Senator Ernst addresses ag issues

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During the 2014 campaign season, Joni Ernst traveled to all 99 Iowa counties as part of her “Iowa Knows Best” tour, talking to dozens of farmers during her stops.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

When plans were being made for our annual Farm and Field special section, I contacted U.S. Senator Joni Ernst through her press office with a list of ag-related questions. I’m pleased to share her answers here instead of the special section. Our Farm and Field section is inserted in this week’s Trader. Copies are also available at the Register office.
 

Register: The Iowa Legislature just passed legislation to help with revenue for needed road and bridge repairs in rural Iowa. Do you see any additional federal funding help coming as well?
 

Senator Ernst: We must ensure that Iowa has the funding needed to build and repair roads, bridges and other important infrastructure projects which help get our agricultural products to market. Making sure the Highway Trust Fund is funded in a timely and sustainable fashion is an important component. Additionally, the federal government should not mandate to Iowa how best to spend money for these projects. Instead, states should have more flexibility to fit their most pressing needs and I am committed to working toward that goal.
 

Register: Local farmers are telling me that they are delaying machinery purchases partially due to Congress not extending the Section 179 expense method for taxes. Deere has already laid off workers as well. When will Congress act on this?
 

Senator Ernst: Extending Section 179 is a commonsense policy that enables farmers to write off qualifying expenses or upgrades to machinery. This is especially beneficial to farmers who require heavy investment in equipment and ongoing adoption of new technology. We need timely consideration of a Section 179 extension to provide greater stability in Iowa’s agriculture industry. Last month, the US House of Representatives approved a permanent extension of higher Section 179 expensing levels, enabling Iowa farmers to write off up to $500,000 in qualifying expenses. I hope that the Senate will soon take up this issue and work toward providing stability for all of those using this important part of our tax code.
 

Register: You voiced strong support for ethanol during the campaign. How have you promoted ethanol since you’ve been in Washington?
 

Senator Ernst: I invited Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy to Iowa, in part, to understand how inaction on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) impacts our state. It’s important for the EPA to hear and see how their failure to put forth required levels for the RFS could, and have, impacted Iowa’s farmers, biofuel producers, and all of the important related industries.
 

I also believe the EPA should not decrease RFS levels as they proposed, which would negatively impact Iowa’s critical ethanol and biodiesel industries. I have joined many of my Senate colleagues pushing back in a bi-partisan manner on the EPA’s 2014 RFS level proposal. Instead of pursuing a harmful proposal that discourages investment in the advanced biofuels sector, the EPA must fully implement the RFS levels  to support the renewable fuel sector in Iowa and industries nationwide.”
 

Register: Farmers tell me that the new farm program is complicated and confusing. Do you feel this program addresses the needs of rural America?
 

Senator Ernst: As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, we recently heard testimony on how the first year of farm bill implementation is going – including the direct impact on Iowa. I will continue working to streamline this process and identify areas for greater efficiency. Federal supports for farming are important to help deal with year-to-year variations that naturally occur in the industry. I am committed to helping Iowa’s farmers, rural communities and agriculture industry continue to thrive.”
 

Register: Is agriculture losing clout in Congress? If it is, is this a detriment for general economic development in rural areas?
 

Senator Ernst: I am honored to serve alongside Senator Grassley on the Senate Agriculture Committee who has been a tireless advocate for the agriculture industry. Within the Agriculture Committee, I also chair the Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy. Our focus is on improving the quality of life for Iowa farmers – and farmers across the country – as well as identifying ways to innovate and enhance our agricultural industry. We will work to promote measures that will help strengthen our rural communities through job growth, energy innovation and economic development
 

Farmers across Iowa are proud of the essential role they play in our daily lives and what they do for our economy, which is why it is so important that we make sure Washington is listening to the needs of our agriculture industry. It accounts for over $750 billion in economic activity and supports one out of every eleven jobs in the U.S. economy. Iowa is a leader with nearly 90 percent of our land supporting the agriculture industry. Agriculture is absolutely key in Iowa and to our country, and I remain committed to ensuring our farmers and rural communities have the tools they need to be successful.
 

Register: Anything else you’d like to add regarding agriculture?
 

Senator Ernst: It is also important that we encourage more free trade and work to eliminate trade barriers in places such as Europe and the Pacific. Opening these markets for more free trade would enable us to sell more of what we grow here overseas, boosting our ag exports, manufacturing, earnings, and ultimately creating more jobs here at home.
 

Editor’s note: Clayton County Supervisor Ron McCartney contributed to this article.

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