Government

U.S. Ag Secretary Perdue gives nod to year-round E15 ethanol sales

Also talks trade during Farm Progress Show visit

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stops to take a phone call Wednesday while attending the Farm Progress Show near Boone. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stops to take a phone call Wednesday while attending the Farm Progress Show near Boone. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

BOONE — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Iowa farmers Wednesday the Trump administration is committed to making year-round E15 ethanol sales a reality soon and hopes to resolve international trade disputes in a way that does not cause irreparable economic damage to agriculture.

During a stop at the Farm Progress Show, Perdue said he talked to the president earlier in the day about E15 and was told “let’s get it done.” So Perdue was hopeful “we’ll have an announcement sooner rather than later” on expanding consumer access to biofuel blended with 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline.

Perdue indicated some legal issues and regulatory “hiccups” remain in implementing year-round sales. But he said “this is what (Trump) wants to do and he doesn’t give executive suggestions, he gives executive orders so we’re going to get it done.”

The ag secretary also said he has gotten the message that American farmers would rather have free and fair trade than government relief — the trade, not aid concern — but believes progress is being made in talks with Mexico and Canada and the Trump administration is prepared to start its emergency plan next month for farmers impacted by retaliatory tariffs.

Meanwhile, the president is sending a message to trading partners that “enough is enough,” Perdue said, and trade needs to be rebalanced.

“The world knows we have high-quality products that they can depend on and they know that we can produce,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been irreparable damage done. It may take a little while to get those markets back, but I think that’s a legitimate question.”

Earlier this week, the Agriculture Department announced it will pay $4.7 billion to farmers growing soybeans, cotton and other products hit by tariffs in the administration’s trade wars.

The department plans to take applications from farmers who produce corn, cotton, dairy, hogs, sorghum, soybeans and wheat — products that were targeted by retaliatory tariffs from China and others. More than $3.6 billion will go to soybean farmers.

Perdue said the aid will be calculated based on actual tariff damage for individual producers. He said the soybean award is higher due to export levels to China, while there was not been as much damage to corn farmers because “sadly, China has not importing much of our corn as we believe they should be.”

Monte Shaw of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association said the Trump administration has an immediate opportunity to help farmers by implementing the E15 ethanol directive and closing exemptions to the Renewable Fuel Standard that would bump up the price of corn.

“I could see the president saying it’s time to throw a bone to the farmers and quite frankly I think that’s what he should do,” Shaw said in an interview.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said she believes farmers understand trade policies need to change but said there are no winners in a trade war. While the aid payments will be handled by federal officials, she said she expected there would be plenty of questions when she, Perdue and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig hold a roundtable Thursday in Ames with farmers and commodity groups.

Perdue also has set events with Iowa Republican U.S. Reps. Rod Blum and David Young.

Tim Gannon, Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture, said Congress and the president need to work on ways to make agriculture more profitable.

“Instead of holding events with Republicans nervous about their re-election campaigns, and talking about bailout packages, everyone should be hard at work coming up with solutions to the pain caused by bad biofuels policy and bad trade policy,” he said in a statement.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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