Trump may have already lost Iowa to the 2020 Democratic candidates over corn | Art Cullen

Trumps ethanol waivers have Iowa farmer fuming, and the Democrats have come calling with cogent rural agendas

You might think that when President Trump calls in his ambassador to China they would talk about the trade war.


The ambassador, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, instead showed Trump county maps of Iowa and how he might lose the swing state because he has honked off so many farmers.

Thats according to a fascinating story by Reuters that detailed the two-hour meeting August 19 at which Branstad told Trump that waiving ethanol blending requirements for gasoline refineries was causing deep political doo-doo in the Corn Belt. Forget the fact that China shut down Iowas biggest market for soybeans China used to gobble up nearly half the states crop. Ethanol is the third rail of Tall Corn State politics. The state hosts 42 distilleries that cook over a third of the corn crop. Mess with ethanol and you might get burned.

Fed up, is how the Iowa Corn Growers Association put it.

Trump was rousted from a slumber in which he thought he had a lock on Iowa. After all, he poured some $30bn of bailouts over the past two years to make up for the trade disaster that knocked a third off the value of soybeans. Ethanol is an even worse political problem. That had Trump fuming.

Lets fix this right now, Trump reportedly commanded in a phone call to his EPA and US Department of Agriculture chiefs, while Branstad stood by.

Talk of China could wait for another day.

Trump is trailing in all the dozen battleground states, the latest polls show. He just cant lose Iowa.

Down on the farm, the Democrats have come calling. Theyre having a heyday with the trade war that increases steel prices for John Deere, the ethanol waivers favoring much-loathed Big Oil in Iowa (three ethanol plants have closed in the last month), and with how Brazilians are burning down the rain forests to sate soy demand in China.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan. Pay farmers to capture carbon by increasing funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program 15-fold. So does Joe Biden, calling for participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and for increased renewable fuels. Bernie Sanders proposes a huge climate change program in which agriculture plays a central role. Pete Buttigieg is conversant in regenerative agriculture and soil tilth. Theyre touring ethanol plants, too.

The Democrats overlooked rural areas, agriculture and food last time around, and paid for it in the Midwest with the election of Trump. They are not about to make the same mistake.

Nearly every campaign has a cogent rural agenda that calls for more conservation funding, massive increases in renewable energy research and deployment in rural environs, and support for new regional food supply chains.

Warren issued a striking call for a return to supply management, where farmers would be required to set aside acres for conservation as they were before the Nixon Administration urged farmers to plant fencerow to fencerow. She and Amy Klobuchar want more anti-trust enforcement.

Rural residents are listening. Warren attracted a crowd of 500 to talk agriculture and water quality near Fort Dodge in a mid-week afternoon. Bernie Sanders had the young crowd packed in at Iowa City railing on climate.

Trump and Co are fixed on bailouts and ethanol blending requirements. Meantime, Tim Ryan wants to expand the Conservation Reserve Program and help ag stop surface water pollution. Beto ORourke understands the role that grazing plays in a new farm economy. Theyve even talked up this stuff during the televised debates.

Democrats propose a compact with rural America built around environmental services, renewable energy, a diverse and stable network of food producers and suppliers, and less dependence on export markets to keep rural America in business.

Theyre also putting up ideas on saving rural hospitals, welcoming immigrants and getting broadband to remote places. John Delaney can hold forth for a week on why the nursing home industry is collapsing in Iowa, among the most elderly states, and what to do about it.

While the ambassador to China has to explain to the Current Occupant where the bull craps. Its a sure sign of trouble when Donald Trump gives Terry Branstad two full hours, with county maps. Its probably too late: the ethanol lobby which is almost everyone in Iowa is furious and does not forget (ask Ted Cruz), and China will eat bitter before it will eat our beans. But wait: Trump just tweeted that China will soon buy our ag products. He also thought he had a deal with the Taliban.

Leave the despairing to Trump. We might be on the cusp of fixing whats wrong with food, farming and perhaps the planet thanks to his buffoonery.

  • Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake Times in Northwest Iowa, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorials on agriculture and the environment. He is author of the book: Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland Newspaper (Viking 2018)

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