Iowa’s congressional candidates answer questions on agriculture

By: - November 3, 2022 6:01 pm

Iowa's candidates for U.S. Senate and House answer questions about farm policy and renewable energy. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The 2022 midterm election comes at a crucial time for agriculture, as those who are elected to Congress will help shape the nation’s next farm bill.

That legislation, which is renewed about every five years, determines federal insurance support for farmers and conservation incentives, among other programs.

And the election could alter Iowa’s representation on committees that are the first to consider legislation about farming and other aspects of the industry.

Longtime Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, serves on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. If he is defeated, his challenger Mike Franken, a Democrat, could be assigned to the committee by his fellow Democrats. Iowa’s other Republican senator, Joni Ernst, is also on the committee.

Incumbent Reps. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, and Randy Feenstra, a Republican, serve on the House Agriculture Committee. It’s unclear whether Republicans would assign two representatives from Iowa to the committee if Axne is defeated by challenger Zach Nunn, a Republican. Currently, there are three states with two Republican ag committee members, but they all represent much more populous states: Georgia, Illinois and Texas.

Agriculture is the fourth-largest industry in Iowa, according a state analysis of federal data. Its $17.7 billion output accounts for about 10% of the state’s annual gross domestic product.

The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, citing a report commissioned by food and agricultural groups, says the true economic impact of agriculture is more than $200 billion.

The Biden administration is pumping billions of dollars into agriculture and its related industries to promote conservation practices and to alter the food supply chain by expanding the number of smaller producers and processors, among other initiatives.

Iowa Capital Dispatch surveyed the state’s Democratic and Republican candidates for the U.S. House and Senate about ethanol, carbon pipelines, government regulations, renewable energy and what they view as the greatest threats to agriculture.

Among their biggest concerns: Trade, regulation, consolidation, climate change, crop diversity, inflation, foreign animal disease and the federal safety net for farmers.

Here are the thoughts of: U.S. Senate candidates Chuck Grassley, the Republican incumbent, and Mike Franken, a Democrat; 1st Congressional District candidates Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the Republican incumbent, and Christina Bohannan, a Democrat; 2nd Congressional District candidates Ashley Hinson, the Republican incumbent, and Liz Mathis, a Democrat; 3rd Congressional District candidates Cindy Axne, the Democratic incumbent, and Zach Nunn, a Republican; and 4th Congressional District candidates Randy Feenstra, the Republican incumbent, and Ryan Melton, a Democrat.

Editor’s note: Some of the responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Q: What do you see as the biggest threats to agriculture, and what will you do about them?

U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, attended the Republican 4th Congressional District convention in Carroll on April 23, 2022. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Grassley: The biggest threats to agriculture are foreign animal diseases, lack of comprehensive trade agreements, and federal government mandates that add regulation to everyday decision-making on farms.

I have supported adding additional personnel to the border to stop any packages that may contain foreign animal disease. This Congress I introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Tina Smith called the Healthy Dog Importation Act, which requires all imported dogs to have a certificate of veterinary inspection from a licensed veterinarian. The health certificate must certify the dog has received all required vaccinations and demonstrated negative test results. This would ensure that dogs are not bringing in foreign animal disease. I am also a cosponsor of Sen. Joni Ernst’s Beagle Brigade Act of 2022, which provides authorization for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s training center that trains beagles to sniff out foreign animal disease.

Trade is a key component of U.S. agriculture since 95% of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States. Our farmers are the most efficient in the world, and we must continue to have an aggressive trade strategy that achieves market access in strategic countries, including the need to maintain good relations with countries in the Indo-Pacific region. The Biden administration is uninterested in pursuing free trade, and I am concerned our farmers are losing out on access and the United States is losing influence around the world. I have pushed to fill two critical trade positions that have been left vacant at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and USDA. We’re nearly two years into the Biden administration, what’s the hold up?

When it comes to regulatory burdens that farmers face, I am concerned the Biden administration is attempting to add more red tape into day-to-day decisions. Remember, farmers are small business owners and the more time they are spending on mandatory federal paperwork, the less time they have to produce food for the people of the United States and around the world. Not only is the Securities Exchange Commission considering a rule to mandate farmers keep track of their greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA is attempting a rewrite of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. Under the Obama administration, WOTUS would have regulated up to 97% of Iowa as a federal water of the United States.

