Time to change is now

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

All this winning is tough on the bank account. Soybeans continued to take a haircut last week while the stock markets got shaved with the rusty razor of new tariffs on China. In retaliation, China cancelled all purchases of US agricultural products, and on Monday devalued its currency to offset Trump’s 10% additional tariffs on all Chinese imports.

We will have to get used to it. China has declared publicly that it is interested in Brazil as its preferred soybean source. Trump himself said there probably will be no trade deal until after the 2020 elections. Which means that these markets are lost to Iowa growers for years. Also, since we are not a part of the Trans Pacific Partnership, it is likely that our prospects for export growth in Asia are limited. President Trump also has started trade disputes with South Korea and Japan, our other two biggest ag trade customers.

These huge markets might be lost permanently.

It tells us that China does not think it needs us, or at least not at the current price.

The commodity markets have been telling us for many years, with the exception of the occasional bubble, that we are growing too much corn and soy for harvest — about a third too much.

Scientists also tell us that the surest way to solve surface water pollution and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is to reduce corn/soy acreage in Iowa and Illinois by about one-third.

Consider, also, that MidAmerican Energy is installing super-fast charging stations for electric cars all over Iowa, including one at Early. The Koreans are announcing new, $8 billion lithium battery manufacturing factories at the pace of three a week. This does not bode well for corn ethanol.

Fortunately, farmers are ahead of the politicians and tired of the swindlers stealing their corn and our futures. Leaders of groups like the Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Iowa Farmers Union are educating presidential candidates about the benefits of sustainable agriculture and conservation. If we pay farmers to capture carbon by growing grass and grazing cattle, we can suck huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and clean up the water in the Gulf of Mexico (not to mention Storm Lake and the Raccoon River). Plus, conservation practices help reduce the impact of extreme weather by holding water (and soil) back from the rivers.

Nearly every Democratic presidential campaign has put agricultural conservation at the tip of the spear to attack climate change. Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg were the first. It was mentioned three times during the last debate in Detroit. The soil has the capacity to extract up to 15% of the carbon from the atmosphere in relatively short order, but there has to be a way to pay the farmer giving up corn for grass.

It is already there. It is called the Conservation Stewardship Program, inserted into the Farm Bill by former Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin of Iowa. He saw it as the future security net for agriculture, over crop insurance or price subsidies. He saw it as a way to lift southern Iowa out of poverty. Now, it may be a way to save the rest of the state from imploding export markets, extreme weather and rumblings from New Orleans that they are tired of being our corn sewer. Congress has been cutting the CSP program since Harkin wrote it, but now the candidates plan to ramp up funding so it can compete with corn for cash rents.

Perversely, President Trump has set the stage for the change that Iowa has needed for 40 years. It becomes more urgent every week as this Administration destroys trade for Iowa farmers and businesses, throws disaster payments around willy-nilly in hopes of buying one more election, and terrifies the workforce of major food processors spread across this state.

Iowa farmers can lead America into a healthier future if we set them up to be the solution to, rather than the cause of, our environmental problems. The discussion is only picking up froth as more candidates push to put farmers and Rural America at the forefront of the climate solution. Let China and Brazil play their game. We need to take care of Iowa, we can’t control what Brazil or China will do — or our lunatic President. Iowa has not done well under the export-based petro-chemical regime that destroys independent producers and rural communities. The candidates are learning what the farmers already know. The significant damage to export markets, combined with climate change, makes this transition imperative to Iowa’s prosperity.

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