The Iowa Farm Bureau flexed its political muscle Tuesday when more than 300 members descended on the Statehouse to tell lawmakers of their opposition to proposed livestock confinement regulations.

Pork and beef producers, wearing "We're good for Iowa" stickers, buttonholed their state representatives and senators in the Capitol rotunda.

They were armed with a list of points that warn of the demise of family farmers if livestock fees are imposed, construction permits are required of smaller operations, and counties are allowed to weigh social factors in addition to the environmental risks presented by proposed facilities.

"There's a livestock tax in this. I think they call it a fee, but it's just another tax," says Mark Remsburg, a Calhoun County farmer who feeds 3,000 hogs at any one time.

"I'm at the point that if a lot of regulations are enacted, I'll pull up the tent stakes" and quit feeding cattle, says John Hofmann of rural Cedar Rapids.

The grass-roots lobbying effort was capped by a news conference where leaders of the state's biggest farm organization urged lawmakers to delay debate of Senate File 2293 until more is known about its impact on Iowa's largest industry.

"We know that this is a pressure cooker issue. We know that we have to find some kind of resolution. But let's not find a resolution that drives the very farmer out of business that we want to keep here," says Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang, a Brooklyn dairy producer.

Environmental groups have praised the ground-breaking plan to tighten controls over concentrated livestock operations and give counties more of a voice in approving confinement sites. But few special interest groups can match the clout of the Farm Bureau, which has 155,000 Iowa members - half of them active farmers, the rest insurance-policy holders.

Lawmakers seemed to be standing by the legislation, despite the show of force. "Historically, lobbying by groups that have a lot of clout has had a strong influence on the Legislature," says Sen. Mary Lundby, a Marion Republican who helped draft the livestock regulation plan along with 11 other legislators. "We are committed to driving this through."

The Senate will consider the livestock bill first, but debates have not yet been scheduled. "We can all find reasons to derail it, but our focus is to keep coming with a bill," says Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson, a Dows farmer who is a member of the Farm Bureau, the Iowa Pork Producers Association and other agricultural groups.

Iverson has already met with lobbyists for the Farm Bureau and other organizations. "They have some legitimate concerns. A lot of it has to do with interpretations."

Lawmakers said bill-drafting errors have been corrected and some misperceptions have been cleared up. "We're not going to make people move buildings," contends Iverson."Can the counties charge fees? No, the counties can't charge fees."

Lang, the Farm Bureau president, outlined several objections to the plan, including:

  • Allowing counties to use a point system to rate not only environmental risks, but also family farm and good neighbor characteristics of a proposed confinement. That would inject "personal whims and biases," he contends.
  • Lowering the size threshold for animal feeding operations requiring construction permits. "That will impact a lot more producers" and cost them more money in engineering and design costs,” says Lang.
  • Charging a fee to help pay for inspectors. That will mean more than $1 million in additional taxation,” he adds. "It's an additional burden to our livestock producers."

Des Moines Register