Michael Franken won the Democratic nomination for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat. (Photo courtesy of the Franken campaign)

Franken: The biggest threat to agriculture is the status quo and our “Get Big or Get Out” policies. The consolidation of our family farms and agricultural sector in Iowa pose a massive threat to the future of the industry in our state. Under Sen. Grassley’s tenure in Washington, we have seen the number of farms in Iowa cut in half. This is not sustainable, especially when land is selling at record-high prices and Iowans are competing with out-of-state and corporate interests to break into the market. I’d like to see a farm bill that encourages regional food production, the production of new crops like cannabis and opens new markets for farmers. I’d also like to finally enforce our antitrust laws so that family farmers aren’t squeezed out by large, multinational corporations.

1st Congressional District

Miller-Meeks: Two of the biggest threats to agriculture are overregulation from Washington, D.C. and rising input costs. For example, the Biden administration’s Waters of the United States rule gives the Environmental Protection Agency unprecedented power to regulate farmlands. The Biden administration has also proposed changes to stepped-up basis and estate taxes that will make it difficult for families to pass on their farms to the next generation. I led the fight against the Biden administration’s WOTUS rule, and I joined my colleagues in Congress in stopping the Biden administrations’ efforts to eliminate stepped-up basis and increase estate taxes.

The rising cost of inputs like fuel and fertilizer is an enormous concern. I have been advocating for American energy independence, which will lower the cost of fuel and end our dependence of foreign energy sources. We need to reduce barriers to domestic energy production, including oil, natural gas and ethanol. We also need to take steps to reduce the high cost of fertilizer. I have joined my colleagues in Congress in pushing the Biden administration to take any and all steps necessary to do so, including reducing or eliminating tariffs on phosphate fertilizer, increasing natural gas production, and utilizing existing U.S. Department of Agriculture authorities to support farmers who face financial difficulties.


Bohannan
: I think there are two main threats to agriculture right now: threats posed by climate change and threats posed by lack of support for our farmers. With increasingly unpredictable weather it is much harder for farmers to guarantee the success of their crops from year to year. We must address climate change to ensure that Iowa can continue to thrive as an agricultural state. Additionally, we must make sure that farmers are able to make a living doing such important work by making sure farmers are getting fair trade deals and adequate state and federal protection.

2nd Congressional District

Hinson: The biggest challenges facing our agriculture industry right now are high input and energy costs – some farmers have told me their input costs have risen by 300%. That isn’t sustainable, and it is the direct result of President Biden’s and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reckless spending. Farming is an energy intensive industry, and high energy costs are hurting our agriculture industry. I will continue working to reduce inflation and ramp up domestic energy production so that farmers have relief from sky-high costs.

Mathis: My parents used to lay awake at night worrying about the weather. There have been many advancements in farming techniques since, but that worry hasn’t changed. The next farm bill must meet the challenges of weather disasters, higher operation prices and animal disease. Crop insurance protects more than 100 types of crops throughout the U.S., and we must make certain that Iowa’s corn and soybean farmers are protected when drought, rain or high winds hit; livelihoods are at stake. As a state legislator, I served on the Agriculture Committee and Agriculture Appropriations and advocated for protections from animal diseases such as African Swine Fever. I’ll continue that work in Congress.

3rd Congressional District

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, talks with constituents at a Woodward farm on Aug. 18, 2022. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch.)

Axne: I believe the climate crisis is the biggest threat to agriculture. Farmers know all too well they can’t control the weather, but unfortunately we know our climate is becoming even more unpredictable and erratic. Just here in Iowa, we have seen four derechos in recent years, generational flooding becoming common, and increasingly prevalent droughts. While I fought hard to secure disaster relief for Iowa farmers, these disasters will only become more severe and common.

These are among the many reasons I supported the Inflation Reduction Act, which provided the largest investment ever in renewable energy to reduce our emissions, including over $20 billion for conservation programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Not only will the Inflation Reduction Act create nearly a million new good-paying jobs, but it will cut our emissions by over a billion metric tons, lower household energy costs by roughly $200 a year, and reduce the deficit by $300 billion. The law also includes my legislation to provide $500 million for biofuels infrastructure to expand the availability of E15 and higher blends of biofuels across the nation.

