Dysart’s Youngblut Ag hosts U.S. House Select Committee hearing
DYSART — Three members of Congress visited Dysart last week Thursday in a sort of reverse ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ scenario for a roundtable discussion meant to further explore the theft of agricultural technology by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson of Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District, and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois’ 8th Congressional District set up shop for roughly two hours inside Youngblut Ag as part of their work on the United States House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party — often shortened to the House Select Committee on the CCP.
The bipartisan committee was formed this past January and is chaired by Gallagher, a Republican, while Krishnamoorthi is the ranking member. Hinson is also a Republican whose district encompasses 22 northeastern Iowa counties, including Tama.
Right around 4 p.m., all three members provided opening remarks while seated on one side of a table facing both the audience which included mostly members of the national and local press as well as several local elected officials — among them state Sens. Eric Giddens (D-Cedar Falls) and Dan Zumbach (R-Ryan). Opposite the three was seated a trio of Iowa farmers including Lori Lang of Benton County, Will Cornelius of Jackson County, and Suzanne Shirbroun of Clayton County — president-elect of the Iowa Soybean Association.
A leviathan-sized Case IH 7120 combine stood sentry mere feet behind the members of Congress.
“It’s been called the greatest transfer of wealth in human history,” Gallagher said in reference to the CCP’s theft of American intellectual property.
According to an estimate by the FBI, Gallagher explained, the CCP annually steals anywhere from $225 to $600 billion worth of such property and trade secrets every year. A significant piece of it was stolen right here in Tama County back in 2011, with both Gallagher and Hinson referencing the local theft in their opening remarks.
“Mo Hailong was discovered right here in Tama County, stealing our seeds and not just any seeds, these were hybrid seeds — products of millions and millions of dollars of research and development of DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto Seed now Corteva and Bayer,” Hinson said as she recounted how Mo, a Chinese national, was discovered digging up seeds in a Dysart area field by a field manager more than a decade ago.
Mo was eventually charged by the Department of Justice and convicted in 2016 in federal court for assorted crimes, Gallagher said.
“We have a duty to protect all our technology whether it’s in Silicon Valley or in a cornfield here in Iowa,” Gallagher said. “Just like the farmer in the Iowa field, you’re being robbed every day in plain sight by the Chinese Communist Party. Today we’re here to discuss how we stop that.”
“We can’t sustain this anymore,” Krishnamoorthi said as part of his opening remarks.
Hinson was the last of the Congressional trio to speak as part of the introductions. She recalled how when she ran for Congress the first time back in 2020, she wanted to focus on three things — protecting taxpayers, standing up for rural America, and protecting safety and security.
The work of the Select Committee on the CCP is an area where all three of her initial goals intersect, she said.
“Our land here in Iowa is sacred,” Hinson said. “When you look at the Heartland, this breadbasket truly does feed and fuel the world. … We’re talking about our most sacred and finite resource and that’s our land. … Why would we let our most serious adversary have the upper hand?
“The status quo is simply too dangerous to maintain.”
The three Iowa farmers who made up the roundtable were also given the opportunity to provide opening remarks. Of the three, Shirbroun — a sixth-generation Iowan who farms corn and soybeans near Prairie du Chien, Wis. with her husband and sons — provided the most robust comments.
“Soybean farmers started building a relationship with China … over 40 years ago. So we understand and we’re well aware of the time and financial commitment that it takes to build a new market,” Shirbroun said. “Since then, China has become the largest importer of soybeans in the world, and the top export market for the U.S. soy at almost 30 million metric tons per year. That means one out of every three rows of soybeans you saw as you were driving here goes to China.”
Shirbroun went on to say that while there is little question that China has targeted the United State’s intellectual property, she pleaded with the Congressional trio to “proceed cautiously, please.”
“There is not another market that can completely replace the Chinese market for the American soybean farmer,” she said. “We need to be deliberate and thoughtful, please. While some suggest that the U.S. revoke China’s current most favored status … the move would decimate agriculture … and could deal a great blow to the American farmer. Instead, we need to diversify our export markets to other countries, especially Southeast Asia.”
Proceeding with caution was a common thread throughout the hearing.
“Let’s do some short-term pain, for long-term gain, that’s for sure,” Cornelius said later in answer to a question. “How do we kind of work together to find a happy medium without doing too much damage?”
Prior to the most recent trade war, Shirbroun explained that 35% of American soybeans were going to China.
“During [the trade war] in 2018, we dropped down to 12-and-a-half percent of our soybeans going to China. You know, you cannot handle that as a farmer on narrow, thin margins,” she said.
One of Hinson’s questions for the farmers was simply how important is biosecurity to the future of agriculture, asking the trio if they think about it and whether it keeps them up at night.
“It’s terrifying,” Cornelius bluntly responded. “I think the key is genetic diversity — not allowing [the tech] to be in the hands of just a few big players and it all gets whittled down. Encouraging other companies — we could go into a whole lot of things here — but essentially encouraging more research and development from smaller independent companies as well.”
The conversation also centered around America’s competitive edge over China, including the superiority of U.S. soils and the importance of maintaining that edge through stewardship.
“Do they have the land to produce what we’re producing here with the best land in the world? … This is the best land in the world. Can they do that or is it moot? If they don’t have the land, they can’t produce it,” said local farmer Leonard Youngblut, father of Youngblut Ag owner Pete Youngblut.
“I think the answer is they cannot copy and paste the land. It’s really hard,” Rep. Krishnamoorthi responded. “You can copy and paste a house, you can copy and paste a lot of things, but there’s certain things that are intrinsic, right? The most fascinating thing to me as I’m sitting listening to all of you talk is, for 40 years or more they have been importing millions and millions and millions of tons of soy and corn and other exports — they don’t want to do that. They don’t want to do that. In every other industry, they have basically taken whatever has been imported, copied it, rearranged it, and then set up their own operation and then they export it to the rest of the world. But they just were never able to do that with your crops. … Like [Rep. Gallagher was saying], I think there’s something special about our freedom — our freedom to think, innovate, be rebellious spirits. … We always have to protect that secret sauce.”
Later, as the roundtable neared its end, Benton County farmer Lori Lang contributed several rather poignant thoughts to the conversation, suggesting — like her fellow farmers — that the representatives tread lightly and be aware of what’s happening on the ground including keeping tabs on who’s buying Iowa’s farmland.
“While the corn theft happened, now they’re buying [the land] and it’s being allowed,” Lang said. “They used to buy our soybeans and now they own the hogs. It’s very scary. As we’ve said a million times, our land is our biggest resource right now and they’re buying it kind of secretively through real estate trusts or shell companies — ways I don’t understand, but it’s happening and it needs to be stopped.”
In his final remarks, Krishnamoorthi brought up the fact Shirbroun said the word ‘please’ multiple times during her opening statements, epitomizing ‘Iowa Nice.’
“I lost count. That word doesn’t show up in Washington, D.C. very often,” Krishnamoorthi said. “It’s like a foreign word.”
While Shirbroun may have racked up the most pleasantries during the 90 minute roundtable, all three farmers nicely and repeatedly urged the congressional trio to remember something of great importance to both local farmers and farmers across the Midwest — legislation affects real people.
People who, at this point in time, are still very much reliant on China, otherwise known as the CCP, to buy their commodities.