Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig keeps his focus on the future for Iowa’s farmers.
“When our people are able to innovate, produce and get engaged, agriculture works. When agriculture works, our state works,” he says.
Naig visited Washington Friday, as part of his statewide campaign to win election to the office he currently holds.
Naig was appointed to the state position by Governor Kim Reynolds after Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey accepted an undersecretary position at the United States Department of Agriculture. Naig had served for five years as Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture under Northey.
Now he and other candidates will await the voters’ decisions in the Nov. 6 state elections.
Naig grew up on a traditional Iowa farm in Cylinder and attended school at Emmetsburg. He graduated from Buena Vista College with a degree in biology and political science. He is still involved in his family’s farm operation.
Naig said his administration would focus on three issues that will determine the future of Iowa agriculture. The first issue is identifying and maintaining predictable marketing opportunities for Iowa’s products.
“Internationally, we need trading access to other countries’ markets. The recent trade agreement with Canada and Mexico was good news. It will help our dairy, egg and poultry farmers sell more produce in Canada. The agreement will help us keep our markets open in Mexico,” he said.
But the unresolved trading issues with China are depressing farm prices, he said, and should be the next issue to be resolved.
“Farmers understand that the administration is trying to resolve long-standing problems with the Chinese government. This is not new. They have blocked our agricultural products before. But the retaliatory tactics are having an effect on commodity prices. We need to find some resolution for both the Chinese and the U.S.,” he said.
Naig said there are other markets that could be opened to American agricultural goods, especially for livestock producers.
“When you look at the global demographics, you see rising incomes and standards of living. Those large populations want more protein in their diet. That is a value-added product that we can produce,” he said.
Naig said both the state and the federal government have a role to play in encouraging sustainable agriculture.
“Soil and water are our state’s greatest natural resources. We have a long history of protecting them through our conservation efforts. The USDA also has initiated programs to conserve our soil and water. Our nutrient reduction agreements provide a framework for a continuing effort to conserve our resources,” he said.
He said Iowa and the other states that are party to the agreement have had a lot of success in reducing nitrogen and phosphorus migration to the nations’ watersheds. He would be an active advocate for increased efforts.
“There is even more that can be done. We have learned a lot through our in-state protection of our smaller watersheds,” he said. “Now we can apply those lessons to the larger waterways.
Conservation practices such as no-till, strip-till and buffers have significantly reduced nutrient runoff. The use of bio-reactors and better edge-of-field practices can continue that progress.
“We have to show the farmer that these conservation programs are cost-effective. It can’t just be a government program. We need to partner with private industry to make sustainable changes,” he said.
Naig said an example of that is Cedar Rapids’ efforts to improve water quality by working with upstream entities to encourage better conservation efforts.
A third focus of Naig is the development of a workforce that can sustain Iowa industry.
“I talk with manufacturers who say they would expand if they could be certain of the labor supply. We need to ensure there are workers available so they can grow,” he said. “We need a guest worker program that is legal and predictable. We need to invest in our educational pipeline of colleges and trade schools to assist them in bringing young people into the labor market.”
Naig said that improving the workforce and strengthening the Agri-business community will aid Iowa’s small communities.
“The quality of life is great in our small towns. But we need to ensure that jobs are available for people in those communities,” he said.
One of the infrastructure parts that needs work is connectivity.
“We all depend upon the internet now. Hog confinement units use it, tractors use it. We are in the age of precision agriculture. We need good connectivity statewide,” he said.
Building a good farming environment is the key to helping Iowa grow, he said.
“A thriving agricultural economy will help small towns. They can provide a place for the businesses that surround a farmer. Value-added products like bio-fuels, feed mills and livestock production can impact our communities and provide good places to work,” he said.
As for the future of farmer-owned operations, he said the state should develop an economic support system that brings more young people into agriculture.
“The agricultural research industry provides good jobs and can attract and retain our young people,” he said. “They can support themselves with a job in an agricultural-oriented business while they explore farming opportunities.”