Secretary Naig Sees Concern, Anger in the Iowa Countryside
Between the recent Iowa State Fair and traveling to summer trade shows, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig has had a lot of interaction with farmers.
“There’s a tremendous amount of concern in the countryside, and I would even say anger related to a culmination of a lot of events,” he said in an exclusive interview with Successful Farming.
Naig says the angry Iowa famers he hears from are upset about the recent small refinery exceptions that the EPA granted. The secretary says this decision had an immediate impact on prices and added strain on the renewable fuels industry.
“We’ve seen plants now shut down. We know that plants have idled back, and that’s a deep concern to us,” Naig explains.
According to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the renewable fuel industry supports more than 48,000 jobs in the state and accounts for more than $5 billion of Iowa’s GDP.
In addition to the industry’s economic contribution to the state, the 43 ethanol plants that dot the region contribute to rural America in ways that are harder to quantify, says Naig. “The ethanol plants typically situated in our smaller communities are important employers and they’re an important market for farmers.”
Naig points out that many of Iowa’s ethanol plants are owned by farmers. “Our government said we’re going to put a premium on domestic produced energy and farmers, in many cases, created and invested in these plants. To go the other direction on all the policy that supports this industry, this renewable, domestic source of energy, it’s problematic,” the secretary says, adding the state is anxious to see how the administration will turn things around.
In recent weeks Naig spent time with both U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Undersecretary Bill Northey. He says the most important thing for the USDA leaders to take back to Washington is the fact that farmers are concerned and hurting.
“There’s a real frustration over these actions that EPA took on the RFS, on these small refinery exemptions, and there is an expectation that something will be done to remedy that situation,” Naig continues.
“For Iowa, passage of USMCA is critically important,” Naig says, adding he’s hopeful it will get done when congress returns from recess.
Data from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture shows that Iowa exports $658 million worth of ag products to Canada, and $1.6 billion in ag products to Mexico.
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The passage of USMCA would signal to the world that the U.S. is serious about trade and getting agreements in place, the secretary said.
If the ethanol situation is resolved and USMCA is passed, Naig believes farmers will give the administration more time to secure a trade deal with China.
“If farmers continue to believe that a deal is possible and that a deal means the situation will be far better than it was before, then I think farmers will continue to give the administration time to get that done,” Naig explains.
Recent news of a potential trade agreement with Japan is welcome news for the state of Iowa.
“It’s our No. 1 pork market by value,” Naig explains. Japan is also an important market for beef, corn, and soybean exports.