While we need to reduce input prices by incentivizing more domestic production and expand more local and regional processing opportunities for producers to have more options and leverage when selling their products, the climate crisis is the single largest threat to American agriculture and our ability to feed and fuel the world for generations to come. I’ll continue to support policies that work with farmers to implement conservation programs, create climate smart market opportunities, and reduce input costs and emissions through increased efficiencies.

State Sen. Zach Nunn is a Republican from Altoona. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Legislature)

Nunn: The biggest threat right now to Iowa farmers is out of touch Washington, D.C., bureaucrats. Iowans feed and fuel the world, something that hardworking farmers take pride in, and right now it’s almost impossible for them to do their jobs. Because of Democrats’ massive spending and shutdown of American energy, inflation is at 8.2%, the highest it’s been in 40 years. Diesel is at an all-time high, reaching well over $5 a gallon. Fertilizer costs have doubled. Our farmers cannot keep up with the rising cost of production and are losing out on major profits.

In Congress, I will be a voice for every Iowa farmer. I’m proud to have received the Iowa Farm Bureau’s endorsement with support from 160,000 Iowa farmers. In the Iowa Senate, I have a proven track record of prioritizing Iowa’s 87,000-plus farms. We’ve been a leader in Iowa — we’ve ended the death tax to make sure farmers keep more of their retirement money and inheritance money tax-free. We’ve created tax cuts for investments in farms. We’ve created incentives for new and young farmers. It’s time to take Iowa’s success and bring it to Washington, D.C.

4th Congressional District

Feenstra: The clearest threats to our agriculture sector in Iowa remain government red tape, non-existent trade agreements, and tax-policy uncertainty. First, the federal government needs to give Iowa farmers the freedom to plant, harvest and grow the most affordable and abundant food supply in the world. That’s why I am supportive of eliminating over-burdensome regulations like WOTUS that do not protect our waters but only cause headaches for our producers and their families.

Second, the Biden administration has done nothing to advance our trade interests abroad or establish strong trade relationships with the outside world. With a record $183.5 billion in agricultural exports this year alone, we must ensure that our rural communities have a seat at the table when negotiating trade deals to open foreign markets and sell their quality product to the world. I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and our allies globally to allow our producers to sell their goods internationally.

Finally, our farmers and their families deserve certainty and consistency when it comes to federal tax policy. In response to President Biden’s proposed tax hikes on our farmers, I led 87 of my colleagues demanding that he abandon his plans to cap like-kind exchanges, which would raise taxes on our farmers and producers, disincentivize economic investment in rural America, and force thousands of family farms to shut down their operations in Iowa and across the country.

I have also worked to to protect step-up in basis. This common-sense measure ensures that generations of family farmers and producers can pass their land, farm equipment and other assets on to their children and grandchildren – keeping our family farming traditions alive in Iowa and the Midwest. Regrettably, the Biden administration is failing to recognize the detrimental impact their proposals will have on America’s heartland. I am working to stop his radical, out-of-touch agenda.

Melton: We have a lot of farmland owned right now by those 65 years and older. As such, we’re going to have a massive transfer of farmland, and more young people are leaving rural Iowa, unwilling to live in communities where there is declining socioeconomic opportunity. We need to stop the population declines that are hollowing out rural Iowa so we can keep our people and our talent here, or else our farmland will go to big-monied investors that I worry will have less care for long-term land stewardship and more care for squeezing whatever profit they can out of the land while they can.

We also need to reduce the massive barriers to entry for first-time farmers in this context, as land prices, farm equipment, fertilizer costs and others keep most out of the industry who don’t have a family connection to it. We also need to push back against the corporate consolidation of power that is squeezing farmers on both the input and output sides by leveraging anti-trust and other instruments. We need to give our farmers more ability to control the processing of their commodities and their sale so they have more control over price point. I think climate change is arguably the biggest threat to our ag future for obvious reasons, and I’m rather worried that we’re seeing unsustainable rates of topsoil erosion and water availability that will eventually put ag on perilous footing as well.

Q: Should farm conservation practices be voluntary, mandatory or a mixture of both?

