A sigh of relief? Federal farm aid proposal draws mixed reaction locally

Robert Maharry

Even before Donald Trump imposed tariffs on foreign-made goods that launched a so-called “trade war,” primarily between the United States and China, Iowa farmers had been taking it on the chin for the last few years due to a combination of high input costs and low commodity prices. The retaliation against American pork, corn and soybeans—25 percent across the board—only added to the misery, and the president is hoping to ease the pain with a $12 billion relief package he proposed last week and subsequently touted during a stop in Dubuque.
Still, area farmers, most of whom supported Trump in 2016, remain largely ambivalent: they want more trade opportunities and markets more closely resembling the ones they enjoyed seven years ago when corn sold for nearly $8 a bushel, but some of them agree with his position that deals need to be renegotiated in order to ensure more favorable outcomes for U.S. producers and prevent the theft of intellectual property.
“It’s kind of embarrassing to take welfare,” said Keith Sheller, who farms near the Ivester Church of the Brethren in western Grundy County. “But a lot of people are going to be in big trouble if we don’t turn things around.”
Grundy County Farm Bureau President Jon Freese, who’s held the position for just over a year and farms north of Grundy Center, takes a broader view and uses his community as an illustration of why the measures are necessary.
“It’s not welfare because it’s not just for us. If the farmers don’t make money—especially in rural Iowa—Main Street won’t make money,” he said. “You talk to your restaurants and grocery stores and Manly Drug and see if farmers are spending more lately.”
The payments, as they’ve been explained so far, would come out of the revenues generated from tariffs that the U.S. has imposed on other countries, but almost every farmer or spokesperson for an agriculturally-aligned group who’s gone on the record to this point has espoused a similar refrain: we want trade, not aid.
“What I sense from people is that they’re concerned, and they’re willing to be patient,” said Mark Buskohl, who farms between Grundy Center and Dike. “(But) going into harvest and the first of the year when you go in to meet the banker, it’s a concern.”
As evidenced by the $867 billion farm bill—the largest chunk of which, it should be noted, covers food stamps and nutrition assistance for low-income individuals and families—that failed to advance through the House and Senate this year, the federal government already plays a crucial role in setting policy and maintaining a safety net for farmers. The 2014 bill set aside around $190 billion for crop insurance, conservation and commodity programs, according to The Washington Post.
“It’s too bad that we’re being used against another country,” Grundy County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Ivester-area farmer Jim Ross said. “There’s always been a perception that farmers are on welfare, and this just reinforces that.” 
Read the full story in this week's Grundy Register. Subscribe by calling (319) 824-6958 or clicking here. 

The Grundy Register

601 G. Avenue - P.O. Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
Telephone: 1-319-824-6958
Fax: 1-800-340-0805

Mid-America Publishing

This newspaper is part of the Mid-America Publishing Family. Please visit www.midampublishing.com for more information.