Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a visit to Iowa to reassure farmers that trade negotiations are proceeding and that farmers just need to be patient.

DES MOINES — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a visit to Iowa to reassure farmers that trade negotiations are proceeding and that farmers just need to be patient.

“The president is taking a hard line” in trade negotiations with China, Pompeo told a group of agricultural organization leaders gathered for his March 4 stop in the state. “I’m very, very hopeful we’ll be able to wrap up and get a truly successful outcome for the United States and for American ag.”

But there was no official announcement of a settlement or that China would accept President Donald Trump’s request that it immediately remove tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods as a sign of good faith.

Iowa Corn Grower Association President Mark Recker said he would have liked to hear Pompeo announce some type of trade negotiation breakthrough on his visit, but he was still glad the Secretary of State came to Iowa to talk to farmers.

And Gregg Hora, a former president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said that while farmers are suffering from the effects of the international trade war, it was good to get encouragement from Pompeo that if they can just hold on a little longer there is hope of a settlement coming soon.

Farmers asked Pompeo about China, but also about items such as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which must still be approved by lawmakers in all three nations. That approval process has been complicated by tariffs the Trump administration has maintained on steel and aluminum.

“I am very confident there are enough votes (to pass USMCA in the United States, as well as in Mexico and Canada,” Pompeo said.

Former Iowa governor Terry Branstad, now Ambassador to China, accompanied Pompeo on the state tour.

The March 4 trip to Iowa also included a brief visit with FFA members in Johnston and a stop at Corteva (formerly Pioneer) seed facilities in Johnston.

“I have a feeling that this was a visit that was scheduled in hopes of being able to announce something,” said Iowa State University agricultural economist Chad Hart. “They ended up not having anything to announce, but let’s give Pompeo and (Ambassador to China Terry) Branstad credit” for coming to talk to farmers.

Farmers are an important piece of Trump’s political base, Hart said. Coming to the Midwest to try to remind that base that the administration knows it is suffering makes for good politics. And Pompeo, a Kansas native, is one of the members of Trump’s cabinet who may be best able to talk to Midwestern farmers.

Pompeo also took the opportunity to tell farmers about the good work of the state department in many parts of the world and to encourage young people to consider careers in diplomacy.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.