U.S. Senate

Grassley: Conservation practices should be voluntary. Every inch of Iowa farmland requires a different approach, and having a one-size-fits-all mandatory policy would simply not work. Farmers live by the creed that they want to pass down the farm to their son or daughter, even better than they found it when it was entrusted to their care.

Franken: First, every acre of land is different. I don’t want to see a one-size-fits-all, mandatory structure. Overall, I want the farmer to decide what’s best for his or her land and incentivize practices that will make their farmlands healthy for the next generation.

1st Congressional District

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, speaks during
a debate with state Rep. Christina Bohannan at Iowa PBS in Johnston, on Sept. 26, 2022. (Pool photo by Zachary Boyden-Holmes/Courtesy of Iowa PBS)

Miller-Meeks: Farm conservation practices should be predominantly voluntary. Incentive based, farmer- or landowner-centered practices will yield the most success. Farmers and producers already want to do what is best for the environment and the earth, but it is often cost-prohibitive to be an early adopter of new practices that are more environmentally friendly. Instead of imposing heavy-handed government regulations that will hurt producers and make it more expensive to farm, we should be encouraging and incentivizing them to adopt the best practices. In Iowa, I know our farmers are already taking innovative steps to conserve our lands, and they do not need the government to create burdensome red tape for them to do so.

Bohannan: Iowa’s rich farmland is one of our most valuable and cherished resources. It is crucial to our economy and plays an integral part in the food systems of our country and around the world. In order to keep this precious resource we must enlist everyone in the fight to protect our environment, including farmers. That being said, I feel like sometimes the government has a tendency to regulate first and ask questions later. So many of our farmers understand the importance of conserving our farmland but need assistance with the resources and guidance to do so. In Congress, I’ll make sure we’re supporting farmers in conserving their land, rather than imposing strict mandates on them.

2nd Congressional District

U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson is an Iowa Republican from Marion. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Legislature)

Hinson: Farmers are the best stewards of their own land – not the government. I will continue working on policies that empower farmers and landowners with conservation tools. The House recently passed my bipartisan PRECISE Act, legislation that allows farmers to more easily access precision agriculture technology — a tool to improve conservation efforts while lowering inputs — through USDA programs they already know and trust.

Mathis: Like my dad who was the first no-till farmer in the 1970s in Clinton County, farmers know that high yields and profitability are a direct outcome of high-quality, well-preserved soil. When it comes to conversations about agriculture and conservation, farmers need to be at the head of the table when making policy decisions. We also need to invest in programs to promote and improve soil and water health throughout the state, including education and financial and technical assistance.

3rd Congressional District

Axne: I’m looking forward to working on the 2023 farm bill and building upon the success of the voluntary conservation programs. Family farmers are some of the best conservationists – taking care of the land is critical to the success of future generations, and Congress should be supporting voluntary programs that will help farmers implement practices that work best for their individual fields. Programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – which helps producers implement various conservation practices – has assisted thousands of farmers on over 11 million acres of land since 2018. In fact, there were nearly as many applications approved but unable to be funded as there were applications funded. The Inflation Reduction Act provided additional funds to address this backlog, but it shows voluntary programs are working and we should continue to invest and build upon that success.

Nunn: Iowa farmers are leaders in land conservation. There is no better caretaker of our land. Farmers don’t need to be told how to farm their land. D.C. is already overburdening our farmers with tough federal mandates and harming their practices with skyrocketing inflation and costs. We must give the farmers the tools they need to preserve our land and get government out of the way.

4th Congressional District

U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, attended the Republican 4th Congressional District convention in Carroll on April 23, 2022. (Photo by Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Feenstra: As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I am meeting with Iowa farmers, energy producers, and other agricultural organizations to hear their concerns and include their priorities in a strong farm bill that benefits Iowa. In terms of conservation practices, I will be particularly focused on Title 2, which is the conservation title of the farm bill. I support voluntary conservation programs that provide incentives to Iowa farmers while they continue to feed and fuel our country and the world.

We need to make the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) more flexible for our farmers so that they can continue to use their land for grazing and other activities deemed acceptable by local Farm Service Agencies (FSAs). This includes giving local FSAs greater latitude in appropriating CRP funds and determining how decommissioned land can be most effectively used in the meantime.

