WOODWARD, Iowa – Faced with soaring expenses, Iowa farmers have urged U.S. agriculture and trade leaders to ease tariffs on fertilizers to reduce their costs of growing corn, soybeans and other crops next year.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Representative Cindy Axne, a Democrat, met with Iowa farmers and farm leaders Thursday for more than an hour at a farm near of Woodward.
Iowa farmers told officials, who touted the benefits of the $750 billion Cut Inflation Act that President Joe Biden signed into law this week, that the prices of fertilizers, seeds and other products needed to increase crops were exploding.
“Costs on my farm have gone up about 325%. It’s getting unbearable,” said Lance Lillibridge, a northeast Iowa farmer and chairman of the Iowa Corn Growers Association board.
A study from Iowa State University in June showed some fertilizer prices are up to four times higher than in 2020, while crop prices have roughly doubled.
American farmers depend on imports of nitrogen, potash and other fertilizers from China, Russia, Canada, Morocco and other countries to grow their crops. Some of these imports are subject to US tariffs.
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Earlier this month, three major agricultural groups called on the Biden administration to provide immediate, short-term relief to farmers by eliminating tariffs on potash imported from Morocco.
In a statement responding to Vilsack’s visit, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican, criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough to lower fertilizer tariffs.
“Current fertilizer tariffs are nothing more than a tax on our farmers,” Ernst said. “They are hampering their ability to source the essential nutrients needed to meet growing demand.”
Ernst, among other senators, urged Biden to waive duties on fertilizer imports, similar to the action the president has taken to help the solar industry.
Last month, a federal trade commission rejected efforts to add tariffs on nitrogen products from Russia and Trinidad and Tobago.
Vilsack partially addressed their concerns, saying the US Department of Agriculture is working to boost domestic fertilizer production. Among these efforts, the USDA announced in March that it was making available $250 million in grants to encourage American production.
Daniel Heady, national policy adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said the group appreciates USDA’s efforts to boost domestic production. But, he added, that might not happen soon enough.
“We are all in favor of building local national production of agricultural inputs, but it takes time and a lot of money,” Heady said. “Until we get to that point, we have to allow the free movement of agricultural products,” with reduced tariffs on fertilizers.
Lillibridge said growers are concerned about Mexico’s executive order to phase out genetically modified corn, the bulk of the US supply. Mexico is the No. 1 market for US corn and dried distillers grains, a by-product of the manufacture of protein-rich ethanol for livestock feed.
“Mexico is a big deal,” Lillibridge said. “We haven’t faced any trade disruptions yet, but farmers are very concerned about what could happen.”
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Bob Haus, government affairs manager at Corteva Agriscience, said Mexico has already denied approval for 14 corn, soybean and cotton seed traits, a trend that will impact U.S. farmers and exports to the country.
Seed characteristics help determine how well crops can survive growing challenges such as pests and weather.
“Our freedom to operate is our freedom to innovate,” said Haus, who noted that Corteva, formerly DuPont Pioneer in Johnston, employs about 3,000 people in its Iowa operations.
Vilsack said part of the reasons Mexico gives for phasing out genetically modified corn by 2024 has to do with the country’s heritage. “White maize was first developed and established” in Mexico, he said. “It’s about Mexican pride. Mexican heritage. It’s unique to them. It’s part of their identity.”
But Vilsack told Mexican leaders consumers could face rising food costs without U.S. corn to feed livestock. “It made an impression,” he said. “And we’re in discussions about how we might get to a better place” on accepting biotech traits and continuing to sell American corn in the country.
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Vilsack noted that U.S. agricultural exports hit a record in 2021. “And we expect to do so again this year,” given the current pace of exports, he said. U.S. agricultural and food exports totaled $177 billion last year, beating the record set in 2014 by nearly 15 percent, the U.S. Commerce Department reported.
Craig Floss, CEO of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said export markets are critical for U.S. corn growers, accounting for about a quarter of the crop, either directly or for livestock feed or under form of by-products, such as dried distillers grain.
Exports are “literally the difference between profit or not on our farms,” he said. “We really need to expand our access to the global market.”
Vilsack said he believes American farmers will lead the country in reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, with help from the Cut Inflation Act, which provides $19.5 billion. dollars to support conservation through traditional USDA programs.
Axne said it called for $500 million in the new spending law to build pumps and other infrastructure so consumers can buy ethanol, biodiesel and other renewable fuels.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, environment and energy for the Register. Contact her at [email protected] or 515-284-8457.