Tickling Trump’s ear

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Sen. Chuck Grassley is either deluding himself or he was trying to delude Iowans when he showed up in Audubon and tried to straddle Trump and trade. “We have the ear of the President because I’ve been involved in three group meetings with him — mostly from Midwestern senators,” Grassley told the town hall meeting. At that, Trump announced that he was slapping tariffs on another $50 billion in trade with China, which should give those beautiful green soybeans another nice haircut.

If the President is successful, Grassley said, then it will be better for all of us. We are not certain where he comes up with that idea, destroying relationships with Canada and Mexico while openly warring with China.

“But if he’s not successful, it could be a catastrophe.”

In fact, he acknowledged that corn dropping 50 cents per bushel to $3.25 already is a catastrophe.

Nice that they had a meeting. Yet nothing changes with the President, and Grassley never stands up to him. And he is the one senator who actually could make Trump listen — Grassley holds the fate of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in his hands as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. But Grassley is afraid of Trump, and so are Steve King and Joni Ernst, and they talk about trade but don’t do a darned thing about it. They could. But they are afraid. They are small when we need leadership.

The farmer at Audubon reminded Grassley that he never asked for a $12 billion USDA special program for pork and soybeans. Neither did Tyson. Neither did any regional hog feeder. They want trade, not aid, the farmer told Grassley.

That’s what everybody says.

So if you have his ear, why the escalation of the war?

What is the end game? What did the President say that assures the senator this will not be a catastrophe? In fact, Grassley could not make that assurance to the crowd in Audubon. How can Commerce Secretary William Ross, who happens to be driving this train, say credibly that this whole trade thing with China, Mexico, Canada and Europe will be wrapped up by the end of the year, just after the midterm elections? What sort of fools do they take us for?

The fact that King and Ernst and Grassley would dare even suggest that they disagree with Trump is a sure sign they are feeling the pinch in places like those where Albert the Bull guards Highway 71. And that spells trouble.

How do you explain away a self-inflicted catastrophe? You can do it if nobody is listening or paying attention. But we are paying attention. Most people in the room Tuesday probably wondered when Chuck Grassley or Steve King or any of those coddlers would do something about it. If you have his ear, senator, then chomp on it. Grassley makes himself the fool by saying such a thing when Trump is simultaneously furthering the catastrophe.

Soil taken seriously

We have been discussing climate change and soil degradation — intertwined and relentless — for five years. Iowa State University agronomist Rick Cruse has been talking about it longer than that, along with his colleagues in land-grant agronomic circles, evangelizing around the Tall Corn State about how we are losing corn quality because of soil erosion, loss of tilth and a warmer, wetter climate. A lot of people can’t hear. But the message is spreading.

Last week the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star published a joint effort on that very topic, which was published in Gannett newspapers across the USA. It mainly quoted scientists from Purdue University about how food is losing nutrition because of poor soil quality caused and exacerbated by climate change. In China, Cruse told us, wheat production is falling because of soil degradation. Here, on the Des Moines lobe, we are losing precious topsoil four times faster than Earth can regenerate it. Cruse’s had been a lonely voice. His message is becoming amplified.

Farmers are paying attention. Regenerative agriculture, which is designed to keep and build soil, is being taken seriously by farmers attempting to save money and increase profits. The Practical Farmers of Iowa is growing and its sustainable ag techniques are becoming mainstream.

People will start to pay attention when you explain that cheap food comes at a price — in less protein, in less essential nutrients — that lead to chronic health problems. Ultimately, that leads to lower ag commodity prices, which lead to eroding land values. Actually, it is happening right now. China does not think our soybeans are as valuable as Brazil’s. Farmers understand that, too.