U.S. Secretary of Ag talks trade in Melbourne

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, left, and Congressman Rod Blum, right, visited the LICA Farm in Melbourne Wednesday afternoon. After a tour, the two held a town hall-style meeting, and farmers and agribusiness staff shared their thoughts on trade, farm legislation and E-15 fuel.

MELBOURNE – Agricultural tariffs and their effects on farmers were among many topics discussed in Melbourne when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited Wednesday.

He was joined by Congressman Rod Blum at a town hall meeting at the Land Improvement Contractors of America (LICA) Farm. Perdue acknowledged the hardships caused for farmers in the trade war under the President Donald Trump administration, but had an optimistic outlook for the future.

“I’m really proud of our agricultural community, they’ve stood with the president, it’s been painful, they’ve seen the prices drop on hogs and soybeans and other crops, but they understood he’s doing it for the right reasons,” Perdue said. “China has cheated and farmers don’t like cheating.”

He said the calculated losses due to the crop tariffs come to one cent per bushel of corn and $1.65 per bushel of soybeans.

“That doesn’t seem right, but that’s the degree of tariff damage that we had to calculate,” Perdue said of the loss numbers.

Another concern aired at the meeting had to do with strain between the U.S. and Canada on milk tariffs.

“For the first time, we’ve done a $50 million fluid milk purchase to go into our food banks and others,” Perdue said.

He said the overall federal aid to farmers suffering from the tariffs “was never meant to try to make people whole or do what some people are suggesting, regarding regaining profitability – we don’t have the money to do that.”

He said the recent news of a trade deal being formed between the U.S. and Mexico is encouraging, and that he hopes Canada will join such an agreement. He said the U.S. should build markets in other areas of the world, such as Japan, Southeast Asia and India.

Perdue compared the tariff-related hardships to a drought.

“Is it going to rain tomorrow? Is it going to rain next week? When is it going to rain again?” he said. “It is going to rain again, we are going to trade with China again, but I can’t tell you a time period on that, but I do see some good clouds building.”

Farm Bill

Another issue brought up at the meeting was of the 2018 Farm Bill, which recently had separate versions pass in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Perdue said he prefers the House’s version, which includes language regarding food assistance. He said states have been “gaming the system” when it comes to federal food assistance programs.

“Americans are compassionate, they’re generous and they want to help people who are down on their luck, but they want people to help themselves,” Perdue said. “The president has been very clear, the vice president has been very clear about the ability to enforce these work requirements on people.”

He said he hopes the bill will pass before the end of September. Blum shared that sentiment, saying he doesn’t want “lame duck” legislators voting on such a bill later this year.

“I’d rather have it be this congress to get it done before the election,” he said.

E-15

Some audience members also brought up concerns about improving the situation for E-15 fuel. Perdue said he has been speaking with acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler on the subject.

“I think we’ve got to have 12-month E-15,” Perdue said. “That’s what the president wants to do.”

He said he also supports more transparency from the EPA small refiner waiver program, which was another subject of concern among some at the meeting.

Perdue’s trip to Melbourne followed other events in Boone County earlier Wednesday, and he said the topics of trade, renewable fuels and the federal farm bill were brought up at all of the meetings.

He is set to join Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig for a breakfast event in Ames Thursday, followed by trips to Panora and Atlantic.

Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com