By Senator Charles Grassley
The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) is a government-owned and operated bank first created to support farm income and prices during the Great Depression. Organized under the umbrella of the USDA, the CCC Charter Act was enacted by Congress as a financing backstop to help farmers produce and market their commodities through loans, purchases and payments and to develop new domestic and foreign markets. It?s also authorized to leverage and make sales to foreign governments and donate food to relief agencies. The Trump administration recently announced plans to boost farm aid using the CCC that includes direct aid to farmers and expanding purchases of surplus farm commodities for food banks and anti-hunger programs. The details aren?t yet finalized, but payments may start in September or October and producers will apply at their local Farm Service Agency for immediate, temporary assistance.
I understand the urgency and why so many Iowans share their anxiety at my county meetings. A downturn in the farm economy has a ripple effect across the entire state economy. The impact reaches lenders and landowners, factory workers who earn a living making tractors, implement dealers, and seed and fertilizer suppliers who sell goods and services to Iowa?s 80,000-plus farmers. The local tax base and merchants on Main Street also take a hit when farm commodity prices and exports drop. The bottom line is clear. Lost exports means lost income. Farmers need market access with our trade partners to stay prosperous, pay their bills, put next year?s crop in the ground, expand and upgrade their livestock operations and grow vitality in local communities.
What?s my take on the administration?s plan to provide up to $12 billion in short-term farm aid?
First, I?ve said for months that if actions taken by the federal government to strike better trade agreements result in economic hardship for certain Americans, the federal government has a responsibility to mitigate the damage. What?s more, I have said repeatedly that American agriculture will get hit hard by retaliatory action when trade negotiations start heating up. Earlier this year, I wrote a letter with the entire Iowa delegation to remind the president about the importance of free and fair trade to Iowa?s economy. Iowa is the second largest farm exporting state in the country. We exported $10 billion worth of products in 2015. Just consider that China last year imported 31 percent of U.S. soybeans. As I predicted, escalating trade tensions underway between the United States and key trade partners, including China and Mexico, are extracting a heavy toll on American agriculture, especially soybean, corn and pork producers. Every third row of soybeans grown in Iowa is exported. Shutting off one-third of a farmer?s revenue stream is not sustainable. As a lifelong family farmer, I share the overwhelming sentiments of farmers in Iowa who want to earn their livelihoods through the marketplace. Grain and livestock producers want prosperity from their productivity. That means having the ability to compete for every sale in every market. The farm safety net functions as a safety valve to weather natural market cycles and mitigate natural disasters. No amount of money from the Federal Treasury can offset long-term prosperity and opportunity from the free marketplace.
Negotiating better trade deals and fixing unfair trade agreements on behalf of America?s workers, farmers and consumers is a good thing.
However, farmers can?t afford to shoulder the brunt of a retaliatory tariff-driven trade war.
Although the short-term farm aid package will help mitigate lower prices and loss of sales, America?s farmers and ranchers will be better off in the long-term with free and fair trade to help feed the world.
At the end of the day, farmers want trade, not aid.