Corn growers look beyond fuel tax to RFS

Source: By Iowa Farmer Today • Posted: Friday, September 4, 2015

DES MOINES — After nearly five years working to increase the state’s fuel tax as a way to fund needed road improvements, the Iowa Corn Growers Association is turning the page. But, it is still in the process of deciding what is on that next page.

“That (the fuel tax) was our top state priority,” explains ICGA President Bob Hemesath. “But there are a number of other issues we care about.”

Among the issues rising up the list for ICGA voting delegates are ways to improve the outlook for ethanol and ways to improve Iowa’s water quality through the voluntary nutrient loss reduction strategy.

One item that drew some discussion during the group’s annual meeting Aug. 29 was the idea of supporting an increase in the state sales tax as a way of funding more water quality improvements.

Iowa voters passed a referendum a few years ago that said the first three-eights of a cent of any sales tax increase would go toward natural resources programs, such as parks and conservation efforts.

Delegates voted for language saying they support a sales tax increase for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund if there are funds made available to implement voluntary practices on agricultural land to improve water quality.

Most ICGA members support Iowa’s voluntary approach to water quality and nutrient loss reduction, Hemesath says, but they also understand such an approach requires more funding from the state and from farmers.

“It’s a long-term concept,” he says.

Meanwhile, ICGA delegates are also concerned about attacks on the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and are looking for ways to improve the market for ethanol.

That will require an educational effort, says Mark Heckman, a Muscatine County farmer who heads the Iowa Corn Promotion Board.

“There is a lot of miss-information out there,” Heckman says. “But on social media, perception is reality.”

On the policy front, Hemesath says, it means support for more blender pumps, for the idea that all fuel dispensers should be E25 capable, and support for more flex-fuel vehicles.

Delegates also discussed whether it would be better to continue Iowa’s present ethanol labels on fuel pumps or to make them voluntary.

“To me, it’s all about transparency,” Hemesath said during the debate. “I think you’re hiding from the consumer what you’ve got. When you’ve got a good product, support it.”

Others disagreed, saying consumers had moved on and the 10-percent ethanol blend was so accepted the labels did little good.

“We’ve moved beyond it and we need to take the label off,” said Darrel McAlexander, a farmer from Sidney.

Delegates eventually voted to support removing the labels from gas pumps, but only after some contentious debate.

Politics is always a part of the delegate discussion. All of the various presidential candidates were invited to speak to the group, but the only one who accepted was Republican Carly Fiorina.

There were also several proposals raised by delegates that were voted down. For example, delegates voted down a proposal to put support behind a federal balanced budget and baseline budgeting.

“We’re a corn organization. We need to focus on the things that are important to corn producers,” explained Mark Recker, a delegate from Arlington.

Another proposal appeared to be a response to some of the organization’s political action committee endorsements of recent elections.

The corn PAC is bi-partisan and focused on how candidates stand on issues such as ethanol. It is presently comprised of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

But, there was a proposal to change that to make it’s composition an equal number of Democrats, Republicans and independents.

That motion failed.