By Mario Parker
Donald Trump has long said he loves farmers. And farmers have seemingly loved him back, even as the trade war with China rages. Ethanol policy was the one area that was starting to test that love, but a new plan announced by the administration may have helped resolve the issue.
That back and forth might best be illustrated by Kevin Ross, an Iowa corn grower. Back in June, Trump visited a local ethanol plant to tout his administration’s plan for year-round sales of higher concentrations of ethanol in gasoline. For Ross, it wasn’t enough. Standing onstage inches away from the president, Ross -- who’s also an official with the National Corn Growers Association -- pleaded with Trump to address waivers that exempt refiners from complying with the biofuels mandate. It was rare public criticism from the agricultural community.
Fast forward four months and Ross was once again standing near the president, but this time it was to help celebrate a new U.S.-Japan trade deal. Trump also took the opportunity to boast about yet another change for ethanol -- one that helps to address some of Ross’s concerns by boosting annual biofuel-blending quotas to make up for the waivers that farmers had chided the administration over.
“It’s great when you know that your voice was heard, and that’s not just me,” Ross said in a telephone interview following Monday’s White House visit. “It’s a lot of people that got vocal on this issue.”
The new ethanol package should approach 16 billion gallons of annual demand once it’s finalized, Trump said Monday at the trade-deal signing.
“So they should like me out in Iowa and all of the different places,” Trump said.
The administration deliberated for months on how to quell criticism from farmers over biofuel policy. The backlash was starting to get heated. The same month as Ross’s public rebuke, the National Corn Growers Association launched an advertising campaign on Trump’s favorite television news source -- Fox -- to step up pressure on ethanol. Other biofuel backers, including Growth Energy and the National Biodiesel Board also ran television ads on Fox over the summer.
When the new package was finally announced last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture praised Trump, saying he brokered the deal that divides two of his key political constituencies: agriculture and the oil industry.
Ross, a sixth-generation farmer from Minden, Iowa, became president of the National Corn Growers Association on Oct. 1. A graduate from Iowa State University in Ames -- he wore a cardinal and gold tie to the ceremony -- Ross joined the organization out of college at the behest of a cousin.
He said the actions the administration has taken to bolster biofuels was what he had intended when he publicly prodded Trump on the waivers in June. He said his group will be submitting feedback once the government opens up the public comment period on the proposal. Ross said other regulations, including on farm inputs, are next on his radar screen.
The group is “full steam ahead” on getting trade deals resolved, such as the U.S. Mexico-Canada-Agreement and on China. He said he told lawmakers on Monday that he hopes to see them back at the White House “in a couple months” to celebrate the passing of the USMCA.
“These are clearly huge issues for us,” Ross said.