Agriculture is fighting for its right to maintain solid market share of farm products on two fronts, said Bill Northey, Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture, while addressing members of the agriculture committee of the Growth Alliance at the Farm News Ag Show Thursday morning.
The first is the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement that it may cut back or eliminate the Renewable Fuels Standard and the second is a fight with California that is dictating to other states that eggs sold there must be produced the California way.
The RFS is important to Iowa's farm economy, Northey said, which is why Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was due to testify in the RFS's defense Thursday before the EPA.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey stops to chat with Todd Redenius, Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance community development director, during Northey’s stop at the 12th annual Farm News Ag Show where he spoke to the Growth Alliance and guests during an early morning session Thursday.
The ethanol industry, said Northey, "is in a flat-out war with oil."
He said the EPA's decision to set the RFS aside is a threat to not only corn-based ethanol, but will stymie future investments in developing cellulosic ethanol, such as the POET facility in Emmetsburg, set to open production in spring 2014.
David Kruse, president of CommStock Investments, in Royal, agreed, saying if the ethanol industry is limited to a 10 percent share of the fuel market, "there's no room for cellulosic and there will be no new investments."
Northey claims that the oil industry has set a limit of ethanol's blending in gasoline at 10 percent by blocking the RFS's mandate to include higher blends in coming years.
By making the installation of ethanol blending pumps a violation of oil franchises, Northey said, many convenient stores which would otherwise add higher blends are blocked from doing so.
Referring to the governor's appearance at an EPA public hearing defending the RFS, Northey said, "We still have a chance to change this."
Northey said there are Democratic senators who are also pushing back against setting the RFS aside and hopes they'll have President Obama's ear and knock down the blending wall.
Northey said the intent of the RFS was to force the advancement of ethanol into the fuels market.
He credited the growth of Iowa ag to the federal mandate to develop renewable fuels as the key to Iowa ag economy's growth.
"And additional technology will fine-tune co-products," he said, emphasizing the need to keep the RFS in place and grow the ethanol market.
"Oil is blocking E15 that would be good for consumers," Northey said. "We need an RFS to force the market to function properly."
Northey said that an amendment by U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, inserted into the ongoing farm bill debate in Washington this week, is designed to block California's restricting of eggs into that state not produced by California's standards.
King introduced the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, which would prohibit a state from enacting laws that place any restrictions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders, but are produced in other states.
Opponents said this would mean any state would have to allow ag products from another state that is not as vigilant in food safety.
However, King argued, regardless of how eggs are produced they are already regulated by the Federal Egg Inspection Act, which ensures all eggs entering interstate commerce are safe for the consumer.
California is mandating egg production for chickens in larger cages.
"No one knows if that means the cages are doubled in size or if it's half the number of chickens," Northey said. "But whatever California wants to do, that's OK."
But requiring other states to produce eggs in the same manner, Northey said, "is a violation of the commerce law.
"These are messes we're used to from other countries; we shouldn't be fighting among ourselves."
Kruse said King's amendment "is the most important provision in the farm bill."
Northey said stopping quarantined eggs at the state border is one thing, "but to tell other states how to produce is not legal.
"The new farm bill should fix this, but it's a bellweather issue that will bubble up again."