Feenstra kicks off Agriculture Tour

Monday, March 6, 2023
(Photo by Elijah Helton) U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra announces his Feenstra Agriculture Tour on Wednesday, Feb. 22, in Sioux City. The Republican from Hull is meeting with ag producers in the leadup to the 2023 Farm Bill.

SIOUX CITY—The Feenstra Agriculture Tour planted its first step Wednesday, Feb. 22, as northwest Iowa’s congressman prepares for this year’s Farm Bill.

U.S. Rep. Randy Feenstra visited the Morningside University agriculture department in Sioux City to announce the tour.

“I want meetings like this because I want to know from you what we need in the Farm Bill to unlock trade, conservation and a whole bunch of other issues,” Feenstra said.

The Feenstra Agriculture Tour will have the Republican from Hull travel around Iowa’s 4th District, meeting with farmers, producers and other agribusinesses. He said he wants to hear from constituents in his ag-heavy district to inform what industry policy will look like for the next five years.

The Farm Bill is reauthorized every five years as the cornerstone piece of federal ag legislation. Feenstra sits on two House committees central to the bill, Agriculture and Ways and Means, making him a key lawmaker for the 2023 version.

The congressman highlighted some high-priority areas such as crop insurance and foreign trade, both of which he wants to expand, before taking questions from Morningside students and faculty.

Sophomore ag student Thomas Moss of North Platte, Nebraska, asked about various countries’ hesitance to accept genetically modified corn grown in the United States. What can America do to ensure those markets stay open?

“We can show factual data, we can show research for GMOs, why they are safe and why we’ll need them as we move forward. Look what it’s done for our country, the bushels that we’ve created. Over the last 10 years, our corn went from 150 bushels an acre around here to over 250 bushels an acre. That’s just phenomenal,” Feenstra said.

The congressman shifted the international question to a critique of President Joe Biden, who he argued has not done enough to support American growers.

“What’s happening, unfortunately, the administration is sort of on the sidelines right now, so what we’re seeing is a lot of states starting to get involved. They’re saying ‘OK, if the feds aren’t going to do it, then we as states are going to have unilateral trade deals with China or the U.K. or whatever,’” Feenstra said. “This is a concern for us.”

Professor Thomas Paulsen asked what can be done to support students who are going into farming.

“You’re that new generation of precision farmers, that new generation that will add value to agriculture, that new generation that can figure out better ways to grow product and to make product for the rest of the world to have food,” Feenstra told the few dozen students in attendance.

He also mentioned partisanship’s effect on the Farm Bill.

While many aspects are widely supported and open to discussion, Feenstra mentioned nutrition assistance as a likely fight between the GOP-held House and Democratic-held Senate. Republicans are generally in favor of tightening qualifications for food stamps while Democrats want more people to receive benefits.

He also mentioned carbon credits, a way to mitigate greenhouse gas pollution, and called it “the hot topic” of this year’s Farm Bill. The congressman said he favors a model that targets energy production, a model specified in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, which he voted against.

Feenstra did not name climate change, the impetus for carbon credits, instead pivoting to broader environmental priorities for the Farm Bill.

“How do you create conservation? How do we create added value for our producers who say I want to do a cover crop, I want to do no-till, I want to do these things, but it’s a detriment to me? How do we create the research and then create the application of it where it’s value added to our farming community? That’s what I think this Farm Bill will address in this coming year,” Feenstra said.

The visit also included a tour of Morningside’s new Lags Greenhouse. It includes three rooms: one for aquaponics, one for tower farms and one for general production.

Paulsen, who is head of the ag department, was proud to showcase the hands-on experience his pupils get.

“I’d love to be part of a class,” Feenstra said. “This is the stuff we have to have for the future.”

The Feenstra Agriculture Tour is slated to run into the midyear. The first official stop was at Sorensen Equipment in Harlan later Wednesday, a trip the Feenstra team still took despite the blizzardous conditions.

Feenstra said he foresees the Farm Bill being formally assembled in July and it should be passed sometime in the fall.

“It’s got to be a bipartisan bill, working together and then obviously it’s signed by President Biden,” Feenstra said. “There’s a lot of steps involved. It’s a lot of hearing and then putting it together.”

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