Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig

Iowa Press | Episode
Apr 1, 2022 | 27 min

On this edition of Iowa Press, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig discusses the impacts of bird flu, inflation, spring planting and the upcoming 2022 election. 

Joining moderator Kay Henderson at the Iowa Press table are Erin Murphy, Des Moines bureau chief for The Gazette, and Clay Masters, reporter and host for Iowa Public Radio.

Program support provided by: Associated General Contractors of Iowa, Iowa Bankers Association and FUELIowa.



Iowa's farm sector confronting challenges ranging from the bird flu to inflation. We sit down to discuss with Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig on this edition of Iowa Press.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at


For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, April 1st edition of Iowa Press. Here is Kay Henderson. 


Henderson: As we sit down to record this edition of Iowa Press, sadly more than 10 million chickens and ducks and geese and turkeys in Iowa have been euthanized because bird flu is here again. Our guest today leads an agency that helps detect, confirm and deal with the aftermath. Mike Naig, Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Naig: Good to be back. And congratulations to you. I haven't had a chance to say that since you have officially been in the chair.

Henderson: Thank you, appreciate it. Also joining our conversation today are Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio and Erin Murphy of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

Murphy: Secretary Naig, we wanted to give you an opportunity first to just kind of set the scene for us. Kay talked about it a little bit. But what is the scope of what is going on right now? What's the latest?

Naig: Yeah, unfortunately we are dealing with high path avian influenza in the state of Iowa again and we last dealt with this in 2015, which still ranks as the largest animal disease outbreak in U.S. history occurred then and about half of that event was in the state of Iowa. So we have a lot of experience dealing with this. We started to watch what was happening on the East Coast as it worked its way through the beginning of this year and it kept moving to the Midwest and now we do have bird flu in the Midwest, in the Mississippi flyway. And I get asked a lot about how does this compare to last time? There's a pretty distinct difference this time in that we have a lot of wild bird introductions where wild birds are carrying the virus, they're interacting with the domestic bird population and we end up with positives whereas in '15 we had a lot more situations where it was spreading from site to site or from farm to farm. So that is a pretty distinct difference between the two.

Murphy: That seems like it would be more difficult to control for that reason, right?

Naig: It is. It tells you a couple of things. We learned a lot coming out of '15 about what should the state of Iowa do? How do we need to increase our capacity to respond? USDA learned a lot. Producers learned a lot about biosecurity. How do you protect your site? And then just generally how do we respond? And so I think a large part of why we're not seeing that lateral movement, farm to farm, is because we've done a better job of acting quickly to contain the virus where it is and that farms have implemented better biosecurity to protect their farms from movement. Now, time will tell how this plays out. But I would also note that we didn't start the '15 outbreak until the middle of April and we're already a month in this time around.

Masters: Well, it definitely does feel like déjà vu to 2015. I do morning newscasts and I'm regularly updating about how many back yard flocks or commercial production facilities. I'm interested to know, you said that you've learned a lot from last time, Buena Vista County has had a lot of these cases. Can you kind of hone in on how to help a county that is obviously having it spread?

Naig: Right, so in the state of Iowa today we've got 12 confirmed cases. Two of those are back yard, 10 are commercial and we expected and should expect that there's going to be additional sites that we see go positive. But right now in BV County we've got four cases. And a couple of those are turkey and one of those is a large egg layer. Again, what we focus on -- and these are well-established protocols together with the USDA, with the Iowa Department of Agriculture -- what you want to do is try to detect early, contain that site, quarantine that site and then depopulate and dispose of those birds as quickly as you can because that is the best way to prevent spread to other farms is to keep it contained on a site. So that continues to be, we would say that around any site, but especially in an area where you've got a lot of activity. And of course then we're looking at are there connections between any of these farms? There's no evidence of that at this point.

Masters: And as far as people watching this at home, a lot of people are focused on grocery prices, any idea what this is going to do to people when they go to buy eggs or meat at the store?

