Kettler, Seyfert talk farm policy during Indiana Corn and Soybean Forum
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 30, 2020) — Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) Director Bruce Kettler addressed farm policy prospects for 2021 at the state level, while American Soybean Association (ASA) Executive Director of Government Affairs Christy Seyfert covered federal ag policy topics during the first of five online sessions of the Indiana Corn and Soybean Forum on Monday morning.
The Forum is an annual event produced by the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance. This year’s Forum, due to COVID-19 restrictions, is virtual instead of in-person. Bane-Welker Farm Equipment is the presenting sponsor for this week’s Forum. First Farmers Bank & Trust sponsored the first session which featured Kettler and Seyfert.
Kettler said COVID-related issues could have the largest impact on Indiana farm policy in 2021. He said the state’s General Assembly still needs to determine how lawmakers, lobbyists and government officials will interact in the coming session. Kettler is unsure if most of the General Assembly’s business will be conducted through virtual services online, or if traditional discussions in the halls of the Indiana Statehouse will be allowed.
“It’s certainly going to be different given that the legislature has to work in different ways,” Kettler speculated. “We don’t have all of the details, yet, and I know that’s a little frustrating to my policy team. But we’ve had to adjust all year; all of us have. We’ll figure that out.”
One thing for certain, he said, is that money will be tight in state government in the coming year. “We know that COVID will affect the state budget,” Kettler added. “Our department is no different than any other. We’ve been asked to cut back, and we have.”
The ISDA’s goal is to maintain essential services with the funds available. He said ISDA is operating with about 10 percent fewer staff mostly due to positions that have not been filled. These positions will not be filled in the foreseeable future, Kettler added. “I’m very proud that our team still does the work that needs to be done,” he said. “It’s no different than farmers or ag business. We do more with less on a regular basis.”
Another pandemic-related issue is prioritizing who gets access to the COVID-19 vaccine once it is made available to the public. Kettler said he is working with other state government agencies to make sure that those who work in farm and food fields are highly prioritized.
“I want you to know that (ISDA) along with the (Indiana) Board of Animal Health are starting to have conversations because a lot of questions have come up about, for example, our meat processing facilities and other essential workers in agriculture,” Kettler said. “Is there a priority (for who gets the vaccine)? What are we going to be doing? What are we looking at? That’s not exactly known, just yet.”
He acknowledged that health-care workers and long-term care employees should come first. But after that, those who provide food for the public need to be prioritized.
Kettler added that ISDA awarded $4 million to 41 Indiana meat processing businesses through the Indiana Meat Processing Expansion and Development Grant Program. This funding was allocated to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local and small meat-processing agribusinesses in Indiana. Funding was made available through Indiana’s allocation of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act dollars. Many businesses are using the grants to purchase equipment or modify their facilities for increased efficiency. Some are using the funding to train additional staff and purchase personal protective equipment. The meat processors are businesses with less than 500 employees.
“We are getting those funds out,” Kettler said. “The important part of that is that it’s more than a $4 million boost because all of those funds had to be matched. And it’s more than an $8 million boost because many of those programs receive more than a one-to-one match.”
On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Seyfert said ASA expects to work with many new faces in the coming years. With Republicans gaining seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats winning more elections to the U.S. Senate, Congress will look different for the next couple of years, Seyfert said.
“Just by the numbers here, you can see we have a lot of relationship building ahead of us,” Seyfert said. “There are at least 60-plus new members of the House; and in the Senate, seven new members. At least one of those was a House member prior, so we have a relationship there. … It is a great opportunity to share the soy story with members on the Hill.”
She said many changes are expected during the transition in administrations from President Trump to President-Elect Biden. At USDA, Seyfert has frequently heard that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) or former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) are leading candidates to replace USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Both of their staffs have been accessible during their time in Congress,” Seyfert reported. “We’ll see if either of these ladies are officially announced as the Biden pick, or if there are others that are out there who are just not being talked about yet.”
She advised that farmers need to watch for more than just the USDA appointees. “We are also watching EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Trade Representative,” Seyfert said. “These are just a few of the many appointments that can impact agriculture.”
There are four more sessions this week during the Indiana Corn and Soybean Forum. They include:
- •Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1:15-2:30 p.m. EST – ICGA President Mike Beard, ICMC President Josh Miller, ISA board member Mark Legan and Courtney Kingery, CEO for ISA, ICGA and ICMC, will explain the details of the new three-year strategic plans for the corn and soybean checkoffs.
- •Wednesday, Dec. 2, noon to 1 p.m. EST – Nathaniel Doddridge, Vice President of Fuels for retailer Casey’s General Store, and Kathy Bergren, NCGA Director of Public Policy and Renewable Fuels, will cover policy issues related to biofuels.
- •Thursday, Dec. 3, 11 a.m. to noon EST – ISA and ICGA staff members Ed Ebert and Steve Howell will join Amy Cornell of the AgriBusiness Council of Indiana and Andy Tauer of Indiana Farm Bureau to take a look at ag commodity markets and talk about grain buying topics.
- •Friday, Dec. 4, noon to 1 p.m. – Nick Welker will speak on faith, family and farming from his home in Montana.
The Forum is available on Zoom, and there is no charge. Attendees must register at least 30 min prior to each session at indianasoybean.com/forum
About Indiana Soybean Alliance Membership and Policy Committee: The ISA Membership and Policy Committee works to enhance the viability of Indiana soybean farmers through the advocacy and promotion of state and federal policies. ISA Membership and Policy Committee is led by members of the Indiana Soybean Alliance farmer board who are charged with directing advocacy efforts on behalf of more than 600 dues-paying members. Learn more at www.indianasoybean.com
About Indiana Corn Growers Association: The Indiana Corn Growers Association works with state and federal governments to develop and promote sound policies that benefit Indiana corn farmers. The ICGA consists of nine farmer-directors who provide leadership to the organization on behalf of more than 800 members statewide. Learn more at www.incorn.org/icga
This communication was NOT funded with Indiana corn checkoff dollars.