Tim Gannon, the Democratic Party nominee for Iowa Agriculture Secretary, visited Denison on Thursday and spoke with the Denison Bulletin and Review.
Gannon farms with his father and a cousin on his family’s Century Farm in Jasper County.
From 2009 to 2017, he worked for former Iowa governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
He helped oversee implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill as associate administrator of the Risk Management Agency.
“I have the practical experience and policy knowledge and the contacts to work with at the federal level to do the job very well,” Gannon said. “I think we’ve got to do all we can to restore profitability to agriculture. In the short term that means sending a message electorally to the people in Washington, D.C. that we’re not happy to bear the brunt of (the Trump Administration’s) bad policies.”
Gannon said President Trump’s trade policy is incoherent and likely won’t lead to a positive change in the United States’ trading relationship with China.
“There is no doubt that China has been a bad actor on a lot of international trade issues, but the way to get China to change their behavior isn’t to pick five different trade fights at the same time,” Gannon said.
He said a better way would be to get our allies and like-minded trading partners to work with the United States to change China’s behavior.
“Instead, we’ve gone and caused problems with Mexico, Canada, the European Union, Japan and other countries,” Gannon said.
The tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration and the responses by the targeted countries have damaged the United States’ markets.
“So far we’ve lost market share for corn and pork in Mexico,” he said.
Some pork processing plants in Mexico are now processing pork from Brazil instead of from the United States, he said.
Pork and soybean sales to China have been hurt and China is now buying record amounts of soybeans from Russia, he said.
“I worked at USDA for eight years and never once did I hear any USDA economist or anyone else talking about Russia being a supplier of soybeans,” Gannon said.
Countries that have been traditional purchasers of ag products from the United States are now looking elsewhere, he said.
“Even if we waved a magic wand and fixed the trade disputes tomorrow, we wouldn’t necessarily get all that market share back,” he said.
Bankers are starting to worry about farm finances because of the negative effect on the Iowa economy.
“Farmers have probably refinanced some equipment or land in the last couple of years to try to keep going as farm income has fallen and prices have fallen over the last couple of years,” Gannon said. “If we are looking at depressed prices next year because of the trade situation and biofuels policy, those folks may have a hard time getting in the fields next spring because the bankers may say they don’t see a way to keep them afloat.”
Older farmers may decide to retire early and cut their losses, he said.
“We need to do everything we can to keep people living in rural Iowa, especially those young enough to have families so we can keep supporting local institutions such as schools and churches and small town diners and restaurants,” Gannon said.
More agriculture research should be funded through Iowa State University (ISU) to help farmers reduce spending on inputs and to also create new industries from Iowa products.
“If we can develop new markets I think that then helps send a positive message that you can stay in the small town or go back to that small town or farm after college,” he said.
Conservation is a primary area of concern for Gannon.
“We were fortunate enough to settle on top of the best soil in the world,” he said, “but we’ll only be an agriculture power and grow the food for our country and the world as long as that soil is still in place.”
ISU and USDA research suggests that Iowa’s topsoil could be gone in 40 or 50 years.
“It’s incumbent upon us as Iowans, both rural and urban, to work together to do more to protect our soil and that means protecting our water,” he said.
He would increase the state’s investment in conservation practices, which will be helped by the trust fund approved by voters in 2010, he said.
“The next time the sales tax is raised, the first 3/8 cent of the increased sales tax goes into the trust fund for our land and water,” he said. “That would be over $100 million a year.”
Those funds would likely leverage an additional $100 million or more new conservation funds from the USDA, he said.
The new money could be used for cost-share programs to incentivize more conservation.
Gannon said just about every Fortune 500 company has some kind of sustainability effort underway.
“From Google and Walmart down through food and ag companies like Land O’Lakes, Cargill and ADM, they are looking at their supply chains and how to protect the air, the soil and the water,” he said.
When the State of Iowa, the federal government, businesses and farmers step up to the plate to fund conservation, others will join in, Gannon said.
“Then you’re talking about a pretty dynamic amount of funding that can be put into conservation every year,” he said.
The price tag for cleaning up the state’s water has been estimated to be from $4 billion to $6 billion, he said.
“It doesn’t look like it would really be 30 or 40 years before we start seeing improvement if we’re investing that amount of money,” he said. “I think we would start seeing improvements a lot faster.”