Naig: The fact is that we're seeing food price inflation anyway for a lot of reasons, but it is true that if we continue to see the spread of high path and affecting more and more sites that yes, I think you could very well see a change in price and even availability. Now, the good news about the poultry industry is they can restock quickly, they can rebuild populations. But yeah, I think we will see some increases in prices as we go through the spring. And then it really just depends on what kind of spread do we see over the next few months? Again, think of it, we've got wild birds that are carrying the virus, they don't succumb to it but they can carry it. And where are we in the scheme of things in terms of migration of birds, right? We've got a couple of months yet to go. So that is why we've got to be acting quickly to contain it where it is.

Murphy: Kay mentioned that more than 10 million birds have had to be euthanized so far. For the average layperson that may sound like a huge number, it is a huge number. But to kind of help the scope that is only a small fraction of the birds in production in Iowa, right?

Naig: I think it, yeah this is the time to be reminded that we're number one in egg production. We have nearly 60 million laying hens in the state of Iowa. We're number seven in turkey production and we have a lot of broiler production along the western side of the state of Iowa. So we have a lot of birds and we have a lot of bird facilities in barns. We also have a lot of folks, and especially over the last couple of years, have gotten into birds in their back yard. So we have a lot of birds in the state of Iowa is what I'm saying. And so yes, to know that we've got 12 sites today, actually the number is now approaching closer to 13 million birds that have had to be euthanized, but that is only a percent of what we have in the state of Iowa.

Murphy: And the reason I ask and it kind of gets to what Clay was talking about is, are we at a point yet where we're worried about the supply chain and the impact that that might have?

Naig: Well, yes in that as we look ahead you say this is why we've got to contain and it's not just in Iowa but we've got 23 states in the country currently that are dealing with confirmed cases and so this isn't just an Iowa issue, this is a U.S. issue. And again, you look at the different categories, broilers, turkeys, egg production, the fact is we're seeing less supply because of the virus and that will result in we believe some prices going up, especially in a time of year we're coming up to Easter, there's a lot of folks looking for eggs and so that could create some price pressure.

Henderson: Let's switch to the swine industry. African swine fever has been detected in the western hemisphere for the first time in 40 years I think last fall. What can you tell swine producers about what the situation is and what they need to do?

Naig: So, generally we'd say foreign animal disease, we deal with disease in livestock production all the time, but a foreign animal disease are specific diseases that have trade implications, that result in countries restricting movement in trade and exports. And so that is why they are different. So, African swine fever, high path AI and foot and mouth disease would be examples of that. We've been watching ASF really develop starting back in '18 and '19 in China, then it moved into Eastern Europe, and then yes for the first time since 1980 we've got it in the western hemisphere in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. So it's always a threat, but when you've got it in your back yard it feels like the risk is higher. So we've been focused, just like we have on planning around high path, how do we effectively respond? There's been a lot of work being done. We've been exercising plans and trying to find gaps in our response. What is the message to our pork producers? We need to work hard to contain it where it is, so support the Dominican government and the Haitian government in trying to stamp this out, keep it out of the United States by monitoring our borders, keep it out of your farm is the next layer of defense and then effectively respond if you have to and we've got planning going on, on all of those stages. So the other is biosecurity, do what you can on your farm to take care of your animals. That is what we need folks to be doing.

Henderson: So, what about big expos where people gather and they look at large groups of animals?

Naig: Well, so on the bird side of things we have had to, we've taken the step to prohibit live bird exhibitions for the time being. Now, I'm still hopeful, and again time will tell how does this all play out. Maybe we're approaching the end. Maybe we're just getting started. Time will tell. But what we've done is we've said we won't allow a live bird exhibition until 30 days have passed since our last confirmed case. We'll restart the 30 day clock every time we have a confirmed positive. I'm still hopeful that we could have poultry shows at our county fairs and the State Fair. Time will tell. In terms of large gatherings of people, I think --

Henderson: Well, I mean the World Pork Expo --

Naig: The World Pork Expo absolutely can go on. There's no live animal exhibition anymore associated with that, it's really just people coming from around the world. And I think that's a great thing and we need to get back to doing those things.

Murphy: So shifting gears a little bit, the U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear the pork industry's lawsuit regarding a California law in the caging and confinement of animals in production. Is that something that your office is watching with interest?

