BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) dropped in on about 300 people at the Central Lee FFA banquet Wednesday night and took a peppering of questions from some bright kids in blue corduroy jackets.
The visit was part of Ernst’s annual 99-county tour hopping across the state of Iowa during a legislative break from Washington D.C.
Iowa’s first female senator in Washington D.C. said after her remarks and a brisk question-and-answer session that she hasn’t seen a larger student-body FFA.
“I can honestly say that don’t think I have,” she said. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Ernst told the group that their engagement in agricultural education and the industry is critical to America’s future.
“I can’t stress enough your commitment to service and the importance of ag education. It’s extremely important to the state of Iowa and the future.”
The senator’s father, sister and brother were all members of Future Farmer’s of America. Ernst, a veteran and Iowa State University alum, was a member of 4-H as a youth.
“You are positioned quite well to have a positive influence on the farmers, the leaders, and the educators that will succeed you in generations to come, not just in Iowa, but around the globe.”
Ernst grew up on on a farm raising hogs and growing corn in southwest Iowa, and still resides there today.
“My time on the farm did give me a deep appreciation for all Iowa’s farmers. Everything they strive for every single morning, in rain, snow, and sunshine to cultivate and grow the goods we absolutely rely on.”
She spoke to the students about an exchange program she participated in the former Soviet Union while in college. Ernst said she saw a different culture and one where freedoms didn’t exist. She said that pushed her to serve her country for almost a quarter of a century to defend what America stood for.
“I carry the experiences from that ag exchange program with me every single day,” she said. “What started as an educational experience in agriculture provided me with much more than I ever could have imagined. One that taught me even greater life lessons.
“The future success of our agriculture industry depends on the continued service of very young, bright, and engaged leaders like yourselves.”
One FFA member asked how the current federal infrastructure stimulus would impact agriculture industry.
Ernst said she had concerns about how much of the $2.2 trillion package will actually go toward improving the country’s infrastructure.
“Only 5 to 6% of that $2.2 trillion goes to roads and bridges. There is more for electric vehicles in that infrastructure package than there is for actual infrastructure. And that would hurt us.”
At 6% that would amount to $132 billion in straight infrastructure investment.
She said conservatives have put together a plan that focuses on locks and dams, roads, bridges, waterways, and broadband at a cost of $560 billion. She said the plan can be paid for without raising taxes and said some Democrats favor the Republican plan over President Joe Biden’s plan.
Ernst said looking at the faces of the students embracing the agriculture industry brings concerns in facing a new global economy. She said America needs to maintain relationships cultivated during Donald Trump’s administration.
“We hold steady and hold a course that embraces technology and make sure we are able to transition smoothly into the those changes as they come – and be as productive as we can,” she said.
She said protecting the environment is a big deal among younger farmers, but we can’t to do it in a way that punishes them.
“We want to incentivize it, and make it easy for them to receive resources, and guidance, and education. And I worry that we’re not doing that. That were using a hammer rather than a carrot.”
She also shared concerned about creating and maintaining open markets.
“I was able to speak with a U.S. trade rep a week and a half ago and she was very non-committal on a lot of these opportunities. Opportunities that were started in the last administration. Look at the UK, you look at EU markets, and Africa. She talked about them, but all she could say is we’re going to continue to look at them.”
Ernst said a holistic approach with China may not be in the country’s best interest when there is already a substantial Phase 1 deal in place.
“I’m worried they may go back and make modifications that might harm our exports to China,” she said. “I’ll stay engaged and I will communicate with administration as much as I can in a positive way, but we need them to understand the significance of what we export to the world.”