Iowa Farmers May Get Tax Break for Food Donations

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By Jay Knoll

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa Senate panel that wants to give farmers a tax break for donating produce to food banks passed a measure Thursday that would do so.

The bill approved by a Senate Ways and Means subcommittee now moves to the full committee for review.

The measure would give an incentive for small farmers to donate produce by providing a 15 percent state income tax break on the market value of donations worth less than $5,000.

Bill sponsor Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said the credit would encourage producers at farmers markets to donate their excess product instead of throwing it away.

But what caused tension among members of the bipartisan panel was the creation of a new state budget for the Iowa Food Bank Association.

The bill would create a $2 million budget for the Food Bank Association to purchase and transport commodities to its agencies in Iowa's 99 counties.

Cory Berkenes, state director of the association, said the federal government used to purchase commodities but now the organization incurs most of the cost.

In the past two fiscal years, the Food Bank Association lost 700,000 pounds of canned goods provided by a federal network of providers. Berkenes said there aren't enough private donors that can bridge the gap.

The association reports more than 13 percent of Iowans do not have enough safe foods to eat.

"Clients that need this are seniors, children, individuals with disabilities, old, young, and working families," Berkenes said.

Sen. Jerry Behn, R-Boone, did not sign on to move the bill out of subcommittee. He said he's hesitant to provide state dollars to fill in the funding gap left after the loss of federal funds to the Food Bank Association.

"Everybody's gotta eat, I don't debate that," he said. "We also have an obesity problem in the state. So it appears to be a distribution issue (rather) than a quantity issue. I think we gotta be careful on this."

Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed a similar budget request last year.

"If Iowa's the world's bread basket, we should be embarrassed that we have kids going to bed hungry at night," Petersen said.

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