Naig: Absolutely. This is good news. Look, these are exactly the types of cases that a Supreme Court should take. These are issues between the states and our Founding Fathers even envisioned that those things would happen and that the Supreme Court is the right place for that. So when you're talking Prop 12, yes we've got concerns about that. And think of it from this perspective, activists drove that effort in California, picked arbitrary standards for production and then are trying to apply those to other states. Now, voters of California can tell California agriculture whatever they want and hold them to whatever standards they want. But they can't do that outside of their borders. There’s is a constitutional issue there. And so I think it's right that the Supreme Court will look at that. I'm hopeful that we'll see a positive outcome there.

Masters: One thing that has happened this week with Iowa farmers was there was a gathering of more than 100 that came to the State Capitol rotunda this week concerned about the carbon capture pipelines that have been proposed in the state by three companies. I talked with a few landowners, heard some of them speak and they are very concerned about eminent domain, the government seizing their land if it is in the public's interest. The legislature has done something to kind of extend that, it's moving forward, that could keep eminent domain from taking place until early next year. But what kind of thoughts do you have for these landowners who say, we can't get anybody to listen to us that we do not want to turn this land over?

Naig: Yeah, these are tough issues. So I see this particularly around the carbon capture and sequestration challenge or issue. So you say on one hand I can see the benefits of capturing carbon, especially as it relates to renewable energy and ethanol plants. If you can lower the carbon intensity score a couple of ways, you can lower the carbon intensity of the corn that is being processed at that plant and then if you can capture the CO2 you can lower the carbon intensity of a gallon of ethanol. And what that can do is, we hope, preserve the longevity and the ethanol and biodiesel and renewable energy in our energy portfolio as a country and that is good news, that is a positive thing that can happen. On the flip side, there is the issue of building a pipeline and those can be very difficult decisions for a landowner. Imagine a pipeline coming across a century farm. So what I have encouraged each of the pipeline companies to do is negotiate in good faith, compensate landowners fairly, answer their questions, satisfy their concerns that that is the way that if these projects are going to go they should go because the landowners are willing to participate.

Masters: Have you met with any landowners about it that are concerned about it on their property?

Naig: Yes, I do. I hear from folks as I travel the state and folks on all sides of this. I've got people involved and farmers who sell grain to ethanol plants and see the value of that and I absolutely hear from producers who are working through this challenge of what is fair compensation? What about my tile lines and those types of things? So I do hear from folks all the time on it.

Masters: So, should eminent domain be used in this kind of situation? Do you believe in it here?

Naig: Well, I think we have to be, we should be careful. We should be careful in using eminent domain. There has to be balance. The idea is that you're going to preserve the use of that tool when there is an economic imperative to do so and yet you have to balance private property rights with that. So again, I would much rather see these pipelines go because there has been deals that have been done and landowners have been satisfied.

Masters: At the same time, cars have become more fuel efficient, ethanol consumption in America has kind of leveled off recently. How necessary do you think these pipelines are right now?

Naig: Well, first of all, I think on ethanol in particular, what is happening with energy in this country right now? Families know what the price of fuel means to their bottom line and we've all seen what has happened from that standpoint. And so, wouldn't now be a great time for us to be looking at more domestic renewable energy production? Instead we're trying to figure, we're releasing oil from the reserve, we're trying to potentially go and buy from other places and then we're going to open up, I saw the Biden administration is, they're obsessed with EVs. Now we're going to open up mining for the minerals that we need to produce batteries. Hey, let's look at all of this. Let's also recognize that today ethanol and biodiesel are delivering something to the marketplace that has value. For goodness sake, let's gets to year-round access to E-15 and try to take some pressure off of what is affecting our families.

Henderson: You mentioned E-15. Governor Reynolds has asked the legislature to essentially pass an E-15 mandate. Is that a good idea?

