DC Dispatch: Iowa delegation makes Ag trade boost

Iowa federal lawmakers are calling for more support for Iowa farmers in the face of rising costs and potential cuts in international trade.

The US Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley called on the US Trade Representative to crack down on the country’s plan to ban imports of American genetically engineered corn. According to a press release from Ernst, the proposal would effectively halt 90% of US corn imports into Mexico by January 2024.

According to the US Grains Council, Mexico is the largest consumer of Iowa corn, with 16 million tons exported to the country each year. Mexican agriculture officials could cut imports of US yellow corn by half with plans to boost domestic production, according to a Reuters report in October.

Republican senators wrote a letter to Ambassador Katherine Tai, urging her to formally request dispute settlement consultations under the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement.

“Any disruption to these supplies will severely impact our farmers and the state’s economy, and will have serious economic consequences throughout the Corn Belt,” the senators wrote. “President Obrador’s decree is not only a failure for America’s farmers, it is also impossible to implement.”

US Reps Cindy Axne and Ashley Hinson helped introduce legislation in the House of Representatives to support international agricultural trade. The Supporting Market Access to Reinvigorate Trade (SMART) Act would add nearly $470 million to two programs focused on exporting American-grown produce.

Axne said doubling funding for the Market Access and External Market Development Program could boost agricultural exports nationwide by over $7 billion. Iowa, which was the state’s second-biggest agricultural exporter in 2021, would benefit greatly from the increased funding, she said.

“Farmers in Iowa produce some of the highest quality produce that feeds and powers the world,” Axne said in a statement. “Further investments in the successful Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program will give manufacturers access to new markets, allowing them to continue to compete globally against foreign competitors.”

Ernst: Address propane gas prices in the farm bill

Ernst also said the 2023 Farm Bill must expand its programs to address the rising propane prices that are causing problems for Iowa farmers. She spoke with US Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small about ways to expand the Farm Bill’s offering to help farmers amid rising energy costs at a meeting of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Tuesday.

Torres Small focused on the Rural Energy for America Program, which provides loans and grants to farmers to implement new renewable energy systems and make existing machines more energy efficient. Ernst said REAP is “historically underutilized,” but the undersecretary said some of the problems with Iowans obtaining energy financing may stem from the program’s high demand.

“As far as I know, REAP is overwhelmingly oversubscribed, so we don’t have enough money to distribute it to all the people who apply,” Torres Small said.

Senators consider same-sex marriage bill

US Senator Chuck Grassley voted in a minority on Wednesday against the Respect for Marriage Act, which the Senate passed with bipartisan support.

Ernst was one of 12 Republicans who voted in favor of legislation that would codify federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. The push to enact additional safeguards follows comments by Judge Clarence Thomas in his affirmative opinion in Roe v. Wade on the US Supreme Court, where he said the court could reconsider other precedents such as gay marriage and access to birth control.

Grassley, who has just been re-elected to his eighth term, said his vote against the law does not conflict with same-sex or interracial marriage but could pose problems for religious communities opposed to recognizing gay marriage. He also argued that there was no need for the legislation because there was “no effort” to overturn the court’s marriage precedents.

“This legislation is simply unnecessary,” Grassley said in a statement. “No one seriously believes that Obergefell will be overthrown, so we don’t need legislation. I’ve heard from many Iowans who fear lawsuits over religious freedom.”

But Ernst said she didn’t think religious freedom was threatened by the language of the bill.

“Having heard directly from the Iowans and closely reviewing the changed language, I believe this law protects freedom of religion and will simply maintain the status quo in Iowa,” Ernst said in a statement.

The US House of Representatives passed the law in July, with US Rep. Randy Feenstra being the only Iowa vote against the law. Senators are expected to hold a final vote on the bill after Thanksgiving.