The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the need for more aid to small- and medium-sized meat processors and added work to connect farmers with customers online and at farmers’ markets, Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said Friday.
Naig told the Iowa Farmers Union he called a meat locker to get a steer processed, and the appointment is in November. “Those people have been very, very busy, which we’re happy about for them,” Naig said. “But it also exposes that there’s some capacity challenges and opportunities there.”
The state earmarked nearly $4 million in federal CARES Act grants for equipment and other improvements, and training, at the smaller meat processors, Naig said.
Other CARES Act cash helped with setting up food hubs and connecting farms with school food programs. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg for what’s possible there, so how can we have some strategic investments in that space to continue to build out the local and regional food systems?” Naig asked.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, which Naig runs, also is seeking added funding to fight foreign animal diseases that can wipe out herds.
Naig added that he is talking with lawmakers about:
— Added work to clean waterways and improve soil health.
— Increasing demand for higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel.
— Improving child care and housing for the workforce.
— Expanding high speed broadband service across the state. “None of us needed to be reminded about how important connectivity is whether we are educating from home, learning from home, or just (enjoying) entertainment,” Naig said.
On another topic, an Iowa Farmers Union member noted that farmers get about 15 cents of every food dollar.
Naig said farmers often get a small percentage of the proceeds in the cattle market and even in new efforts to control carbon emissions with farm plantings.
“People are going to benefit all the way through a supply chain,” Naig said. “It’s not a success if the very end of that chain claims the (carbon) credit and then earns all the revenue.”
In the cattle market, where farmers have complained of corporate power, “if we have true visibility in the marketplace, then producers can make decisions based on that reality and hedge accordingly and protect themselves,” Naig said. “But if you’ve got a blindfold on when you’re marketing, you don’t have full access to the information.”
Despite a two-year period that has seen flood, drought and a derecho, Naig said farmers are optimistic about the coming planting season. “As I travel the state, there is a sense of optimism. It’s always a chance for something new, and yet there’s a lot of uncertainty (due to COVID-19 and agriculture policy issues). So that’s dampened just a little bit. Just remember, at the end of the day, there’s a whole bunch of people right here at home and around the world who need the stuff that we produce.”