Two top officials in the Environmental Protection Agency who’ve never visited an American farm were in Iowa today, at Senator Chuck Grassley’s invitation. They toured Grant Kimberly’s farm near Maxwell.
Kimberly said he sensed the D.C. folks were apprehensive when they arrived, but after they climbed aboard a high-tech combine and got their first-ever look at Midwestern corn and soybean fields, Kimberly thinks they were hooked.
"I could see that they were certainly engaged and listening and very excited to be here once the conversation got started," he said.
The dialogue between the farmers and the E.P.A. officials was "warm" according to Kimberly and covered everything from raw commodities to renewable fuels.
"They kept asking lots of questions and they really didn’t want to leave," he said.
The E.P.A.’s Gina McCarthy heard presentations on everything from manure management to the latest global positioning system technology.
"We’ve heard information that will be valuable for us and we want to make sure that we understand everything that we can about the decisions that we’ll make and the impacts they’ll have," McCarthy told reporters.
Land use rules under consideration at the E.P.A. are staunchly opposed by the state’s ethanol industry and McCarthy’s agency is also considering new fuel standards which would boost the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent.
"We’re still in the process of learning," McCarthy said. "Our comment period are open on the renewable fuels standard and we’re going to have some follow up."
Senator Grassley says he wants to make sure the E.P.A. uses sound science and considers the economics of its decisions. Margo Oge, the top E-P-A administrator dealing with air quality issues, admits the agency’s decision on ethanol is controversial.
"We know a lot about what’s going on in the United States, but the controversy has been, you know, how the fact that we’re going to export less corn in 2022 will impact other countries that will grow this corn and by doing that, will you increase greenhouse gas emissions?" Oge told reporters in Iowa. "And the data is not there."
Kimberly, the man who hosted Oge and McCarthy on his farm, believes today’s visit "opened a door" for farmers to make their case to the E.P.A.
"We built some mutual respect and some positive relationships off of these visits and they actually asked us to come out to D.C. and visit with them further to talk about some of these issues we have with agriculture and the biofuels industry," Kimberly said during a telephone interview with Radio Iowa. "So the door is now open for us and that is a great success for us."
Kimberly said the visit to his homestead was designed to give the E.P.A. a look at a "modern farm" – from the ground up. Kimberly said he explained how things work: "Soybeans sink nitrogen in the soil; they don’t use nitrogen. How the physiology of the plants work, how we use technology, global positioning to improve fertility (and) to manage our costs."
Kimberly is a fifth generation farmer. His family manages a 4000 acre operation and he lives on the farm his grandfather bought in 1950. The two E.P.A. officials also visited an Iowa State University research farm this morning and they toured a biorefinery in Newton this afternoon.
(Additional reporting by Jim Turbes of KWBG Radio in Boone, Iowa.)