Growing up on a century farm in Northwest Iowa, my family — like thousands of other Iowa farm families — understand the values of resiliency and a positive outlook. Now, more than ever, I’ve been seeing these values carried out across our agricultural community and leadership at all levels.
Thanks to an “all-hands” commitment to recovery and resilience across our state, we are finally able to see our favorite Main Street shops open again and work on resuming life as almost-normal. Unfortunately, this does not change the fact that for the past three months, the Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on our agriculture sector and caused deep wounds that are going to last for some time.
During this challenging time, Iowa’s elected leadership, such as Governor Reynolds, Senator Ernst, and Senator Grassley have ramped up collaboration with farmers, the private sector, and other government agencies to meet emerging challenges head-on.
As soon as the Coronavirus started causing problems for our critical food supply system, my first priority was to lead our Department through slashing non-essential red tape and providing immediate regulatory relief to food and fuel producers, so they had maximum latitude to deal with the unfolding crisis. Through her steady leadership for our state, Governor Kim Reynolds led from the front on this effort for Iowa businesses and farm families.
We continue to be in a place where managing rapidly changing market realities is critical to ensure the food supply is secure and that we can begin to look toward recovery. Recognizing that this pandemic has placed many of our farmers in unprecedented and tough situations, my team swiftly pulled together a group of industry leaders to stand up the Resource Coordination Center, which continues to help connect producers to technical resources to deal with Coronavirus fallout. It has been my goal to make sure our resilient producers have the resources they need to navigate the litany of local, state, and federal rules and resources out there.
What we also quickly realized was that people across Iowa, rural and urban, farmers and non-farmers, were not content sitting on the sidelines. They witnessed their neighbors struggle with food insecurity, and farmers grappled with supply chain bottlenecks. Thanks to this spirit of community, we partnered with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, pork producers, and food banks statewide to “Pass the Pork,” and get food from farms to food insecure Iowans’ plates. Lt. Governor Gregg has been critical to this mission. We’re also on target to start “Beef Up Iowa” and “Pack the Pantry” soon, two more programs made possible by industry and community stakeholders that will help farmers and fight food insecurity in our state.
I’ve made it a priority to work with our congressional delegation to secure federal relief for our food and agriculture community. USDA subsequently has committed to $3 billion in agriculture commodity purchases that went directly to Iowa families facing food insecurities and kept operations moving as restaurants, schools, hotels, and other major food buyers shuttered their doors.
Federal resources that Senators Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst, and Governor Reynolds fought to make available have also been key in administering state level emergency relief. One of these efforts, the Disposal Assistance Program for hog farmers, kept many producers from facing financial ruin as supply chains backed up and processing temporarily shut down in April and May. I will continue to push USDA for assistance for those who were not covered in the initial rounds of relief support, including our turkey, egg, and poultry producers.
We’re not out of the weeds yet. As we turn toward the next chapter of an already-difficult 2020, the focus will be on resuming market and trade opportunities for producers and stabilizing the financial health of our farming operations. The Cooperative Interstate Shipment program is one example of a new effort we’ve launched in Iowa to make those interstate sales opportunities a reality for our local meat lockers. We’ll also keep fighting for the renewable fuels market by investing in the infrastructure necessary for Iowans to choose cleaner burning ethanol and biodiesel at the pump and defending the RFS.
It is an honor to serve as your Secretary of Agriculture, and each day I am deeply grateful for the Iowans who roll up their sleeves and work to support our state’s food and agriculture community in the face of extraordinary adversity. I have been, and will remain committed to making sure the State of Iowa is here to back you up as best we can. With our continued work and collaboration, we can make sure that Iowa food and agriculture regains its footing and plows ahead even stronger than before.