May 30, 2023

Iowa Farm-to-Table Task Force announces recommendations and funding requests

The Iowa legislature-commissioned farm-to-table (FTP) supply chain task force published its recommendations Wednesday.

The task force was appointed during the last legislative session and charged with identifying strategies for increasing sales to institutional purchasers, including schools.  The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach lead the 12-member FTP Task Force.

Task force recommendations include

  • Improving the efficiency of local food distribution and awareness of local options for institutional buyers.
  • Expanding processing opportunities for local foods.
  • Supporting local food farming and local food agriculture.
  • Expanding the Local Food and Farm Advisory Council.
  • Increasing the use of the Farm to Food Donation Tax Credit
  • Exploring other food donation programs.

The task force also encouraged:

  • Consistent incentives to support increased purchases from institutions.
  • Continuing Local Produce and Protein Program funds.
  • Increasing funding for the Choose Iowa Marketing and Promotion program, which has matching grants for up to $25,000 for food hub development, since it said that grant funds are limited and in high demand.
  • Launching a Choose Iowa state branding and promotional campaign to connect institutional buyers with more farmers or local food wholesalers.

The report said funding would also be required for expanding processing opportunities for local foods. One of the largest challenges the task force and some stakeholders identified is lack of processing capacity in Iowa. Challenges include the expense and complexity of establishing the facilities and accessing licensed kitchens.

“This gap in infrastructure impacts both our local food supply chain and ability to develop value-added product as well our emergency food supply chain and donations through programs like Pass the Pork and Beef Up Iowa,” the report said.

The short-term (up to one year) goal is applying for funding for research on best practices and technical assistance. A long-term goal is to build a comprehensive processing and innovation facility.

The report listed The Food Building, The Food Processing Center and Food Enterprise Center of Viroqua as examples of an innovation center that service product development, recipe testing, business support and assistance, and angel investing.

Specific recommendations also included revitalizing the Local Food and Farm Program Council through broadening membership and advising the Iowa legislature to provide the council more funding or allow it to administer a mini-grant program to research food system needs and fund pilot/demonstration projects that others that others in the state could replicate. The Secretary of Agriculture was recommended to appoint members.

Regarding the Farm to Food Donation Tax Credit program, the task force members and stakeholders said that food banks and food pantries, which are often short-staffed, struggle to participate.

“To date, the tax credit has been claimed by 53 unique individuals at a benefit of $134,420,” the report said. “This equates to 16 claims per year and an average taxpayer savings of less than $20,000 per year. This is an uncapped tax credit, meaning an unlimited number of taxpayers can claim the credit. The fact that this amount remains low is a concern and shows a need for further marketing of the program.”

The Legislature received the recommendations in early December, the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s news release said.

“Any collaborative effort to bring Iowa products directly to more consumers is a positive step in the retail food industry, Iowa restaurants have spent the past decade fostering relationships directly with local producers and growers to showcase local products,” Iowa Restaurant Association President and CEO Jessica Dunker told The Center Square in a texted statement. “These recommendations stand to make those relationships even more mutually beneficial.”

This article was originally posted on Iowa Farm-to-Table Task Force announces recommendations and funding requests

Sydney Boles