Melton: A mixture of both. I’m leery of overregulation here because farmers already have a number of cost and price factors they can’t control, so many don’t have the financial wiggle on the margins to upgrade equipment, tech, etc. to meet new regulations. If you overregulate, more farmers will leave, which is the last thing we need. We need more farmers and more farm workers to build a more economically and ecologically sustainable system. I think we need to provide incentives and transitionary funding to help farmers move toward more sustainable ag practices. I think we need to explore tying our ag subsidy programs to bringing about more sustainable ag practices.

Q: What is the future of corn-based ethanol, and what will you do to support it or to help farmers transition away from it?

U.S. Senate

Grassley: When it comes to domestic energy policy, economies around the world are looking for two things, domestic energy security and reducing carbon emissions. It is for these reasons that I believe the future of corn-based ethanol is bright. Domestic biofuel producers are both energy secure and have been steadily lowering the carbon footprint of biofuels including corn-based ethanol for decades.

I will continue to support a robust Renewable Fuel Standard as I have led the charge in Congress to expand homegrown biofuels, including my support for the Biodiesel Tax Credit. I have recently introduced the Next Generation Fuels Act, which requires car manufacturers to design cars to allow higher quality gasoline products by using ethanol that helps improve air quality and lowers carbon emissions.

There will be more internal combustion engines on the road around the world in 20 years than today with population increases in the Indo-Pacific and across the African continent. The only way to reduce carbon emissions from these vehicles is to use low-carbon biofuels. In order to achieve carbon reductions and improve domestic energy security, we need an all-of-the-above strategy, including biofuels.

Franken: If you ask anyone in the ethanol industry — “Where do you see corn-based ethanol in 20 years?’’ — you’ll be hard pressed to get a consistent answer. For the foreseeable future, we know renewable fuels are important to the rural economy and to our goal to combat climate change. In fact, CARB (California Air Resource Board) said that if we want to get to carbon neutral, renewable fuels have to be part of the equation. As a retired vice admiral of the U.S. Navy, I know there’s a future for renewable fuels in marine and aviation fuel. Additionally, we are seeing more uses for the byproducts of renewable fuels. One thing is for certain: Big Oil has always seen renewable fuels as a threat. We can’t allow them to dictate the terms of renewable fuels.

1st Congressional District

Miller-Meeks: Corn-based ethanol and Iowa-made biofuels have proven that liquid fuels can and should be a part of our transportation sector into the future. Biofuels have already been proven to meaningfully reduce emissions in our transportation sector. In 2021 in Iowa, the biofuels sector was responsible for over 40,000 jobs, added over $5 billion to the GDP, and added $2.5 billion to household income. I will continue to support our biofuels industry and push for policies that provide opportunities for our farmers and producers, such as allowing sales of year-round E15 and looking at new markets such as sustainable aviation fuel.

State Rep. Christina Bohannan is a Democrat from Iowa City and candidate in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Legislature)

Bohannan: Corn-based ethanol is a crucial part of Iowa’s economy and will continue to be so going forward. I support ethanol, not just as an extremely important element of the state economy but also as a possible way to reduce carbon emissions. I support the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, the Next Generations Fuels Act, and passing the farm bill. I also want to see increased research done in this area to continue to grow the efficiency and sustainability of the industry, as well as to expand ethanol production to new markets.

2nd Congressional District

Hinson: Ethanol production is not only critical to Iowa’s agriculture economy, but it should be front and center in an all-of-the-above energy strategy for our country. I’m proud to have championed our biofuels industry in Congress and will continue to work across the aisle on behalf of Iowa’s ethanol producers. I spearheaded legislation to allow for the sale of E15 year-round and was one of seven Republicans to vote for this bill in the House – I will always put the needs of Iowa agriculture first and advocate for Iowa ethanol.

I am also working to make sure biofuels are an integrated part of a more sustainable future. We must continue to push for higher blends to be available at the pump, to bring costs down for consumers and help our environment at the same time. It’s important that the government recognizes the value and environmental benefits provided by corn-based ethanol and biodiesel — without relying on foreign adversaries like China for electric vehicle parts — and I have pushed for more accurate modeling to demonstrate this. I am also enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by sustainable aviation fuel and believe we must look to the skies for the future of ethanol. I will continue to help farmers be successful in their work to feed and fuel the world, and from my post on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, I will always make sure that farmers have a seat at the table and can access the support they need.

