Markets lost

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

We were grateful for the opportunity to meet recently with the former Mexican ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, who served his nation from Beijing from 2007 to 2013 under President Felipe Calderon. He is a graduate of Georgetown and Harvard, and now works in consulting for former Bill Clinton aide Mac McLarty. Of course, our conversation went directly to agricultural trade.

“You will never see the Chinese market the way you had it,” Guajardo said. “China will never make the mistake of depending on the United States again.”

He said that China would say it will buy some soybeans after meeting with President Trump. That is exactly what happened. Except, China bought fewer soybeans than it had been buying. Its official sources said it would not increase agricultural trade in the current context.

Guajardo said that China will make some nice sounds about US soy and pork after trade discussions resume. However, he warned that the markets cultivated by agribusiness — with Iowa agriculture at the lead — will not recover for years, if ever. For the Chinese, food security is Number One. If Iowa cannot be the primary and low-cost dependable soy provider, Brazil can be. Guajardo said that it is difficult to get all the red tape cut for trade, once tariffs are removed. Brazil and Argentina will be the preferred providers. China already is investing in Latin and South America.

“I’m hearing it in Mexico, too,” Guajardo said. “We were the Number One customer of the US. Now, we realize we can’t be completely dependent on this craziness.” Brazil has free-trade agreements with Mexico. Currently, the United States does not.

Guajardo said food security is the Mexican priority as well. Those arrangements are made with South America. “They’re looking for other options,” Guajardo said.

Meantime, Iowa farmers are struggling with extreme weather and weak soy markets from President Trump’s trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada. Up to a quarter of farm income this year will come from crop insurance and trade disaster aid, according to various estimates.

If we are to take the ambassador at his word, we will be better off not chasing export markets and deluding ourselves with the mantra that we are feeding the world. Our government should be as concerned about food security during a time of climate crisis as Mexico and China are. Ag policy should encourage a resilient agriculture built around prosperous farms that capture carbon, improve crop productivity and restore rural communities around livestock production. Instead, we are writing $14.5 billion in trade disaster checks. We asked a Woodbury County farmer of 800 acres how much he will get. He has no clue. He is too busy trying to sell solar panels to keep his farming hobby afloat.

The admiral enters

We also were fortunate last week to meet with retired Admiral Michael Franken of Sioux City, who said he intends to run for the Democratic nomination for US Senate, for the seat held by Sen. Joni Ernst, a Red Oak Republican. Franken was reared near Sioux Center and ended up as the vice-commander of US operations in Africa. Typical of military brass, he does not lack self-confidence. But he has plenty of brains, lots of friends in high places, and ideas about how to make government work for rural Iowa.

We know this: Michael Franken would not sit quietly while the Trump family toys around with the Saudi royal family and its war on Yemen, its war on freedom at home and its contempt for a liberal world order grounded in the truth. Ernst has.

Ernst likes to describe her military service. Franken will describe his. He would blow her off the stage in a debate. It might take the ego of an admiral to shine the light just right on Ernst so we can see who she is. She is a puppet for the Trump Administration. She has the political courage of a mouse when it comes to the crooked liar occupying the White House. When Donald Junior is cavorting with the butchering prince of Saudi Arabia, Ernst smiles. Franken would call it out. We need that in our senators again.

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