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Visit reveals current struggles in farming

Article cover photo
Farmers Scot Bailey (Anita, left) and Tom Vincent (Perry, right) also engaged with Rep. Axne on trade, disaster assistance and renewable fuels during her visit to the Iowa Soybean Association office. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) spent time talking to farmers and staff about issues ranging from disaster assistance to water quality during a visit to the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) office in Ankeny.

Axne and her district director Kaity Patchett toured ISA’s certified water lab, asking questions about its use and how it helps farmers meet the goals of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

 “We’re project-driven, so whatever the local area’s issue is, we can help,” said Anthony Seeman, ISA environmental research coordinator.

 In 2011, ISA began analyzing water samples in its accredited water lab. The lab is certified by the EPA through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to analyze E. coli, nitrate, nitrite and fluoride under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The water lab analyzed nearly 4,000 water samples in 2018, Seeman said.

But it’s the personalized approach that’s making the difference in water quality, Seeman said.

“Farmers respond to data on their own fields,” he said, noting that analyzed samples provide a baseline and help set water quality goals in reaching the state’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

“We’ve got the systems here. People are making the routes, pulling water samples and then the lab quantifies what's happening on my farm,” said Tom Vincent, an ISA member and farmer from Perry.

Results from water samples on Vincent’s farm helped him determine that a saturated buffer and a bioreactor on two separate farms would benefit water quality.

“The lab helps answer the question, ‘How do I get started?’ These folks can tell me how I can get the results I’m aiming for,” Vincent said.

Farmers are solution-seekers, reaching out to ISA for assistance in water monitoring, ISA Public Affairs Director Michael Dolch said.

“We pride ourselves in being pretty progressive here at ISA not only with our staff, but our farmer-members are interested in raising their hand and being a part of the conversation. They admit that not everything that’s done on the farm is maybe the way it should be done, but they’re interested in improving,” Dolch said.

Central to ISA’s overall mission, though, is expanding opportunities and delivering results in the form of markets and soybean sales, ISA Director of Market Development Grant Kimberley told Axne.

That’s why it’s critical that trade negotiations between the United States and China get resolved.

“You can’t lose your No. 1 market — a market that’s 60 percent of the world’s market — and expect that we can just offset it with just selling a little bit more to Europe,” Kimberley said. “We were doing that, but it’s still not enough.”

He noted that soybean sales to China were down about 89 percent. “We’ll offset that loss and gain market share in other places, but we can’t quite get it all back.”

An outlook from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that if the trade war continues with China, it would take until 2027 to get back to the level of soybean sales achieved two years ago.

Extension of the biodiesel tax incentive — which Axne has supported — could help dwindle soybean supplies and support prices, Kimberley noted.

“If we can gain more domestic demand that can help,” he said.

Supplies have weighed on the soybean market, squashing prices to levels not seen in more than 10 years. The market facilitation payments could help soybean farmers affected by the ongoing trade disruptions, but that’s only one piece of it. Those disruptions — combined with soggy weather delaying or preventing planting this year — have all come at once, noted Vincent.

“As farmers, we’re pretty resilient, and it’s not in our nature to come looking for handouts. But there’s a confluence of events here that come together to make these discussions necessary,” Vincent said.

Axne said she’s listened to her constituents and has seen the damage created not only from flooding and natural disasters, but from market disruptions as well.

“We wouldn’t expect any other industry to put up with all of these roadblocks and impacts on their ability to provide,” Axne said. “And so why are we consistently throwing our agriculture industry under the bus in whatever the negotiation is? …  There’s only so much that our farmers can take. They’re at breaking points.”

Axne said she’ll continue to push for a resolve to ongoing trade negotiations. She’s working with U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson from South Dakota to relax the November deadline for grazing cover crops to allow for earlier grazing. She was recently appointed to a rural broadband task force and said she’s also working to include rural small businesses as part of advocacy efforts under the Small Business Administration.

Axne said she’ll take the information and concerns from ISA members and staff back to Capitol Hill.

“I’m trying to make sure everybody in my democratic caucus understands the value of agriculture to our entire country from a national security perspective and from an economic perspective,” Axne said. “I’m going to continue to push that agenda.”

Contact Bethany Baratta at

For media inquiries, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at Iowa Soybean Association | 1255 SW Prairie Trail Pkwy | Ankeny | IA | 50023 | US

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