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As Iowa farmers struggle, fighting for ethanol industry becomes a key issue in Ernst-Greenfield Senate race

As Iowa farmers struggle, fighting for ethanol industry becomes a key issue in Ernst-Greenfield Senate race

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The ethanol industry is suffering worse losses than economists originally predicted, increasing pressure on Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration to protect the Renewable Fuel Standard and provide aid to struggling farmers and ethanol producers.

Although both U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield, have condemned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for providing waivers to oil refineries that seek to avoid blending the nation’s fuel supply with ethanol, the two candidates disagree on who would better represent one of Iowa’s top industries.

Joni Ernst official portrait 1 (copy) (copy) (copy) mug (copy) (copy)

Joni Ernst

Theresa Greenfield mug (copy)

Theresa Greenfield

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, corn farmers were suffering from reduced corn prices because of the trade war with China and Mexico. But this last year, at least 10 of Iowa’s 43 ethanol plants had completely shut down at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic and others had limited production, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported.

Greenfield has consistently questioned Ernst’s commitment to Iowa’s renewable energy industry, criticizing her for not immediately calling for the resignation of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

However, Ernst said she has consistently fought for policies that helped Iowa farmers, including pushing the president to allow sales of 15% ethanol year-round, which he did earlier this year. She also has the support of major local agricultural leaders, including Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig and the president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Beyond policies, both candidates have campaigned heavily on their farm upbringings and ties to Iowa’s agricultural industry as they try to show their relatability.

That effort to show a connection to the challenges Iowa farmers face became a viral moment during a recent televised debate when Ron Steele, a KWWL anchor and moderator, questioned the candidates on their knowledge of current ag commodity prices.

Steele questioned Greenfield on the break-even price of corn, which she correctly answered: about $3.68 per bushel, though farmers’ production costs vary. Ernst answered a similar question about the price of soybeans as $5.50, below the actual price of $10.05.

Her campaign later released a statement saying Ernst was unable to hear the question during a broadcast plagued by technical difficulties. But the moment still spread online as Democrats seized on the moment to argue Ernst is out of touch with Iowa farmers.

The candidates’ stances on key ag and environmental issues:


Joni Ernst:

Provide COVID-19 aid to farmers and ethanol producers who are hurt by the pandemic.

Remove Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Andrew Wheeler from his position if he doesn’t follow through on a court ruling requiring refineries to blend ethanol into the fuel supply.

Ernst told the EPA to stop issuing “hardship” waivers exempting obligated parties and to provide topline information about the waivers already issued.

Theresa Greenfield:

Calls for the resignation of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Wants to expand access to E-15 nationwide through infrastructure investments.

Wants to provide COVID-19 aid to farmers and ethanol producers.

Environmental protections

Joni Ernst:

Supported rolling back President Barack Obama’s “Waters of the United States” rule and said Trump’s “Navigable Waters Protection Rule” will better help Iowa farmers.

Supports offering more flood-control resources to Iowa’s rural communities and increasing oversight of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Supports allowing the corps to recommend funding projects that may not have an economic development benefit but that help low-income rural communities mitigate flooding.

Theresa Greenfield:

Wants to work with other countries to address climate change and rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.

Wants to improve Iowa’s infrastructure funding to help build more flooding mitigation structures.

Wants to create financial incentives for farmers who utilize conservation plans.

Our best staff images of October 2020

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