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Iowa State University Extension

New state biobased law started with a simple Extension lunch

biobased product

Sandwiches weren’t the only items on the lunch menu at a recent Extension conference. An unexpected entrée was a state biobased purchasing law resulting from a state legislator’s attendance there.

Over lunch and work sessions at the 2007 Extension Biobased Industry Outlook Conference, State Sen. Herman Quirmbach learned about a federal biobased purchasing law, the BioPreferred program and the efforts of Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) to categorize biobased products. Subsequently, Quirmbach arranged to draft a bill requiring state government to buy products made from renewable agricultural resources -- such as corn and soybeans -- if the cost is no more than 5 percent higher and they perform as well as conventional products.

Senate File 2361 received unanimous votes from the Iowa Senate and House this legislative session. The bill, signed by Gov. Chet Culver in April, goes into effect July 1. “It was an idea that everybody just liked,” Quirmbach said.

The Story County senator, who also is an ISU associate professor of economics, said he decided to sponsor the bill because it promotes environmentally friendly products and has economic development potential for Iowa’s farmers. Quirmbach believes the state will have no problems implementing it because state agencies already purchase recycled and soybean-based products.

Although Iowa joins only a handful of states with laws requiring government agencies to give purchasing preference to biobased products, Quirmbach said he wanted Iowa to be in a leadership role. The laws vary from state to state. “The 5 percent allows a little bit of preference,” Quirmbach said, “but we didn’t want (agencies) to spend two or three times the regular amount. We have a responsibility to taxpayers.”

In recent years, the number of biobased manufacturers has risen as government agencies and the public demand alternatives to goods produced from petroleum and opt for sustainable products derived from farm crops. The BioPreferred program’s database, which CIRAS manages, is growing rapidly, and now contains nearly 2,000 manufacturers of more than 12,000 biobased products.

This article appeared in June 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter