Q & A: Iowa agriculture

Sen Chuck Grassley, GCNO file photo

Feb. 24, 2017

~with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: Are you concerned about how new trade agreements may impact Iowa’s economy?

A:  As a lifelong family farmer and U.S. Senator representing Iowa, I am keenly aware that our state has an export-dependent economy. Iowa exports roughly $15 billion in goods to foreign shores and across our borders. On average, export-related jobs pay more than non-export-related jobs.

According to the U.S. International Trade Administration, 107,000 jobs in Iowa are supported by exports. Iowa farm exports from the harvest and herds grown and raised on 89,000 family farms “between two rivers” generate more than one-third of Iowa farm receipts.  Iowa is the nation’s largest exporter of farm commodities, including soybeans, pork, corn, feed, and processed grain products.

Workers in our factories manufacture and supply world class machinery and equipment to buyers around the globe and their paychecks support businesses, schools and retailers in our local communities. There’s no doubt that access to international markets provide certainty and income stability, particularly during the current downturn in the farm economy.

Exports boost commodity prices, create higher-paying jobs and generate economic vitality across our state.  Considering that one out of five jobs in Iowa is trade-dependent and every third row planted in our fields is exported, it’s essential that U.S. trade negotiators forge market-opening opportunities for American agriculture.

We must continue to build upon our productivity and expand market share, not shrink it. Lessons learned after the 1980s farm crisis taught us the importance of diversifying and stretching our ag-based economy with value-added products, including renewable energy and biofuels, and expanding market access to international trading partners. Many Iowans may recall that for years following the farm crisis, I organized a biennial trade tour with foreign dignitaries to showcase what Iowa has to offer to help forge ties with trading partners.   Q: How will you work to keep markets open for American agriculture?

A: When it comes to crafting and enforcing trade agreements, I keep my eyes and ears open to ensure American agriculture is given a fair deal, not a raw deal. Non-tariff trade barriers and other forms of trade-distorting support do more harm than good when it comes to accessing and increasing sales and revenue for U.S. farm exports. That includes our own federal domestic programs, such as the tariff-rate quota for sugar that inflates consumer prices and makes it more expensive for sugar-dependent food industries to do business.

While I agree with President Trump’s goal to secure a better deal for the United States with existing and new trading partners, I recently cautioned his trade advisor to be clear-eyed to make sure that American agriculture isn’t overlooked during negotiations. Iowa is absorbing a slump in farm revenue for the third consecutive year. If foreign markets look to other countries to fill their pantries and feed their people, American agriculture – all along the farm to fork supply chain — will suffer. Only five percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, so it’s important to remember that foreign markets contribute tremendously to prosperity for American agriculture.

Rural America takes pride in a heritage and way of life that raises families and builds close-knit communities. From generation to generation, Iowans have grown grain that can fuel and feed the world, processed raw commodities into cereals and meats, built grain bins and farm machinery to help plant and harvest our crops and developed innovative seed technologies to advance sustainable production agriculture that can feed a growing world population. Iowa eggs, dairy and meats grace tables around the world. Improving market access with our current trading partners and opening markets with new trade agreements will allow Iowa to build on the blessings of our agricultural abundance and secure prosperity for generations to come.

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