As Iowa farmers struggle, fighting for ethanol industry becomes a key issue in Iowa’s Senate race

By: - October 26, 2020 4:34 pm

Corn farmers received far less trade-war aid than cotton growers did, a new GAO report shows. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Iowa’s ethanol industry is suffering worse losses than economists originally predicted, increasing pressure on Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration to protect the Renewable Fuel Standard and provide aid to struggling farmers and ethanol producers.

While both U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield have condemned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for providing waivers to oil refineries who seek to avoid blending the nation’s fuel supply with ethanol, the two candidates disagree on who would better represent one of Iowa’s top industries.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa farmers have been suffering from reduced corn prices due to the trade war with China and Mexico. But this last year, at least 10 of the 43 plants had completely shut down at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic and others had limited production.

Greenfield has consistently questioned Ernst’s commitment to Iowa’s renewable energy industry, criticizing her for not immediately calling for the resignation of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

However, Ernst said she has consistently fought for policies that helped Iowa farmers, including pushing the president to allow sales of 15% ethanol year-round, which he did earlier this year. She also has the support of major local agricultural leaders, including Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig and the president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Ernst trips on soybean price question

Beyond policies, both candidates have campaigned heavily on their farm upbringings and ties to Iowa’s agricultural industry as they try to show their relatability.

That effort to show a connection to the challenges Iowa farmers face became a viral moment during a recent televised debate when Ron Steele, a KWWL anchor and moderator, questioned the candidates on the knowledge of current ag commodity prices.

Steele questioned Greenfield on the break-even price of corn, which she correctly answered: about $3.68 per bushel, though farmers’ production costs vary. Ernst answered a similar question about the price of soybeans as $5.50, below the actual price of $10.05.

Her campaign later released a statement saying Ernst was unable to hear the question during a broadcast plagued by technical difficulties. But the moment still spread online as Democrats seized on the moment to argue Ernst is out of touch with Iowa farmers.

Below are the candidates’ stances on key ag and environmental issues:


Joni Ernst

  • Provide COVID-19 aid to farmers and ethanol producers who are hurt by the pandemic.
  • Remove Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Andrew Wheeler from his position if he doesn’t follow through on a court ruling requiring refineries to blend ethnol into the fuel supply.
  • Ernst told the EPA to stop issuing “hardship” waivers exempting obligated parties and to provide topline information about the waivers already issued.

Theresa Greenfield

  • Greenfield is calling for the resignation of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler
  • Expand access to E-15 nationwide through infrastructure investments.
  • Provide COVID-19 aid to farmers and ethanol producers.

Environmental protections

Joni Ernst

  • Ernst supported rolling back President Barack Obama’s “Waters of the United States” rule and said Trump’s, “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” will better help Iowa farmers.
  • Supports offering more flood control resources to Iowa’s rural communities and increasing oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Supports allowing the Army Corps of Engineers recommending funding projects that may not have an economic development benefit, but help low-income rural communities mitigate flooding.

Theresa Greenfield

  • Work with other countries to address climate change and rejoin the Paris Accord.
  • Improve Iowa’s infrastructure funding to help build more flooding mitigation structures.
  • Create financial incentives for farmers who utilize conservation plans.

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