Markets and weather, usually the big story around here

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

Ag markets and weather without doubt were the biggest stories of Buena Vista County in 2018.

Climate change and trade wars conspired to put farmers and those who depend on them in the hole for a sixth year. Corn yields north of Hwy. 3 were nowhere close to 200 bushels per acre on average because of ravaging early summer rains. Farmers were further pummeled by President Trump’s clumsy trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada that hit Iowa as hard as anyplace in America.

Those two themes will carry into 2019 as extreme weather persists, and perhaps gets even more unpredictable for corn and soybean growers. A lot of brokers fear that lasting damage has been done to US producers in world markets. Those disruptions are causing extreme stress on at least a third of Iowa farms, especially among younger operators. Auctions are up, people are rolling short-term debt they can’t repay into longer-term loans. These are troubling signs for rural environs.

Of course, it will play into politics as up to 35 Democratic presidential contenders will be packing into the state’s living rooms and school libraries to meet us a dozen at a time before the 2020 Iowa Caucuses. They will find an audience acutely aware of South American soy capacity vis a vis Chinese demand. That same audience also well understands how the Trump Administration is writing trade disaster checks on Smithfield hogs that are owned by the Chinese with which we are in a trade war. It should be an interesting conversation. The lens of the nation already is upon us.

“What’s the deal with Iowa?” Hardball host Chris Matthews asked Des Moines pollster Ann Selzer just last week on MSNBC.

Locally, two important stories from this year will play out in 2019.

First, the Storm Lake School Board is likely to run another vote as early as August seeking a $30 million early childhood education center. The board should know by March whether the legislature will extend the school sales tax for construction. The signs say that the tax will be extended beyond 2029 now that the Republicans running the legislature realize that rural areas benefit disproportionately from the tax, levied in Des Moines and Sioux City shopping malls. Voters probably would approve of a sales-tax referendum but not a general obligation bond funded by property taxes. It is not clear that a sales tax alone could float the entire bond issue. Storm Lake has to get this figured out because we have more babies crawling up the ladder.

Second, Public Safety Director Mark Prosser will retire after 30 years here. He has been a big figure in Storm Lake as it changed dramatically. The city manager and city council make the call. Assistant Chief Chris Cole has been groomed for the job (the husband of School Supt. Stacey Cole). City Manager Keri Navratil isn’t showing her hand yet.

The city council is bound to change in the fall. Councilmen Bruce Engelmann and Tyson Rice said they do not intend to run for re-election. Kevin McKinney, recently named to replace the late Councilman Bruce Carlson, also will be up for election. Dan Smith and José Ibarra will welcome three new members to the council. That could change things in city hall.

Iowa Central Community College will build a new industrial training center north of the Bargloff Addition that will open in 2020. United Community Health Center will expand. Buena Vista University is launching all sorts of new initiatives next year, much of it centered around rural entrepeneurship and agriculture. Storm Lake continues to consolidate its position as the regional center of commerce, health care and education.

Our new neighbors from around the world will spend much of the year in continued suspension of anxious limbo as feckless politicians continue to toy with culture wars. The President wants to deport citizens back to Vietnam, he said. What prevents him from deporting Lao people from Storm Lake back to a Communist dictatorship? The administration also is revoking citizenship for Latin Americans and is hiring a whole crop of ICE agents to hunt them down. It is violating international law by refusing to allow Central American refugees to seek asylum at US ports of entry. The status of young people brought here by their parents — the Dreamers —is completely uncertain. Fear can fray the bonds that have developed in Storm Lake — fear that they will haul you away is less likely to make you put down roots and be a civic stakeholder. Steve King will double down on his cynicism as JD Scholten continues to chase him down in a Winnebago. This is why the hiring of a new police chief is so important — a dynamic of Velkommen can change quickly amid that toxic political climate.

The big stories in Storm Lake are actually the big stories of America: immigration, free trade v. fair trade, climate change and what to make of this President who had his bare butt spanked by a porn star named Stormy.