Axne: Farmers need help with markets, derecho recovery

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, addresses the Greater Des Moines Partnership on Oct. 8, 2020. (Screenshot of Greater Des Moines Partnership online session)

The next Congress must address the mixture of troubles facing Midwestern farmers, from a political fight over support for ethanol to tariff-fueled trade wars and derecho damage, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne told a Greater Des Moines Partnership virtual forum Thursday.

Axne, D-Iowa, is running for re-election against former GOP Congressman David Young, the man she defeated two years ago in a close 3rd Congressional District race. Young will meet with the Partnership Oct. 14. The district is in southwest Iowa and includes Des Moines and Council Bluffs.

Axne said some of the biggest trouble has come in the touchy trade negotiations with China, which have had a big effect in the grain-growing heartland. China was one of the largest buyers of U.S. soybeans and a growing market for ethanol, pork and beef before President Trump started an all-out trade war with China.

Trump campaigned in 2016 on improving trade deals for U.S. interests, arguing that the U.S. had been shortchanged over the years.

Many farm organizations and farmers support the effort to get U.S. ag interests a better deal on trade with the Communist superpower, while also addressing accusations that China steals intellectual property on a regular basis. But many have said in recent months that even with federal aid, farmers are hoping markets open more fully soon.

As recently as Oct. 2, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said it is unlikely China will buy as much in U.S. ag products as it promised in the early-2020 Phase One agreement, “but they’re trying,” Reuters reported. 

Axne said it has all made for a tough economic year, in addition to the strains of families coping with COVID and the health threats and personal disruptions it brought.

“We’ve been through so much, certainly with the trade wars and the Renewable Fuel Standard waivers,” Axne said at the session co-sponsored by the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute and the Young Professionals Connection.

Axne and other Iowa politicians have fought against small oil refineries’ requests to get out of federally mandated purchases of ethanol.

During negotiations for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Axne said, “I made sure at the end of the year that when the USMCA was passed that we didn’t leave our farmers hanging with more market uncertainty.”

Axne noted that she opened an investigation into the Renewable Fuel Standard waivers. She said federal approval of the waivers has come “at the expense of our hardworking farmers to put money in the pockets of rich shareholders and oil companies.”

Axne said the United States needs to open new markets for agricultural commodities and for services farms can offer like growing trees and other cover crops that can sweep carbon from the warming atmosphere. Axne co-sponsored legislation to create market for the practice, called carbon sequestration.

“That’s why I am one of the original co-sponsors of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which allows us to open up a new market for carbon sequestration,” said Axne, adding that many of the plantings would add nutrients to the soil, making it better for farming.

“We need new markets, and I want to make sure if (farmers) do the right thing and help address the climate issues that we are facing, then they are rewarded for it,” Axne said.

It’s one way to address a tough stretch for farmers. “We’ve lost 25% of our soybean market and our corn’s at an all-time low,” Axne said. The farmers need new ways to make money, though new markets, she added.

But the U.S. also needs to work to get away from trade wars that have brought tariffs that directly harm the farm economy, such as Brazil’s tariff on ethanol and China’s tariffs on a wide range of products, the congresswoman said.

“I was pleased to see the president open trade negotiations with China,” Axne said. “We’ve also got to protect intellectual property.”

Some of the problems are domestic. “We have an old policy keeping us out of California from an ethanol perspective at the level we would like to be. We need to reopen those talks and make sure that we can open up more domestic opportunity,” Axne said.

Cattle farmers who work on a cash basis, often with schools and restaurants, have been staggered by the pandemic’s closures of many of those markets. “We need a fair and level playing field,” Axne said. “We need transparency in pricing.”

The Partnership’s next candidate forum is with 4th District congressional candidate J.D. Scholten on Oct. 13.