DONAHUE, Iowa - - While Iowa farmers are coming off a record-setting, bin-busting corn and soybean harvest, they also need to cash in abroad with international exports.
"We don't want them to feel like they need to look elsewhere," said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who headlined the annual ag summit at Cinnamon Ridge Farms on Thursday, March 23.
Northey, who leaves Friday on a trade mission to China, noted that country buys $1.4 billion in Iowa-grown crops like soybeans every year. In addition, he pointed out that Mexico is Iowa's top pork customer.
"It is the biggest dollar export, and certainly China is the biggest customer," Northey said.
While exports are more important than ever, concern over federal trade policy keeps farmers talking.
"The balance of trade is still lopsided," said one participant.
One reason why some 130 visitors packed Cinnamon Ridge Farms to talk trade and exports under the Trump administration.
"Everybody's on pins and needles," said host John Maxwell. "Whether you're in the ag industry or any other industry, we don't know what the new administration is going to do."
There's uncertainty at this fifth generation Scott County farm. Exports bring down the cost of producing dairy cows and other crops.
"What Brazil does, and what China does or Russia or any of the others affects us," he continued.
Farmers agree that the U.S. needs to get an agriculture secretary confirmed as soon as possible.
It looks like former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue will eventually get the job.
"We need a USDA secretary to be able to be part of negotiations, whether it's around NAFTA, (foreign countries) or the new Farm Bill," Northey said.
From this successful Iowa dairy farm, strategy over maintaining and expanding foreign exports. It's a global economy that hits close to home.
"How these events that seem so distant, that we read about in the paper, are affecting the bottom line of folks right here in Iowa," Northey concluded.
At Cinnamon Ridge Farms, it's preserving a tradition in Donahue for generations to come.