Mike Naig serves as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.
Naig is a native of Cylinder. He earned a degree in biology and political science at Buena Vista University and worked in agribusiness before becoming deputy secretary of agriculture in 2013. He rose to the top post when then-Secretary Bill Northey was appointed to a position at USDA in 2018, and later that year Naig was elected to the position in his own right.
IFT: The legislature just left town after a long and strange session. What did they do in regards to your department?
Naig: First of all, I commend the legislators for working through difficult circumstances. The must-do job was to get a budget passed and they did that. It is also worth noting that because of the COVID-19 crisis the budget picture changed, but because we were in good shape financially going into that crisis so we were better able to weather the storm.
I had three priorities going into the session, but of course, COVID changed that. My first priority was animal disease preparedness. We didn’t get extra money for that, but we didn’t get a cut so we stayed the course and that’s fine with me this year.
The second priority going into the session was support for the governor’s proposal that would have provided more money for water quality and conservation. That obviously didn’t happen with the short session but we are already slated to get more money through SF 512. For the next fiscal year we will have $15 million through that program, so it has allowed us to gear up and be ready to go full speed ahead.
The third priority was the renewable fuel infrastructure program. That was renewed at a status quo level and in a year like this, I’m thrilled with that.
We also supported other legislation, such as the increased penalties for trespassing at a farm.
IFT: Are there lessons from COVID-19 in regards to agriculture and the supply chain?
Naig: I think we have an increased appreciation for the workforce that is critical to the whole supply chain. That means people like packing plant workers, as well as farmers and workers along every step of the process.
I think we learned about the resiliency of the supply chain and the resiliency of the farmer. There is a timeliness to what we do and we need to be aware of that and prepare for what to do when the chain is disrupted.
You know, this is all so unprecedented. There wasn’t a playbook. We’re going to learn from this.
IFT: Meat lockers seem to be suddenly popular.
Naig: Absolutely. Meat lockers have been busier than they’ve ever been. I think we have seen consumers becoming very interested in shopping local for both their meat and vegetables. I am very interested in exploring what we can do as a state to support our meat lockers and also other local food programs. We’ve got challenges in those areas.
One thing we have seen is producers who were dependent on farmers markets and other places suddenly become online retailers very quickly.
IFT: The state fair was recently cancelled. Any thoughts?
Naig: It’s such an unfortunate thing. It saddens me that the fair won’t be celebrated this year but it came down to the fact that the 2020 fair was not going to be the kind of fair you or I would expect. I’m already excited for the 2021 fair.
IFT: On a practical level, you manage a department with something like 350 employees. How has the department operated through the COVID-19 crisis?
Naig: It’s been a challenge but I’m really proud of my team. Most of the people on staff have been working at home, just like people at other offices. We’re planning to start bringing people back now, and will probably have about 40% back at a time, for now.
I want to note that my staff not only kept the department working through this, but we actually launched a number of initiatives, like drive-through pesticide testing. I’m really proud of them.