U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during an event in Des Moines in 2019. Last week Pompeo answered questions from Iowa farmers about pertinent issues impacting agriculture. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Trade topic du jour during U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo’s visit with Iowa ag groups

July 23, 2020 | Bethany Baratta

Iowa soybean farmers last week urged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to seek solutions to the ongoing economic turmoil in agriculture.

In a roundtable event hosted by the Iowa Farm Bureau, state commodity groups shared their concerns and offered possible solutions to a variety of key issues, according to farmers who attended the event. The roundtable discussion was closed to media and non-participants.

The past three years have been particularly challenging in agriculture, says Tim Bardole, president of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and a farmer near Rippey.  U.S. producers saw a 13% decline in soybean export values from 2017 to 2019. Soybean export values in 2020 are running nearly 16% lower. Farm income is down more than 50% since 2013.

Bardole, who farms with his dad, brother and son, worries about the longevity of his family’s farms.

“Our families farm three century farms in Greene County. In the last 120 years, our farms have survived the depression and the farm crisis of the 80s. And now, when it’s my responsibility to keep our farms operating, I’m scared to death I’m going to lose them,” Bardole told Pompeo.

He stressed the need for follow-through in China’s commitment under the phase one trade agreement. In the deal, China pledged to purchase $36.5 billion worth of American ag products in 2020 and $43.5 billion in 2021. Iowa State University Economist Dermot Hayes says China needs to import an additional 18.5 million metric tons (570 million bushels) of U.S. soybeans as well as other agricultural products from now until the end of the calendar year to meet the 2020 target. Here’s a look at recent soybean sales to China.

 “The implementation of this important trade agreement must remain a top priority if we are to improve the economic conditions currently impacting U.S. farmers,” Bardole said.

Trade was the topic du jour as representatives from Iowa’s commodity groups also challenged Pompeo to act on a variety of concerns, according to Bardole. Specifically, farmers and representatives addressed the following:

  • Concerns that Canada was finding loopholes in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) issued earlier this month;
  • Opportunities to increases pork exports to Japan;
  • The European Union’s (EU) approach for approving and labeling biotechnology products;
  • Mexico’s pledge to ban glyphosate;
  • Currency manipulation and depreciation in competing countries;
  • Harm done to rural America by the EPA’s granting of hardship waivers, undermining the Renewable Fuels Standard.

Always looking for solutions, ISA’s Bardole voiced the state organization’s support of implementing an emergency Export Enhancement Program, which would help level the playing field between the United States and other countries manipulating their currency. Under this program, the U.S. government would make up the price difference between what South American and U.S. producers receive.

Pompeo said this specific program wasn’t being considered, Bardole said, but said they were working to mitigate those currency differentials which are affecting farmer profitability.

“I hope it will be considered because it would be a way to deal with burdensome stocks of ag commodities due to the trade war, Covid-19-related disruptions, and currency discrepancy between the United States and our competitors,” Bardole said.

Due to Pompeo’s other scheduled commitments for the day, the discussion lapsed before ISA District 5 Director Morey Hill had the opportunity to address Pompeo.

Hill farms near Madrid and also serves as a director on the American Soybean Association (ASA) board. He’s hopeful that Pompeo will work to further address and resolve the issues elevated during the discussion.

“Iowa farmers, U.S. farmers—we’re very good at what we do,” Hill said. “We can grow anything. But we need the state department and all departments to open up markets to sell what we can’t use domestically.”

Contact Bethany Baratta at bbaratta@iasoybeans.com.