Iowa Review 2018

Whatever you want to say about 2018, there was no doubt that when it came to agriculture, it was one wild ride.

Wet weather, trade wars, a crazy election season, and low commodity prices were all major issues for farmers this past year. So this week, Iowa Farmer Today takes a look at a few of the top stories in agriculture in Iowa for 2018.

Wet, wet, wet

As North Central Iowa Crop Watcher Roy Arends said at the end of harvest, “It was wet, wet and more wet.”

This was a year that farmers across the state, but especially those in northern Iowa, battled wet field conditions. Snow in April and October made both planting and harvest difficult. Yields suffered, though many farmers described them as better than they expected when they considered the difficult conditions at the end of the growing season.

As the year pulled to a close, there are still some corn and soybean fields yet to be harvested.

Trade wars and low prices

These two items tend to go together. Corn and soybean prices were already low coming into 2018. Ongoing trade negotiations with Mexico and Canada over the North American Free Trade Agreement and proposals to revamp agreements with other trade partners including the EU and Japan didn’t help.

When President Donald Trump opened a full-fledged trade war with China this spring and summer, soybean prices dropped roughly $2 in two months. The USDA eventually put together a payment program aimed at helping farmers hurt by the trade wars and those payments have been going to farmers in recent weeks.

A tentative deal on the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to replace NAFTA was reached in the fall, but that deal must still be approved by Congress in 2019.

There has also been a temporary truce in the trade war with China, but that so far hasn’t led to much of an export or price boost.

Water quality funding

The Iowa legislature kicked off the year by passing SF512, which offered a long-term funding stream for water quality programs in Iowa. The move was hailed by many water quality advocates, but many also say more action is needed. Attention will again be focused on this issue in the legislature in 2019.

Changes at Iowa State

With former ag college dean Wendy Wintersteen now in place as president of Iowa State University, the college had several other positions to fill.

John Lawrence was eventually named to head the state Extension service, and Dan Grooms was later named to head the veterinary college. At the end of October, Daniel Robison, the dean of the college of agriculture at West Virginia University, was named to be the next ag dean at ISU, a role he is scheduled to take next spring.

Election year

It was difficult to miss the fact that 2018 was an election year. Political ads flooded the airwaves and candidates were everywhere. At the end of the contest, Kim Reynolds — a Republican who was elected lieutenant governor under Terry Branstad and who rose to the governorship in 2017 when Branstad was named ambassador to China — earned the office on her own, though the result was close. Reynolds edged Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell in the general election.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig faced a similar task. Naig rose from the deputy position to be appointed Secretary of Agriculture in March when Bill Northey left for a job at the USDA. He battled four opponents just to get the Republican nomination, and it was a close fight for that nomination at the state convention before he edged former American Soybean Association President Ray Gaesser. He then went on to beat Democratic nominee Tim Gannon in a close race.

Meanwhile two Republican Congressmen were defeated in 2018. After two terms in Congress, Rod Blum lost to state legislator Abby Finkenauer, and David Young lost to Democratic challenger Cindy Axne. Democrat Dave Loebsack won re-election in Southeast Iowa, and Republican Steve King edged relative unknown J.D. Scholten in Northwest Iowa’s 4th District.

Republicans did maintain control of the state legislature, with the party gaining seats in the Senate and losing some in the House.

Renewables and regulations

On the biofuel front, the Trump administration announced it would pursue year-round E15 sales. And the new RFS numbers showed a small increase for biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol. But the Trump administration continues to issue waivers from the RFS for some refineries.

In July, Scott Pruitt was forced to resign as head of EPA.

The Trump administration also introduced a proposal to replace the unpopular Waters of the United States, and that met with approval from many farm organizations.

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