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Independent Senator Blasts Farm Bureau Over Water Quality Legislation

John Pemble/IPR
Sen. David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan)

The state’s largest agriculture organization, the Iowa Farm Bureau, came in for bitter criticism in the Iowa Senate, one day after a Farm Bureau-backed water quality bill gained final passage in the Iowa House.   

Iowa is under pressure to reduce nitrates and phosphorus in waterways by 45 percent.

It's a Farm Bureau water quality bill.- Sen. David Johnson

The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature, spends $282 million over the next 12 years, or about $27 million a year, to meet Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

But some experts put the cost of cleaning nutrients out of the water at $4 billion.

Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan left the Republican Party last year to become an Independent.   

On the Senate floor, he harshly criticized the bill.

“We have done nothing but spit in the river that looks like chocolate milk,” Johnson said.  “It's a Farm Bureau water quality bill."

Farmers are taking on the challenge of improving water quality. -Farm Bureau Pres. Craig Hill

“Don't forget it,” he added.   “And don't forget who's bought this chamber.”

Some Republicans, along with most Democrats in the House, backed an alternative bill favored by environmentalists.    

The bill would have targeted money where the most improvements can be made, and where results can be measured.

Materials distributed at Farm Bureau meetings warned farmers about the effects of the alternative bill.

The materials said the alternative bill would include a property tax expansion, increase agriculture’s vulnerability to clean water lawsuits, and give other entities access to farmer’s cost-share dollars.

In House debate Tuesday, without specifically naming the Farm Bureau, Rep. Charles Isenhart (D-Dubuque) said advocates for the Farm Bureau-backed bill grossly distorted their alternative bill.

“Grossly distorted what it does in order to build up local pressure on us as individual legislators to take what I considered a watered-down water bill,” Isenhart said.

They held campaign cash over people's heads. -Rep. Chip Baltimore

“They held campaign cash over people’s heads,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore (R-Boone) in comments off the floor, regarding the Farm Bureau’s aggressive lobbying.

On Tuesday, the farm group did not respond to the House criticism.  

“Farmers are taking on the challenge of improving water quality, and we are excited to have the support of the governor and Legislature as we continue this important conversation,” Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Hill wrote in a statement after the bill passed the House.

“I don’t think the Farm Bureau should be running this state,” Johnson said.

A statement from Gov. Reynolds said a bill-signing ceremony will be held at a later date.