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Trump visits derecho-hit Iowa, talks about China

President Trump spoke of large corn exports booked for delivery to China while assuring Iowans “the full support of the federal government” in recovering from a derecho in a Tuesday visit. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said agriculture — flattened crops and wind-blasted farmsteads — accounts for most of the $4 billion in estimated damage from the storm.

“It’s basically a 40-mile-wide tornado that went through the state of Iowa,” with winds up to 112 mph, said Reynolds during a briefing with Trump. Iowa state agriculture secretary Mike Naig said a region stretching from central to eastern Iowa “took the bull’s-eye” of damage from the intense rain and windstorm that roared from eastern Nebraska, across Iowa, and into northern Illinois on August 10. “There are millions of acres of corn that just won’t flat-out be able to be harvested,” said Naig.

“I’ve seen corn flat on the ground in my 50 years of farming but I’ve never seen it, mile after mile, just flat on the ground and very little of it recoverable, I think,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, describing conditions in the 120 miles between Boone and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Iowa is the No. 1 corn and ethanol state. Before the derecho, the USDA said Iowa would produce 2.7 billion bushels of corn and 541 million bushels of soybeans; 18% of a U.S. corn crop that is forecast to be the largest ever and 12% of the expected soybean harvest.

As he did at a news conference on Saturday, Trump cited recent record-setting corn sales to China.

“How does it affect an order like that when you have such damage to the crops — to the corn crop?” he asked. Grassley said there would be no problem because of the large U.S. stockpile of corn.

“We got that (the sales to China) because they think I’m not happy, and I’m not,” said Trump. “I’m not. Not happy at all. Just the opposite.” Later in the day, Trump said he postponed trade talks with China. “I don’t want to deal with them now,” he said in Yuma, Arizona.

The “phase one” trade deal obliges China to buy vast amounts of U.S. goods and services. Farm exports would double or triple from their current levels under the deal. Although China has quickened the pace of its purchases, it has a long way to go to meet this year’s target of $36.6 billion of food, agricultural, and seafood products. China-U.S. relations have worsened during the pandemic.

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who is running for re-election, told Trump “our farmers really need some help this year obviously with the crop damage, and that would be a major step forward” if EPA would reject requests from oil refineries for retroactive exemptions from the ethanol mandate. “We’ll speak to them,” replied Trump.

Grain handlers say the derecho seriously damaged or destroyed 57 million bushels of storage, with a cost of $300 million to remove, repair, or replace the damaged grain bins, reported the Iowa state Agriculture Department. “Tens of millions of bushels of on-farm storage were also lost during the storm.” It said the derecho probably had the greatest impact on 3.57 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans in one-third of the state. Iowa farmers planted 14 million acres of corn and 9.4 million acres of soybeans this spring.

Unofficial estimates say the derecho reduced the corn harvest in Iowa by 200 million to 400 million bushels.

Nearly 600,000 households lost power during the derecho and more than 10% were waiting for electrical service to be restored, said Reynolds. Damage was more widespread than flooding in 2018.

“We’re going to help you recover from the storm and we’ll get it done and we’ll get it done together,” said Trump, who signed a disaster declaration on Monday to make federal aid available to Iowa. “We’re offering you the full support of the federal government.”

To watch a C-SPAN video of the half-hour briefing, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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