PEOSTA — President Donald Trump tantalized farmers with the prospect of year-round E15 ethanol sales at an hour-long roundtable at a community college Thursday.
He also lauded trade talks with the European Union he said would be profitable for agriculture. The president also made a political pitch for Rep. Rod Blum, who is in a tough re-election battle in Iowa’s 1st District, as well as Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The roundtable, at Northeast Iowa Community College, was billed as a discussion about workforce development, and several of the speakers talked about the difficulty of securing a well-trained workforce and how to build skills. But for the president, the forum also provided an opportunity to tout the economy, bash Obamacare and warn Democrats would raise taxes.
He also sought to soothe concerns over a trade conflict that has sent soybean prices significantly lower and put some of his fellow Republicans on the spot.
Securing year-round sales for ethanol is something farm groups have been pushing for — and that the president has talked up in the past but still hasn’t approved.
On Thursday, he said again it is in the offing. “I’m getting very close to doing that,” he said.
The president won Iowa in 2016 by a wide margin, and he referred to his victory on a number of occasions. He reminded people he supported ethanol during the campaign while some of his rivals didn’t.
Trump said China is targeting farm commodities because they know farmers support him. “It’s not nice what they’re doing,” he said.
The White House launched tariffs on $34 billion worth of China’s products this month, which brought retaliation from the Chinese against products including soybeans, beef and pork. Republicans and Democrats have complained for years about unfair Chinese trade practices.
Blum threw his support to Trump’s trade policies. The congressman praised the president for having the “political courage” to renegotiate trade deals and said the move would be beneficial to agriculture and manufacturing.
The president returned the favor by praising Blum — whom he called “Matt” — for his efforts to secure federal funding for flood protection in Cedar Rapids. The federal government recently approved $117 million for the project. The president also mused about Blum’s Democratic opponent in the fall election, saying, “I guess he’s got a race against somebody they call absent Abby.”
Abby Finkenauer, a state representative from Dubuque who is running against Blum, responded on Twitter, saying if Trump doesn’t know who she is now, “I’m sure you’ll know it by Election night.”
The president also referred to a deal with the European Union announced Wednesday at the White House. He said Thursday, “We just opened up Europe for you farmers,” although Europe already accounts for 11 percent of U.S. soybean and soymeal exports, according to the U.S. Soybean Export Council.
As for the prospect of year-round ethanol sales, the president raised the prospect this spring, though he appears to have edged closer.
Mark Recker, an Oelwein-area farmer who is president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, said Thursday a move to extend sales year-round without concessions would be welcomed.
“The president said he’s close, so we’ll see what happens,” Recker said. “It’s good to hear him talk about it. Now let’s see the actions behind the words. Let’s get there.”
The president shook hands with supporters at the Dubuque Regional Airport before making his way to the college campus 15 miles west of Dubuque. He also met with the mayor of Marshalltown, which sustained significant damage from a tornado last week. The president mentioned the tornado during the roundtable.
The president, along with his daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, talked up a job training bill approved by Congress. The president is expected to sign it, though he joked he might veto it.