’s an opportunity for us to have field days, workshops at these practices to show them off to some of your more traditional producers,” Wulf says. He says they have three categories they work with.”Management practices — something like putting a cover crop out there — no till, strip till, some of these different practices that are actually out there in the field,” Wulf says. ” Then we also work with some nutrient management practices like nitrogen application management, nitrification inhibitors, which slow down the process of converting over to nitrate which eventually can be lost through the water. And also, edge of field practices which I would probably argue are among the most innovative new practices that are out there.”
One of those edge of field practices is called a “denitrifying bioreactor.” “It sounds kind of complicated, but it’s essentially just a big pit of wood chips that tile is re-routed into and water flows through and basically comes out on the other end with a reduce number of nitrate concentration,” Wulf explains. Wulf says the goal is to explain how the processes work. He says all the practices are pretty straightforward, but some of the producers are what he calls “pretty darn traditional.” and it’s a big change in their operation. “So that’s why we want to make sure we demonstrate as well as we can and work with them to show that the practices are effective for reducing nitrates and phosphorus, but also to be cost effective as well,” Wulf says.
Wulf says many of the things they are using have been tested at Iowa State University and they are following up to be sure they work in the fields. “We are doing local water monitoring with the Iowa Soybean Association. So bi-weekly I go out and grab tile samples, water samples from in stream and then also from those edge of stream — the bioreactors and buffers — you can collect directly from those practices as well,” Wulf says.
The Miller Creek watershed covers some 42-thousand acres and is 81 percent planted in row crops.
Good weather conditions have led to healthy populations of animals trapped in Iowa for their fur. D-N-R furbearer biologist, Vince Evelsizer, says one animal in particular has flourished. “Raccoon numbers are especially high this year. All populations of the furbearers are stable to slightly increased this year, doing well and fine — except for the gray fox is a little bit low,” Evelsizer says. He is hoping trappers will help manage the raccoon population. “Raccoon numbers are extremely high, so we encourage plenty of trapping and harvesting of them,” according to Evelsizer.
He says trappers should be aware that there has been some distemper in raccoons. There are some signs the animals may be infected. “They may encounter raccoons out in the daylight moving around, usually seem to be kind of stumbling or staggering around oblivious to their surroundings,” Evelsizer says. “If they encounter them, it’s good to go ahead and dispatch them.”Evelsizer says you should take a few precautions for animals which might be infected. “Handle them with gloves and just use common sense when handling them. It has not been found to transfer to humans,” Evelsizer says.
Information from the D-N-R shows the raccoon harvest has varied greatly depending on the price paid for their pelts. The harvest hit an all-time high of 390-thousand-877 in the 1986-87 season, but that declined rapidly in the next three years to 103-thousand-468 as fur prices dropped.
The harvest went back up in the 2010-2011 season to nearly 237-thousand as pelt prices increased, but dropped off to 89-thousand last year as the fur prices dropped again. The average raccoon pelt price last year was four dollars, 53 cents ($4.53), which was about half of the year before.
Sales, revenue, and profits all fell for John Deere as the company reported results for the fourth quarter and its 2016 fiscal year. Deere spokesman Ken Golden says for the year, sales and revenue fell eight percent, and profits dropped 21 per cent. “We’re still in the middle of a global farm recession and on our other big global business, we are having difficult conditions in the construction equipment sector. So when you add up both of those — you have years that are down from previous record years in 2011, 12 and 13,” Golden says.
Despite that, he says it was still one of Deere’s ten best years ever. For this year, the company now predicts sales and revenue will decline just one percent, including a one percent decline for ag equipment. “We’re beginning to see indications that the downturn in large ag is nearing the bottom of cycle,” Golden says, “And so again, we are only predicting a slight decrease in agricultural equipment sales next year.”
Golden says construction equipment sales should increase one percent, thanks to rising housing starts and an improving economy in the U-S. Worldwide net sales for 2016 totaled 26-point-six billion dollars – down two-point-two (2.2) billion dollars from the previous year. Profits fell to one-point-five (1.5) billion dollars — a drop of 400 million dollars.
The Cass County Board of Supervisor’s Wednesday, tabled action on a request from Elite Octane, LLC ethanol plant representatives, for a financial assistance package from the County, until lawyers for the County and Company can come together to present some solid numbers on what the County’s obligations would be. Elite Octane wants to construct an ethanol plant in Cass County, and requests to use property tax revenues generated by the increase in valuation due to construction of the facility (Tax Incremental Finance) for the project.
The Board discussed: the assessed value of the proposed 120 million gallons-per-year facility, which is estimated to be anywhere from $27-to 33-million dollars; taxes generated (estimated $750,000 to $900,000 in new taxes each year); county and city infrastructure expense; legal counsel; and a financial assistance package. The matter was then taken under advisement, with legal counsel for both entities expected to bring more substantial information to the next meeting.
And, while the company requested the Board of Supervisors set Dec. 7th as the date for a public hearing on a financial package, it’s questionable if negotiations can move along that quickly. If all the chips fall into place, the company has promised the creation of 49 new jobs with 45 of them paying more than $18.50 an hour.
In other business, the Cass County Board of Supervisors heard from representatives of the Cass County Agricultural and Educational Association, the Fair Board and the Fair Grounds Committee, who reported on how the money contributed by the county is used. They asked the board to consider an unspecified increase in the annual contribution (currently $58,000). The request was taken under consideration.
And, an organization offered to provide Christmas lights to decorate the evergreen on the northwest area of the courthouse block. The County would need to run power to near the tree and have the lights installed. Lights would remain on the tree year round. A bid was obtained for power installation and hanging of the lights. A motion was made by Duane McFadden, and seconded by Chuck Rieken, to accept the proposal to provide Christmas lights and the bid of $1,500 to install power and hang lights. After discussion and a roll call vote, the motion failed. Gaylor Schelling and Duane McFadden voted in favor, Frank Waters, Chuck Rieken and Mark Wedemeyer voted against it.
The Board also adopted a Resolution abating the taxes, interest and penalties on a parcel of land now owned by the City of Griswold, and as allowable under Iowa Code.