Iowa Commodity panel: ‘Trade, infrastructure, new demand are top priorities’
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SPENCER – A flourishing Iowa agricultural economy is based on many factors, and some of them were discussed with a panel of industry leaders at the Northwest Iowa Ag Outlook held in Spencer.
Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Hill told grain and livestock producers that the United States Congress must keep global trade on the front burner, especially for Iowa farmers.
“Iowa is the second most export-dependent state in the country, and by square mile, we are the largest and most significant ag state in the country,” he said.
The lost opportunity with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the re-negotiating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has put Iowa at risk, according to Hill.
“Half of all of our pork exports go to Mexico, Canada or North Korea, and North Korea will also undergo a re-negotiation,” he said. “So we’ve put in jeopardy many of our ag products and our opportunities to export.”
He added there is much global tension, and “just as with a volcano, you never know when it will erupt,” he said. “If it does erupt, we’re so vulnerable, as any disruption to our demand hinders agriculture. It will put all of our farmers in financial peril.”
The U.S. needs to rejoin the TPP and settle on NAFTA negotiations and move on, he said. As it stands now, TPP will “go on without us,” and if the U.S. decides to rejoin at a later date, it will come in at a lesser positioning than if they had remained.
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law last month Senate File 5-12, which allocated about $282 million over the next 12 years to water quality efforts in Iowa. Those funds come from an existing tax on metered drinking water and gambling revenue.
State Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, said legislative support for the file was overwhelmingly positive, and called it the beginning of a system “we can all use.” The money can be used to help farmers put water quality practices in place.
“It’s practices in place that make water quality better,” said Zumbach. “As farmers, you know that if you put in a waterway, filter strip, a repairing strip along your streams, a cover crop, a bioreactor, or any combination of all the things you know, that’s what makes water quality better.”
He added that often people look to the government to make improvements, but producers first need to begin with their own operations when deciding to help improve water quality.
The economic impact of the beef industry in Iowa came up in discussion, with that amount adding up to $50 million in Clay County alone. In western areas of northwest Iowa, those figures rose to $117 million in O’Brien County, and $705 million in Sioux County.
According to figures distributed by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, the economic impact of the beef industry as a whole in Iowa amounts to $5,976,005,902.
“And we still have room to grow,” said Steve Biedenfeld, District 2 director for the ICA.
Hill said Iowa agriculture supports the world and the state. According to him, 27 percent of Iowa’s pork and 15 percent of the state’s beef is exported. As the world population grows and demands more ag products, he believes Iowa’s industries will respond.
“China is planning on going to a 10 percent ethanol blend in the next few years and that will take a billion bushels of corn,” he said. “Many economists believe China cannot produce that much corn. In 2003, we didn’t sell any soybeans to China, and now we’ve signed an agreement to send them the equivalent of the whole state’s crop. So agriculture is important to our communities, to our state and to our world’s demands.”
Kelly Nieuwenhuis, District 1 director of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, said the ethanol/biofuels industry has contributed $4.7 billion in GDP, and has created 42,000 jobs in Iowa alone. He said government grant monies are available for retailers, cooperatives and others to install infrastructure, which includes E-85 at their pumps, fueling the need for Iowa corn.
He also shared that a patent application has come into play from the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, which adds to a previously-issued U.S. patent on a proprietary production method using corn in the industrial manufacturing of a raw material called monoethylene glycol (MEG), which is an industrial chemical used in the manufacturing of antifreeze, as well as plastic bottles for soda and bottled water and polyester clothes.
Nieuwenhuis said the manufacturing of corn-based bio-MEG would help eliminate the need for petroleum-based ethylene derivatives and create more environmentally-friendly bioplastic products, and increase demand for Iowa corn farmers.
New uses for Iowa soybeans include working with representatives from China to experiment with aquaculture and raising bluefin tuna, a high-end product in Japan.
“They tell us that if we can get that industry (aquaculture) up and running, we’ll use as much soybean product there as we do in the hog industry in the United States,” said Chuck White, of Spencer, representing the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).
He said last August the Goodyear company also used soybean oil to manufacture some of their tires.
Hill said Iowa is in need of improved infrastructure, including bridges, roads and river infrastructure. Improved river infrastructure would allow barges to enter and leave the state’s locks and dams without having to be dismantled on one side and reassembled on the other because the current infrastructure is too small.
“If we shut down the rivers, we can’t move product, and that puts us out of business,” he said.
Zumbach added Iowa’s road infrastructure needs to be upgraded to meet the load and demands of semi trucks, which most farmers use to haul grain.
“You must go out and tell your story”
Nieuwenhuis said Iowa is fighting the battle of animal rights groups, with combined annual budgets of $500 million. He called it a challenge to find the funding to fight that negativity and “anti-agriculture attitude.”
Farm people must tell their stories of agriculture, according to Zumbach.
“There is a group of people (animal activists) who are very loud and who are trying to paint you as something you are not,” he said. “You must go out and tell your story. When you are in town, let people know that you care about your land and your animals. You are believable because of who you are. People will believe you as a farmer.”
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