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Trade, African swine fever, disaster relief top priorities during under secretary’s Iowa farm visit

Article cover photo
Under Secretary Greg Ibach stresses the importance of preparing farm protocols for diseases like African swine fever during a meeting in Atlantic earlier this week. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

Iowa farmers this week pushed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach on the importance of completing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), foreign animal disease preparedness, and a host of other issues during his visit to Iowa.

Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) members Brad and Kristy Pellett hosted Ibach, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and about 25 other farmers in their Atlantic home for a discussion about agricultural topics.

Top-of-mind priority for many farmers — and Ibach — was the USMCA. ISA board member Bill Shipley said the trade agreement with our neighbors to the north and south is good for Iowa agriculture.

“Like the Under Secretary mentioned, I don’t think there’s a downside to USMCA. We need to get it done,” Shipley, ISA past president from Nodaway, said.

Ibach said the pressure is on Congress to schedule a vote to pass the USMCA.

“We feel confident at USDA that the votes will be there if we can get a vote scheduled,” Ibach said.

However, Iowa farmers need to keep putting the pressure on representatives to support it, he said.

“We need rural America to be talking and supporting the USMCA agreement that is on the table. Mexico has already moved forward, and they’re sending it to be ratified … Canada looks on track to take action as well,” Ibach said.

Full implementation of the USMCA would increase U.S. agricultural exports to the world by $2.2 billion, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The passage of the USMCA could be a beacon of hope for Iowa farmers who have faced a plethora of challenges in the past year, said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

“When you look at all the uncertainty we have right now, we need to build some positive news into the market,” Naig said. “It’s incredibly frustrating to know that USMCA is right there — you can reach out and grab it. We can introduce this into Congress, we can pass it and we can be on our way.”

It could set the tone for additional trade deals, said Jeff Jorgenson, an ISA board member from Sidney.

“My hope with USMCA is that it creates a snowball effect in that it opens up other opportunities for world trade,” Jorgenson said.

Ibach said there’s hope that China will return as a top customer for U.S. exports. Recent news that European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said China hasn’t upheld its pledges it made upon entrance of the World Trade Organization supports the United States’ continued trade impasse with China, Ibach said.

“I’m very optimistic that we have turned the corner, especially if Europe and some other countries start pointing their finger at China with us. That’s more incentive for China to reach an agreement,” Ibach said. The pieces of the trade renegotiations that he’s worked on appear to contain elements that would restore trade faster, he said.

“I’m more optimistic there won’t be the rebuilding period (for Chinese exports) that some fear,” Ibach said.

Efforts to combat ASF

The USDA has a coordinated approach when it comes to combating African swine fever (ASF) or any other foreign animal diseases, Ibach said. Protocols have worked in the past in keeping out foreign animal diseases. But the USDA isn’t resting on its laurels.

“We’re not just sitting back and saying what we’ve done in the past has worked. We’re really fine-tuning and coordinating on a whole new level with customers and border patrol,” Ibach said.

The USDA and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) division are researching areas such as ethnic marketplaces and airports, identifying foods or materials which could be a vector in transmitting ASF or other diseases.

They are also in close coordination with the pork industry and the entire chain to determine best practices in keeping ASF out, as well as determining the response if it were to be introduced in the United States.

Naig said the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) is having “tough love” conversations with producers in the state to ensure farmers are stepping up their biosecurity and preparedness efforts.

“Each producer, each entity throughout the chain has got to look at their own biosecurity in a way that’s not just theoretical … but in a realistic way on their own farm,” Naig said.

Disaster recovery

Flood and disaster recovery have been at the forefront for farmers along the Missouri River since March when the river burst its banks and blew out levees. For the first time since the flooding, Jorgenson was able to make his way into his fields along the river this week to survey the damage. Farmers affected by the flooding are still waiting on disaster relief payments to determine their next steps, Jorgenson told Ibach.

“If you could take the message back with you that these folks will be trying to farm in 2020 … but they’re worried about cash flow,” Jorgenson said.

Without the disaster relief payments and some certainty that they will be compensated for their loss of production due to flooding, some may not farm at all, he said.

“There’s a lot of these producers who don’t have time to wait. Every day we’re paying interest on that money (borrowed to operate) and we’re not farming,” Jorgenson said.

Ibach said he understood the concerns and the frustrations felt by producers in Iowa and in his home state of Nebraska.

It’s a long process, Jorgenson said, but he understands he has to continue to be patient.

“It’s a convoluted process, and they’re doing everything they can to get it (disaster relief payments) out as quick as they can, but the reality is that it’s a slow-moving process,” Jorgenson said. “We have to have patience.”

Contact Bethany Baratta at

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