Women in Ag town hall meeting

Shirley Axtell, an Iowa Falls pork producer, talks to Sen. Chuck Grassley about African swine fever during a recent Women in Ag town hall meeting at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls.

IOWA FALLS, Iowa — Trade, refinery waivers, immigration reform, increasing the Chapter 12 debt limit, and keeping African swine fever out of the country were among the topics discussed at a recent Women in Ag town hall meeting with U.S. Senator Charles Grassley in Iowa Falls.

Held at Ellsworth Community College, there were about 45 women at the event hosted by the Iowa State University Extension Women in Ag program.

Cheryl Tevis, of Boone County, said she is glad the EPA is going to allow year-round sales of E15.

“But at the same time, it’s busy waiving refineries from meeting biofuel blending quotas,” Tevis told Grassley. “What can be done? Because farmers really are hurting. We need the ethanol market stronger than it’s been.”

Under the Renewable Fuel Standard, refineries must demonstrate they have blended certain volumes of renewable fuel into gasoline or diesel fuel. Small refineries can petition the EPA for a temporary waiver from the requirements.

The senator said he has reason to believe EPA Director Andrew Weaver is going to be more careful about issuing waivers than former director Scott Pruitt.

“The president was elected on the promise to support biofuel, so you get all this certitude from Pruitt,” Grassley said. “Then you find out a year later that all these waivers were given out willy-nilly to a lot of companies that don't have any hardship. All I can tell you is Weaver said it’s going to be different.”

Talking trade

Nancy Bohl Bormann, a Kossuth County farmer, asked Grassley about trade agreements and tariffs.

“Europe, they don't want to negotiate agriculture,” Grassley said. “Japan is just now starting to sit down with us.”

But Canada has arrangements with Japan under the Trans-Pacific Partnership that undercut the United States, he said. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of that agreement.

“We won't have any markets there as long as Canada is marketing the same things we are,” Grassley said. “If we get an agreement with Japan, I think it will make up 90% of what we lost because the president pulled us out of TPP.”

Grassley said he expects a briefing soon by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on China trade negotiations. After a meeting in Beijing in May and one in Washington D.C. in June, things should be finalized, he said.

“For tariffs to come off, there needs to be structural reforms — China can't steal our intellectual property and trade secrets, can't force our companies doing business in China to share their technology,” Grassley said. “I think great progress is being made.”

With the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, tariffs still in place might slow the path to ratification. During a recent White House meeting, Grassley said he questioned the situation.

“I say to the president, ‘You put tariffs on because they weren't negotiating, you got a good agreement, shouldn't tariffs go off?’ ... ‘We want them to negotiate quotas’ is the answer I got.”

The president said China is shipping steel from China to Canada into the United States, Grassley said, and he wants to put a stop to that.

Labor needs

Melissa O'Rourke, an Extension farm management field specialist from Winneshiek County, said women are often in charge of recruiting, hiring and developing ag employees. Iowa is a top egg, poultry, dairy and livestock producer, and these industries have high labor needs.

“We’ve suffered quite a labor shortage,” O'Rourke said. “Our immigration system makes it really difficult for these farm employers to bring in people as legal immigrants who can work on farms.”

Grassley said a bipartisan group has tried to negotiate changes to the visa system for agricultural workers as part of the appropriations bill, but during negotiations between top House and Senate leaders, the proposals have not made it into the final bill.

Kiley Fleming, executive director of Iowa Mediation Service, asked if Grassley's proposal to increase the debt limit to $10 million for Chapter 12 bankruptcy is likely to pass.

Grassley said there has been pushback from bankers.

“Right now very few farmers can use Chapter 12 because $3 million for the nature of our farms today is not enough,” Fleming said.

Shirley Axtell, an Iowa Falls pork producer, told the Iowa lawmaker she is concerned about African swine fever.

“It would affect more than farmers. It would affect truckers, bankers, implement dealers,” Axtell said. “What precautions have been made to keep it out of our borders?”

Grassley didn’t offer specifics, but said he recently met with Iowa pork producer leaders who also expressed concern.

“They said there is a need to keep this out at the ports, both in meat and feed that comes in from other countries,” Grassley said.