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Ag States See Shifts in Leadership as Trump Fills Positions

Two major ag-producing states are seeing changes in leadership as the Trump administration fills its roster.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was officially confirmed by the Senate as the U.S. Ambassador to China on May 22, followed by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds (shown at right) taking the oath of office as Iowa’s 43rd governor. In Indiana, Governor Eric Holcomb was elected last November to fill the seat vacated by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Raised on a central Iowa farm, Reynolds brings a strong agricultural background to the job, focusing on trade and continuing Iowa’s efforts toward enhancing water quality.

As Lt. Governor, Reynolds conducted six overseas trade missions and has already scheduled an unprecedented trip to China in July that includes a delegation of more than 20 Iowa agricultural leaders. A similar trip to Israel is planned for September.

“The Iowa brand is meaningful and carries to all markets across the world,” Reynolds said in a press conference announcing the trip. “Growing markets ultimately improves Iowa’s economy, and you do that by building relationships and meeting customers in their countries to better understand their needs.” It is estimated one in six Iowa jobs is tied to trade.

Reynolds, like Branstad before her, has put ag jobs high on the economic development list, recruiting ag business and industry, and promoting the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiative in Iowa schools.

Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a comprehensive effort to reduce nutrients in surface water, Iowa waterways, and the Gulf of Mexico, is centered on practical solutions for ag producers. The partnership of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is spearheaded by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Land Stewardship Bill Northey, with backing from the administration, which led the Legislature to allocate $10.5 million beginning with fiscal year 2018.

“That’s a significant investment,” says Northey. Cover crops, buffer strips, and tile lines that prevent nitrogen and phosphorus loss are often completed through cost-share programs. More than 20% of Iowa farmers have adopted the use of cover crops over the past six years, covering 600,000 of Iowa’s 23 million corn and soybean acres. And Iowa leads the nation in the use of grassy strips in fields to prevent runoff. “We are making progress, and a commitment by the Governor is a big part of that,” says Northey.

Reynolds is also expected to continue to lobby for the Renewable Fuels Standard on behalf of the state’s renewable fuels industry, a crucial market for Iowa’s corn growers, and to continue the state’s investment in fuel supply infrastructure.

Indiana's Ag Policy 

In Indiana, a transportation bill spearheaded by Governor Eric Holcomb (shown at right) has passed the Indiana General Assembly, setting the state down the path to improving rural roads and bridges to enhance ag production. The bill allows all gas tax proceeds to go toward building and maintaining the state’s transportation infrastructure. Estimates put funding at $1.2 billion a year, $350 million of that for rural roads.

“This part of our long-term plan acknowledges that rural economic development is as important as urban development,” says Indiana Department of Agriculture Director Ted McKinney.

The emphasis on transportation infrastructure is a 20-year plan, and McKinney credits previous administrations with setting the stage. “We’re in very good fiscal condition with a $2 billion reserve and AAA bond rating. That gives us the flexibility to look holistically,” he says.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation aggressively recruits ag industry and realizes the need for farmers to transport goods to market and to operate effectively. “They get and understand ag,” says McKinney, who works with the IEDC as a function of his position.

At a January meeting of the Agribusiness Council of Indiana, Governor Holcomb commented, “If we’re going to be a jobs magnet in 20 years, I think it’s going to be driven by the innovations out of the agribusiness sector. We are relentlessly on this hunt to bring even more agribusiness to our state.”

In recent development of a new dairy processing facility in northeast Indiana, Walmart cited infrastructure as a key element in its decision.

That’s in addition to Indiana’s probusiness climate, geographic location, and what McKinney refers to as “Hoosier hospitality.” “We make and grow things here,” says McKinney, “and that includes food and value-added ag products. This transportation bill promoted by this administration will support growth in those areas.”

More Leadership Changes Ahead?

McKinney and Northey have both made the short list for possible USDA positions – McKinney as undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs and Northey as undersecretary for farm production and conservation. Final decisions on those appointments are expected in coming months.

The Indiana director of agriculture is appointed by the governor. In Iowa, the secretary of agriculture and land stewardship is an elected position, next scheduled to appear on the ballot in 2018. Should Northey accept a USDA position, Governor Reynolds is expected to appoint an interim replacement.

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