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Trump's Midwest Support Tested As Farmers Struggle: NPR



An Iowa farmer is loading corn seeds in the mind of a planter near Luxembourg, Iowa. Forty percent of the US corn harvest goes to ethanol production.

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An Iowa farmer is loading corn seeds in the mind of a planter near Luxembourg, Iowa. Forty percent of US corn crops go to ethanol production.

Mark Hirsch / Getty Images

Rural farmers in the Midwest say they are struggling because of President Trump's ongoing trade war and a recent decision the president made on renewable maize and soybean fuels that benefit the oil industry.

"We tighten our belt," says farmer Aaron Lehman as he drives his tractor down a country road near his farm north of Des Moines. "We talk to our lenders, our landlords [and] our suppliers of efforts."

Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, says his members say they are trying to find some way to cut costs just to make ends meet. He says they are worried about the escalating trade war.

"Instead, we chose to insult our trade allies, pluck all kinds of fights with our trade allies, "Lehman says." And then go to China and make scandalous demands that we knew we wouldn't meet. "

The Trump administration has released billions of dollars in relief to farmers to It has been a financially short-term positive deal to fill in a gap, but it does not solve a long-term problem of not having access to foreign markets.

Back in June, President Trump came to Council Bluffs, Iowa with an announcement intended to calm these concerns. His administration paved the way for higher blends of corn-based ethanol. Forty percent of US corn crops go to ethanol production.

"We lifted the restrictions on E-15 just in time to pursue US summer law," President Trump rejoiced in Council Bluffs. "We just did it."

President Trump looks at corn samples used in biofuels at Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy in Council Bluffs, Iowa on June 11.

Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images


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Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

President Trump looks at corn samples used in Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy biofuels in Council Bluffs, Iowa on June 11.

Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

Iowa's U.S. Senator Joni Ernst and Gov. Kim Reynolds; as did Senate Fire Deb Fischer and Head of State Pete Rickets joined the President for this ceremony in Council Bluffs.

The President has also granted dozens of exemptions to oil refineries that exempt them from blending ethanol. As a result, more than 15 ethanol plants close their doors. Trump recently tweeted that he would unveil a "giant package" that would help these farmers.

Bloomberg reported Friday that President Trump has agreed to a tentative plan to compensate for the exceptions, but nothing has been announced.

Iowa Democratic congresswoman Cindy Axne, who is facing a tough race for her seat next year, says she will believe it when she sees it.

"He said he was the best thing that ever happened to the farmers. And two months later, he had his finger on issuing exemptions to Exxon and Chevron, a multi-billion dollar company."

"He said he was the best thing that ever happened to peasants," says Iowa Democratic congresswoman Cindy Axne, "and literally two months later had his finger on issuing exemptions to Exxon and Chevron, the multi-billion dollar company."

Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio


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Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

"He said he was the best thing that ever happened to farmers," says Iowa Democratic congresswoman Cindy Axne, "and literally two months later had his finger on issuing exemptions to Exxon and Chevron, multibillion-dollar companies." [19659006] Clay Masters / Iowa Public Radio

While Aaron Lehman did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016, Iowa soybean farmer Dave Walton did.

"We can only talk so much before we have to act and he took action," Walton said. "We really saw this coming. He campaigned against it so it's no surprise."

Walton admits that the negotiations have gone on longer than he thought they would and soy biodiesel has also been affected by these refinery agreements.

"My vote is still on," Walton says of the 2020 presidential election.

Economist Ernie Goss of Creighton University says his research shows that the president's trade policy is shrinking the rural economy. Goss oversees a monthly survey of the CEO in rural areas in the Midwest and the plains.

Seven out of ten of the bankers he investigated supported either continuing with the duties or in some cases raising the duties, Goss said. "Their belief is that the long-term gain will outweigh the short-term pain."

The agricultural economy is already struggling and the trade war is insulting to damage that will not be resolved overnight, says Iowa State University Agriculture Economist Chad Hart.

"Trade negotiations, especially with regard to the extensive issues we have with China, take years to come to a final agreement," she says.

That anxiety is something Democrats run for president – like Joe Biden – talks about in Iowa.

When asked last month what he would say to farmers who hurt customs but still want to see Trump do these

"Well, if you think that's good, then vote for Trump then," Biden told a group reporters after a campaign stop in Prole, Iowa. "But I don't think there are so many farmers who are so slow with things."

Democrats hope to be able to pull off some of Trump's support. Its high hopes in the state of swing like Iowa, which went to the president with nearly 10 points in 2016.


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