Naig: We should definitely offer more choices to consumers. So yes, it would be great if there was a standard that said that fuel marketers should offer these higher blends to consumers. The bill that the Governor proposed I've said all along is a very, very practical bill in that it recognizes that there are fueling stations out there that don't have compatible equipment, it's an older station, it's a mom and pop shop that there is no earthly reason for them to break up their concrete and replace all their tanks and pumps and hoses to be able to offer these higher blends. But for those stations that can and that have compatible infrastructure, let's get on with offering those higher blends. The state of Iowa over the last dozen years or better has invested through our department $50 million in cost share for fuel marketers to put this type of infrastructure in. Let's use that, let's get these higher blends in the hands of consumers, in the tanks, sorry, of our consumers' vehicles.

Henderson: The proposal sort of puts you in the same position as the federal Environmental Protection Agency in that you're going to grant the waivers and it says you shall grant the waivers. Are you prepare to do that?

Naig: We are. What I want, what I've asked the legislature is make sure you're very clear about what you would like that waiver process to be. I don't want a lot of gray area here. But again, this goes back to, and we should always recognize this, we can have a great industry that produces a fantastic product that is cheaper and better for the environment, but if a consumer doesn't have the opportunity to pick up the pump handle and pump it into their gas tank we haven't completed the supply chain. And yet it is absolutely true that there is infrastructure out there that is not compatible with higher blends. Let's make sure that we understand that and we're able to have an effective waiver process.

Henderson: Just one final question. When we're talking about waivers, this is for the small entrepreneur who has a small station. Do you know how many of those there may be in our area?

Naig: I don't. We've been working with the Department of Natural Resources to look at what are the age of tanks and those types of things. That is something we will have to then work through. But what I envision is that we will have some very clear lines of this equipment is compatible, this is not based on age or based on the type of equipment or the brand of equipment. I think this can be done. But again, I think the legislature should tell us exactly what they want that waiver process to look like and then we'll absolutely deliver on it.

Murphy: So staying under the golden dome up there in the Capitol, legislators are for the first time in a while advancing legislation regarding the state's natural resources and outdoor trust fund. Now, that legislation may not make it all the way this year but it has reignited that debate over how to get money into that system. And more specifically I wanted to ask you about what to do with that money once it is in there? And there's a formula in place, but when the legislation comes up sometimes there's proposals to change that formula. What would you advocate for? What would you like to see that money go towards if lawmakers manage to get money into that trust fund?

Naig: I don't, I know this is being debated and that's good. I think I've said many times at this table that us having as a state an ongoing conversation around how we're going to fund water quality work over the long run, do we have dedicated long-term funding? And we do today. We've worked hard over the last couple of sessions to extend that funding formula out many years. And so the work has begun, more than begun, we're several years into trying to identify how do we ramp up? How do we scale up? How do we expand our capacity to deliver technical assistance and financial assistance to landowners and to cities and to work not just in the non-point side of things, the ag landscape or the non-point part of urban areas, but also around point sources, water quality, drinking water and wastewater facilities as well. That is the whole piece that we need to be looking at. And so whatever we look at, whatever the formula, whatever the funding source is, the outgoing formula needs to continue to take those types of things into account. So, that is what we've been focused on the last several years is regardless of the funding source, are the dollars being deployed in a way that we're attracting partnerships and getting work done but again recognizing that ag, urban, point source, non-point all together is what we've got to be moving if we're going to see the change that we want to see.

Masters: Next year it's coming up on 10 years since the nutrient reduction strategy was passed, which is a, not really passed but recommended voluntary actions that farmers can take to help with any kind of pollutants that might come off their field. A 45% reduction of nitrogen phosphorous. Last year when you were on this program you were excited about what you saw as progress that has been made. How do you view what has happened over the last year since you were here?

