Farm interests optimistic after Trump pit stop in Iowa

By: - August 18, 2020 5:45 pm

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig tours crop damage after an Aug. 10 derecho storm in Iowa. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship)

Iowans are hopeful that President Trump will deliver more aid to the state and solve a financial headache for the ethanol interest after a half-hour discussion in a Cedar Rapids plane hangar. 

Trump said he would personally talk to his top staffers about responding to the portion of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ $3.99 billion derecho damage aid request that hasn’t already been approved. And he told Sen. Joni Ernst — like the governor, a GOP ally — that he would speak directly to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about ethanol interests’ push to have the EPA deny requests from small oil refineries wanting to sidestep requirements to blend ethanol.

“I’ll speak to them myself,” Trump told Ernst. “I’ll do it myself.”

Trump didn’t detail what he would talk to EPA officials about. That left elected officials and farmers at the meeting to hope for the best. 

“His expressions … you never quite know where he is, I would say,” said farmer Wayne Blackford of rural Cedar Rapids. Also in attendance were Sen. Chuck Grassley, local mayors, and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, among others. 

“(The president) genuinely wanted to know what happened in Cedar Rapids, because it’s not on the national news,” Blackford said. 

Blackford farms about 3,000 acres of soybeans and corn. The soybeans are fine, he said. He figures he lost half his corn crop.

Blackford has lived on the farm since he was born in 1948. “This is way beyond anything I’ve ever seen before,” he said. “And I hope I never see it again.” 

Emily Skor, president of Growth Energy, a biofuels industry group, watched at Tuesday’s meeting as Ernst explained the problems the ethanol industry has with the waivers, which reduce demand for the ethanol, most of which is made with corn and is a key market.

Skor said she is cautiously optimistic after the exchange between Trump and Ernst, she said. “I would like to think he would be looking for a way to be true to our previous conversations” when Trump seemed to back the ethanol industry’s needs, she added.

Skor said the fight over how much ethanol refineries will be required to buy is a top issue for the industry, as are trade wars. China promised to buy more U.S. ethanol, but hasn’t bought any this year, Skor added.

Naig, the ag secretary, said he thinks Trump “understands the message loud and clear” on exemptions. 

Much of the value of Trump’s one-hour pit stop might be in the attention it drew outside of Iowa, where news of the derecho’s devastation — $4 billion worth and counting — has not been widespread, Naig said.

“I appreciate that the president came,” Naig said. “Even if it was quick, it brought attention to this.”

“This” was the Aug. 10 storm that left a patch of destruction 60 miles north to south and 250 miles east-to-west in Iowa alone. The storm traveled from South Dakota to western Ohio.

Naig said he is confident more aid will be coming from the federal government. He said he hopes that a federal program that would be an add-on to crop insurance is approved for Iowa, separate from Gov. Reynolds’ request for other forms of disaster aid.

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