State Sen. Liz Mathis is a Democrat from Hiawatha. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Legislature)

Mathis: We need to do everything we can to lower gas prices for Iowans, and E15 being sold nationwide year round is helping. I was raised on a farm and understand how important it is to open new markets to farmers and ensure fair corn prices. When our corn growers and ethanol industry are thriving, communities all across Iowa are strengthened. I will fight to defend and renew key tax measures that support our ethanol industry as well as an effective renewable fuel standard that can lower gas prices and ensure strong markets.

3rd Congressional District

Axne: The future for ethanol is bright as we continue to invest in new innovations to address the climate crisis. The Inflation Reduction Act, for example, includes a new tax credit to help jumpstart the new sustainable aviation fuel industry. The aviation industry is one of the hardest to decarbonize, but by using sustainable aviation fuel, we can significantly reduce our emissions through a clean and domestic source of fuel produced right here in Iowa and across the Midwest.

While the Renewable Fuel Standard helped create a 15-billion-gallon market for ethanol, the tax credit established in the Inflation Reduction Act will result in ethanol being a leading feedstock for the jet fuel market — a potential market of over 30 billion gallons of fuel. While this won’t happen overnight, I’m excited about the role ethanol can continue to play to help decarbonize our economy, and as a co-chair of the House Biofuels Caucus, I’ll continue to champion efforts to expand the market for biofuels.

Nunn: Iowa would be nothing without our farmers. I come from a century farm family raising row crop and sheep; I know the importance of ag for our state and families. Ethanol is a critical component of Iowa ag products and equally important to our country in keeping the cost of rising gas prices down. There needs to be less regulation from Washington, D.C. on our farmers, and we need to be able to have enough markets to sell our products. That includes lifting the summertime ban on E15 and creating a strong economic and trade environment to sustain our ethanol production and supply chains. Our farmers work hard and we need to be able to ensure that there is a market for their ethanol products.

4th Congressional District

Feenstra: Iowa produces roughly 4.7 billion gallons of ethanol every year, leading the nation in ethanol production and spearheading the charge to lower gas prices and make our country energy independent again. In fact, 57% of corn grown in Iowa alone — essentially every other row of corn — is used to produce ethanol, making over one-fourth of all ethanol produced in the United States. That’s why I voted to allow year-round E15 sales, bolster biofuels production in Iowa, and establish an E15 tax credit. As a strong advocate for our corn farmers and ethanol producers, I will continue to work to strengthen our family farms, protect the Renewable Fuel Standard, and prevent burdensome government red tape from destroying our agriculture industry in Iowa.

Ryan Melton is a Democrat running in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Melton)

Melton: In the mid and long term, corn ethanol markets will decline as we see an increase in electrification. More governmental entities will look at the accruing science showing that corn ethanol is not the silver bullet climate mitigation solution and amplify the push toward electrification. As such, I think we should begin the transition to next generation renewable energy beyond corn ethanol while preserving corn ethanol to an extent, because no politician or scientist can say right now what will ultimately be the silver bullet when it comes to both sufficient climate change mitigation and filling the void that will come when we hit our extractable fossil fuel end point.

Corn ethanol has its place in transportation sectors that are harder to electrify, but we need to stop more firmly entrenching our farmers in a shrinking business model. We need to invest in our farmers in ways that are more ecologically and economically sustainable, by sufficiently funding non-corporate biased research to develop new innovations and markets that will help our farmers succeed long term.

Q: Are carbon pipelines essential to ethanol’s future, and do you support eminent domain to build them on farmland?

U.S. Senate

Grassley: Carbon pipelines will likely play an important role in lowering carbon emissions from ethanol. As a lifelong family farmer, I understand concerns that farmers have in protecting their farmland. The Iowa Legislature has given the Iowa Utilities Board authority over granting eminent domain for things like electric transmission lines and underground pipelines. So, the decision to grant eminent domain or not is outside my jurisdiction as a U.S. senator.

Franken: I support moving Iowa and the nation’s energy supply to a carbon-negative future. Carbon excess can be used for many productive things that move toward that goal, but this pipeline moves carbon as a mode of profit for large, out-of-state corporate entities and hurts Iowa landowners by forcing them to lose property. The proposed carbon capture pipeline through much of rural Iowa is a state-level issue. If the pipeline is approved by the state of Iowa, however, any jobs created must be filled by Iowa’s union workers. Those workers must be assured enhanced workplace safety measures and appropriate personal protective equipment in order to do their work safely.