Naig: Well, absolutely. So we're coming up on 10 years and remember too it's not just the ag piece, I think that is something that makes us different and it's important to note this as a state is that we looked at all of the practices. We have a -- this is something that the Department of Natural Resources, that the Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship work on together. We've got point and non-point, urban and rural. We never wanted to be in a situation where the farm community could point and say it's all them or everybody else could point and say it's all ag. We've got to have a holistic approach to this. So I think at that time I told you that we've made great progress on phosphorous. Phosphorus tends to stick with the soil. If you're preventing soil erosion, you're preventing the loss of phosphorous. Nitrogen tends to travel with water. That is where we've had to implement new practices that came with the strategy, wetlands and bioreactors and saturated buffers and cover crops. Those are the things that we need to really double down on, on nitrogen. So, what have we done in the last year? A couple of things I'm really proud of is new partnerships that we've launched. We just did a project with, announced a project with Polk County and Des Moines Water Works to get cover crops seeded on the ground in this area. I think that is a great example of we will literally work with anybody who wants to in good faith get stuff done on the ground. Cedar Rapids, Ames, those are the types of projects that we've got going across the state today.

Masters: Last fall I was up in Calhoun County speaking with a farmer who was showing me some of the practices that he has put in close to the Raccoon River, pretty innovative stuff. I was asking him, why isn't there more buy-in in the area? And he said a lot of it has to do with barriers to getting funding to put in wetlands and unique kind of ways to help with water quality and also just people don't see the long, don't want to invest in the long-term effect there. And he said, I don't want to be regulated to do this but maybe it's time. How do you get the conversation to continue going so more people get buy-in?

Naig: Well, first of all, particularly up in Calhoun County there's some great things going on with how are we linking wetlands with irrigation as a possibility? Being able to put a couple of inches of irrigated water on a crop in July in a dry year could make a huge difference and could have significant impact on a farmer's bottom line. So now you're starting to talk about let's layer these together. We get a nutrient reduction, we potentially have an opportunity for irrigation, we have habitat that Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited are interested in around the wetland. That is the type of thing that we need to show people, frankly get more farmers on those sites, have more field days, those types of things. Look, this is about talking about these things in terms of a return on the investment, a return on the investment for all the partners involved. And we can do that. It does take some time though to find those sites, talk to the landowners and then get those built. So we're well on our way to changing the whole dynamic, especially on wetlands because of how we're approaching that and the pace that we're building them.

Murphy: Mr. Secretary, you'll be running for re-election later this year. Your opponent, democrat John Norwood we suspect may bring up issues around water quality and challenge you. How do you plan to address those issues when you're talking to voters about what you have done and whether it has been sufficient to address the needs of improving Iowa's water quality?

Naig: Well, I welcome that conversation because I am incredibly proud of the work that is getting done across the state. Look, even in a disrupted time, the last couple of years, I can say to you that we have set records in terms of conservation adoption in the state of Iowa. And that is because of the focus that we brought to it, the resources, the partnerships. There has never been as much awareness and resources being dedicated to improving water quality in the state of Iowa as we have today and that is saying a lot. We've got a long history of conservation in this state. Now, how are we turning the page and saying, let's go to the next level, let's accelerate? We've got two million acres of cover crops. How do we get to four? How do we get to six? Those are the types of things that we get to talk about now because of the foundation, the work that we've done over the last several years allows us to say, now how do we go to the next level? I'm proud of the partnerships and more than anything I'm proud of all of the boots on the ground, the people who go to work every day to do real work on water quality and of course all of the farmers and the cities and everybody who says yes, we're going to do something. There's a lot to be proud of there.

Henderson: Half a minute left. The U.S. Drought Monitor this week shows about two-thirds of Iowa is very dry. Iowa was very dry last year and then we had a bumper crop. Is this anything to worry about?

Naig: Oh, it's worth worrying about but, Kay, we will lose this crop three or four times this year as the saying goes. We're always a couple of weeks out from something going wrong with the crop. A third of the state has got D1 to D2 drought, a third of it has got abnormally dry and that is concerning because we're still working off of significant rain deficits. Soil moisture is better than we were last year. So we're sitting okay. We need rain to fall.

Henderson: Well, we are done with this conversation today. Thanks for joining us on this edition of Iowa Press.

Naig: Thank you.

Henderson: You can watch every episode on or you can watch us at our regular broadcast times, 7:30 on Friday or noon on Sunday. For everyone here at Iowa PBS, thanks for watching.


Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa's communities and they are backed by Iowa banks. With advice, loans and financial services, banks across Iowa are committed to showing small businesses the way to a stronger tomorrow. Learn more at