Historic ag trade mission to China is timely for Iowa economy

Source: By Ray Gaesser, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2017

 When Terry Branstad takes his post in China, he’ll see a nation of paradoxes Lynn Hicks/The Register

With state revenues forecast to decline $350 million this year, Iowans are anxious for the state’s farm economy to get airborne again.

Even with just 2 percent of Iowans directly involved in farming, the economic turbulence caused by the prolonged downturn in farm prices is a not-so-subtle reminder that agriculture affects us all (and well beyond our obvious need for food). Farming generates one of every five jobs in Iowa and nearly one-third of the state’s economic output. Lower prices for soybeans, corn, pigs, eggs, milk, cattle and turkeys mean fewer tax dollars, which in turn affects all facets of Iowa’s economy and quality of life — from the roads we travel and the schools and universities our children attend to the recreational amenities we enjoy.

With Iowa’s farm economy in need of lift, this month’s all-Iowa ag trade mission to China is well timed. Led by Gov. Kim Reynolds and Ag Secretary Bill Northey, this historic delegation July 19-28 will include more than 35 farmers and ag leaders. While in China, they will tour agricultural facilities, meet with government leaders and talk with trade and business officials. They’ll also be greeted by Terry Branstad, U.S. ambassador to China and Iowa’s former governor.

While I won’t be making this trip, my time spent in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people as a representative of the Iowa and U.S. soybean industries underscored the necessity of face-to-face dialogue in developing strong relationships between Iowa farmers and the people of China.

With these visits in mind, I encourage Iowa’s trade delegation to:

  • Listen and ask questions. What matters to China? Why do they value doing business with Iowa? How can we continue to be their first choice when it comes to buying agricultural commodities?
  • Thank them for their business. Nearly one-third of Iowa’s soybean crop is destined for China. U.S. beef exports are also moving again and there are opportunities to increase our sale of pork, dairy, corn, poultry and eggs. We need China and China needs us. More than 300 million Chinese (a number equivalent to the U.S. population) will ascend to the middle class within the next decade, requiring more and higher-quality food.
  • Reaffirm our desire to be a long-term, reliable supplier of protein.While there’s always room for improvement, our ability to grow food and deliver it on time is unsurpassed globally.
  • Stress the improvements U.S. farmers continue making to be the world’s most sustainable providers of food. The commitment by more farmers and landowners to reduce the movement of water and soil from our land is gaining momentum. We’re also burning less fuel to grow more food. Forty years ago, an Iowa farmer burned nearly 7.5 gallons of fuel to produce an average of 91 bushels of corn per acre — or 12.3 bushels of corn per gallon. Today, no-till farmers like me grow more than 68 bushels of corn for every gallon of fuel used.
  • Remind them that for U.S. farmers to maintain our productivity in a way that’s good for the land and our communities, China must commit to timely reviews and approvals of new traits and technologies. Prolonging approvals for political and other non-scientific reasons places Iowa farmers and the people of China at a competitive disadvantage.

I fell in love with Iowa in 1974 when I traveled from Indiana to visit the Farm Progress Show near Webster City as a young man (my wife, Elaine, and I made it our home just a couple years later). Today, as a husband, father of two grown children and farmer with deep roots in Iowa’s soil, I recognize (and appreciate) more than ever the tremendous opportunity improved relations with China mean for our state. Supply and demand have the greatest impact on the price farmers receive for what they grow, just as agriculture has a significant impact on tax receipts Iowa collects to fund essential services.

There’s a lot riding on this historic agricultural trade mission to China. We can be confident that Gov. Reynolds and the delegation will make the most of the opportunity, to the benefit of every Iowan.

RAY GAESSER farms with his wife, Elaine, and son Chris near Corning. He is past-president of the Iowa Soybean Association and American Soybean Association.