1st Congressional District

Miller-Meeks: Carbon dioxide is only one of the byproducts of ethanol production, and the carbon pipelines being proposed open an additional market to ethanol producers for this byproduct. I have supported tax credits for carbon sequestration and storage projects and I believe that projects like these provide opportunities for biofuels to be net carbon negative. I strongly support the voluntary acquisition, respecting rights of landowners to negotiate voluntary deals with these companies acknowledging restoration of the land and adjacent farmland that may be affected. While eminent domain is a state issue and not a federal issue, I would strongly encourage continued voluntary negotiation.

Bohannan: While I am incredibly supportive of expanding markets for ethanol and am supportive of year-round ethanol as a way to lower fuel costs, I have some concerns about the use of eminent domain for these projects. As a law professor, I have studied property rights and do not think that this project is an appropriate taking for a public use. I have also personally felt the effects of eminent domain. My grandparents had a farm that was affected by eminent domain, and it resulted in significantly decreasing the economic value of the farm. I think it is important to protect Iowa farmland and be sparing in our use of eminent domain, especially when it is for a corporate use and not a public one.

2nd Congressional District

Hinson: I’ve heard from a lot of Iowans who are passionate about this issue, and rightly so. I have heard from farmers who worry about the viability of ethanol and the ability of the next generation to make a living doing what they love. I have also heard from landowners deeply concerned about protecting their family farm that they’ve had for generations. I am very leery of eminent domain. Landowners need to be respected, and that is why we have a robust process in place to weigh these projects on their merits and protect individual rights. I encourage everyone to continue making their voice heard, and I’ll continue to engage in these important conversations with Iowans.

Mathis: I believe pipeline companies should be able to work with farmers who wish to participate and gain voluntary easements. Eminent domain should only be used very sparingly and when the public interest, not private profit, is the greatest beneficiary. However, I also believe there should more funding for research into ways to efficiently sequester carbon at the source.

3rd Congressional District

Axne: No, I don’t support the use of eminent domain for this project. We shouldn’t be forcing farmers to hand over their land to the benefit of wealthy corporations. Eminent domain should only be used in rare circumstances for the greater public good, and I do not think this project meets that threshold. Farmland should be used for farming, not permanently disrupted for this project. Additionally, I have significant concerns on the safety of the proposal and how the pipeline may affect thousands of acres of farmland and the surrounding communities should an issue occur. I’ve been incredibly impressed with the innovation within the ethanol industry and I know they will continue to play an important role in reducing our carbon emissions, but I do not support eminent domain in this case.

Nunn: As a country, we need to focus on getting back to energy independence. A component of energy independence is making sure farmers’ goods like ethanol and biodiesel can get to product areas. Pipelines are a good way to move Iowa goods across America in a way that is safe and far more economically and environmentally friendly in the long run – but eminent domain being used by private entities is something we need to be incredibly cautious about. We should first utilize public or federal lands before cutting across Iowans’ land and not offering market values. Secondly, there needs to be transparency in pricing so one farmer or landowner isn’t pitted against another. Ultimately, there must be common ground between local officials, farmers, producers, providers and land owners for this to be successful.

4th Congressional District

Feenstra: I am supportive of projects that add value to our agriculture community and ethanol producers but am opposed to the use of eminent domain against farmers and other rural landowners without their explicit consent. This is a conversation that must occur between the company and the farmer where both parties must agree to clear terms.

Melton: I think advocates of the expansion of corn ethanol view carbon pipelines that way, but I don’t support the use of eminent domain to build these pipelines on farmland. I’ve been robustly opposed to this since the start of my campaign. We should not be using eminent domain to take people’s land away to enrich private corporations to entrench our farmers in what will become an ever-shrinking corn ethanol market.

I also find it untenable that these pipelines and carbon sequestration plants in the same orbit have shown to notably underdeliver on their promised carbon capture ability. I think we should be spending funds not on entrenching us in a status quo that’s clearly not working when it comes to climate change mitigation, topsoil erosion and waterway pollution, but instead on wind, solar, boosting our electricity grid’s ability to absorb more asks as electrification increases, and developing next generation renewable biofuels like cellulosic ethanol and others that are shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions much more effectively. We need to be much more diversified to prepare for the uncertainty of our future.

