Ag Secretary Mike Naig visits Grundy County

Ritchie Industries staff posed for a photo with Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, third from right, at their location in Conrad after Naig’s visit to the area on Wednesday. PHOTO BY NICK BAUR

CONRAD — In the latest stop on his 99 county tour, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig landed in Grundy County last Wednesday (April 26) as he toured the Conrad-based manufacturing company Ritchie Industries, which specializes in producing livestock waterers and fountains used across the world.

While the meeting was closed to the press, Naig provided some insight about the visit and complimented the on-site growth from the long-standing local business in a subsequent interview.

“I was impressed with the investment that’s being made here,” Naig said. “A company that’s over 100 years old, it’s a really well known brand in this area, and what I see is a company that’s preparing for the next 100 years by continuing to invest in their facility here.”

He shared that they discussed workforce shortages, inflationary pressures, and supply chain matters but said he was encouraged to see Ritchie Industries endure through recent turbulent economic uncertainties.

“They’re overcoming those things,” Naig said. “They see market opportunities, both here in the US, but also, I heard them really talk a lot about opportunities overseas as well. So I think that’s a great message to drive home, is here we are in Conrad, and we’ve got a company that’s really looking at export markets in a pretty major way.”

Naig’s visit comes at a time when federal elected officials are debating and crafting some of the most consequential agriculture legislation, the Farm Bill, which is a comprehensive piece of legislation that sets agricultural and food policy for the United States, including funding for farm subsidies, nutrition programs, and conservation efforts.

While progress on the bill has been gradual, Naig indicated that he hoped to see the omnibus legislation be completed by the end of this year, and with Iowa having four out of six Congressional figures sitting on agricultural committees, who dictate much of the policy on the Farm Bill, the state would be in a good spot once it goes to the president’s desk.

“I’m still optimistic that a farm bill can get done this year. It may not make it by the end of September, but I think there’s a lot of motivation on the part of the House and the Senate to get something done,” Naig said. “Four voices out of our congressional delegation that are directly involved in writing the bill is a great opportunity for us.”

He drew attention to crop insurance in particular, which provides financial protection to farmers in the event of crop losses due to natural disasters, as a key aspect needed to be preserved in the upcoming farm bill.

“It’s one of the most important risk management tools that is available to farmers,” Naig said. “(It) allows us to continue to have the resilient agriculture that we have in the US, and so it’s one of the most essential items that will be discussed in the Farm Bill.

Naig also commented on the recent Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which is the culmination of a long-anticipated rulemaking process to define the geographic reach of the EPA’s authority in regulating streams, wetlands and other water bodies under the Clean Waters Act.

In 2020, the Trump administration repealed and replaced the WOTUS rule with a new rule that narrowed the definition of waters protected under the Clean Water Act. The Biden administration has since taken steps to repeal and replace the Trump-era rule, expanding the definition.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re back to a time where, because of the rule that was put forward by the Biden administration, we’re back to so much uncertainty,” Naig said. “I think the important point to make here is that just because a stream is not under federal jurisdiction doesn’t mean that it’s not protected. It falls under state or local jurisdiction, and there are protections in place so I think getting that balance right is important.”

He added that much of the uncertainty could have been avoided if the Biden administration had waited to change the rule after the Supreme Court issues a ruling on the matter, which is expected to come later this year. Naig said the ruling could impact farming practices in Iowa.

“If you’re prohibited from doing things like building wetlands, and doing the basic farm practices, because it’s connected to what is now deemed to be a “Water of the U.S.” I mean, that’s problematic for us,” Naig said. “So that’s what’s at stake here.”