Iowa Democrats call for end to trade wars

Farmer concerned GOP not aggressively pushing back

Corn is harvested Wednesday near Marion. Commodity prices have reached a six-year low and an Iowa State University study
Corn is harvested Wednesday near Marion. Commodity prices have reached a six-year low and an Iowa State University study released this month found that tariffs and retaliatory tariffs imposed under President Donald Trump international trade disputes could cost Iowa up to $2 billion in a year. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Two Iowa farmers Thursday joined Democratic agriculture secretary candidate Tim Gannon in calling for an end to disruptive Trump administration trade policies that are exacerbating the erosion of commodity prices and posing a “government-induced calamity” in rural America.

“Our income is going down and our costs are going up,” said John Gilbert, a Hardin County livestock, dairy and grain farmer who talked with reporters in a conference call arranged by the Iowa Democratic Party. Gilbert said he lived through Iowa’s farm-debt crisis of the 1980s and worried ag producers might be facing a new financial crisis if this becomes a long-term trade war that hurts markets abroad.

Bruce Rohwer, an O’Brien County farmer who raises corn, soybeans and hogs as well as installing drainage tile for off-farm income, said he relies on three nearby ethanol plants to sell his corn, but federal energy policy and ethanol export slowdowns are hurting prices. He said the impact on agriculture is going to ripple through the Iowa economy.

He said he’s concerned he hasn’t seen an aggressive advocacy from Iowa Republicans to change the Trump administration’s current direction.

“Workers are going to be laid off when farmers don’t have enough income to do anything more than meet their bank payments, if they can do that,” Rohwer said. “We are in a situation where it is critical that we have an administration at the state level that understands what is really happening here at home and doesn’t just stand as a cheerleader when the president comes and says, “In two weeks I’ve got a great announcement for you for ethanol, and those two weeks never seem to be able to end.”

Both Gilbert and Rohwer are backing Gannon in his quest to unseat Republican Mike Naig in the Nov. 6 election for Iowa secretary of agriculture. Naig was appointed to the post earlier this year by Gov. Kim Reynolds after Bill Northey stepped down to take a federal job.

Researchers at Iowa State University released a study this month indicating that the trade hit from tariffs for Iowa could reach $2 billion. And, ISU researchers said, the international trade disruptions could get even worse under the most recent round of tariffs, potentially diminishing over the long term the reach of the state’s agricultural products.


“It’s unfortunate that our farmers are bearing the brunt,” said Gannon. “I don’t want to excuse China because they have definitely been a bad actor in terms of international trade. But the administration has not had a coherent, well-thought-out policy and effort to bring the changes to bear that we need to see there.”

Gilbert, Rohwer and Gannon said they and others will have little choice but to participate in a federal program offering up to $4.7 billion in aid for producers hard hit by the lowest commodity prices in six years brought on by President Donald Trump’s tariff wars and renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The irony, Gilbert noted, is the federal government is borrowing money from China that likely will pay for the aid package to farmers.

Naig responded in a statement by declaring himself a “strong advocate” for Iowa farmers.

“I am no fan of tariffs. Each and every day I advocate for Iowa’s farm families. I have been steadfast in my support for year-around sale of E-15 and for the (Environmental Protection Agency) to uphold the (Renewable Fuel Standard). I continue to urge the administration to swiftly resolve these trade issues in a way that brings certainly to our producers,” he said.

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