Q: Do you support restrictions for where solar panels and wind turbines can be constructed, particularly in regard to high-quality farmland?

U.S. Senate

Grassley: Siting decisions are made at the local level, so this question is outside my jurisdiction as a U.S. senator. If there was a proposed federal ban on siting renewable energy projects on high-quality farmland, I would not support it. Iowa has greatly benefited from wind energy with local tax revenue, and I am proud that over half of Iowa’s electricity generation comes from wind.

Franken: Yes. I support solar and wind production, but we do need to be mindful of neighbors.

1st Congressional District

Miller-Meeks: The protection of property rights of private landowners is extremely important in America, however, not all soil is the same and we must be careful when we take good land that farmers use to feed and fuel the country out of agricultural production. Our state has a vast number of resources that make it ripe for wind and solar projects, but ultimately, I believe it should be left up to the local area and zoning to decide if they want new solar or wind projects on high quality farmland.

Bohannan: Solar panels and wind turbines are important to creating renewable energy in the State of Iowa. However, it is incredibly important to make sure that these sources of energy do not come at the sacrifice of Iowa farmland. I support preserving a balance between the property rights of farmers, expanding clean energy production along with the good jobs it can bring, and protecting Iowa farmland to make sure we craft solutions that work for our communities over the long term.

2nd Congressional District

Hinson: Any plans for construction of solar panels or wind turbines on farmland must first and foremost consider the impact on our agricultural community. Farmers and landowners should be at the table for these important conversations. They know the best uses for their land and where and how added renewable energy options make sense without disrupting existing ag production.

Mathis: I believe solar and wind energy companies can work with farmers who wish to participate to gain voluntary easements for these projects. In Congress, I will call for continued research and investment in American agriculture and clean energy, including wind, solar and biofuels, to help us achieve domestic energy independence, tackle the climate crisis and preserve our soil and water resources.

3rd Congressional District

Axne: When I worked in state government, I helped deploy the state’s wind energy program that led to Iowa being the second-largest producer of wind energy in the country. Renewable energy, such as wind or solar, helps secure our domestic energy independence, creates good-paying jobs across the state, reduces energy costs for families, and offers more opportunities for landowners to generate income. I believe we should continue to be investing in all types of renewable energy, but I understand the concerns of local communities, and we should be working with them to address their concerns and find solutions.

Nunn: On the campaign trail, I’ve talked to supervisors in Fremont, Page and Madison counties about solar and wind turbines. For a lot of them, there’s a great opportunity to have wind energy locally, and it’s been successful in creating renewable energy and growing the local economy. But for other folks, they feel that they have no voice in what is happening. Absentee landowners are finding themselves rich, while Iowans find themselves living right next to massive wind farms causing concerns, including taking care of their own land and even health issues. We should return the decision to our county supervisors and local governments for appropriate say in wind turbine and solar placements.

4th Congressional District

Feenstra: The construction of solar panels and wind turbines is a conversation that must occur between the construction company and the private landowner. I am confident that Iowa farmers will best decide when and where they would allow renewable energy infrastructure to be constructed on their land so long as they are adequately compensated and clear terms are agreed to.

Melton: I think these matters should primarily be decided on the local and individual level. Just like I’m not a fan of eminent domain for carbon capture pipelines, I’m not a fan of eminent domain for solar or wind either. I think those that want to lay solar panels or plant wind turbines should be obligated to make a good case to landowners for how they’ll benefit the public good, should make them a good financial deal with annual payments, and should show how the installs will not impact farmland or farm tiling and have rock-solid contracts where they agree to repair such issues if they occur and that can be properly litigated and adjudicated.

I do believe in wind and solar energy. I believe it’s our future. But I also believe in landowner rights, democracy and freedom. So, this should be decided voluntarily, not via government overreach, at the local and individual level. I just think we can make a greater, better case for the public good when making the pitch to install wind turbines and solar panels, and I think that will win out in the end. I think if a farmer has high quality farmland but prefers to plant solar or wind turbines, that should be up to the farmer. It’s their land, after all.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.

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