Farmers planting on hope

Green sprigs are sprouting along the ditches of the blacktops where the anhydrous tankers rolled en masse. 

Most of the fields are bare black, the round bales are stacked by design to resemble something of a monument on a county road corner between here and Cedar Rapids. The creeks flow but have abated from bulging. Des Moines is an island with standing water all around it, slowly dissipating from the melt.

It’s that anxious and hopeful time of year, and oh, that smell of diesel in the chill early April air. 

The soil temp is about 39 degrees. They are monitoring it every day, the eager beavers. It was supposed to warm up last week into the 70s. That will get them pacing. And then they will explode into the fields and do it all, the Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, in a month. That’s the hope part.

And then there’s the anxious part. Some farmers are still trying to get financing. What cash they had from the ethanol boom of 10 years past is gone. A trade war cratered corn and soy markets. The economists say it could take years to recover even if the Trump administration can call off the dogs with China. The president says he is close to a deal, but so he said with the North Korean dictator, too. 

Farmers wait. They hope that the man they supported can prevail, somehow, and get them a better deal on world markets. Some day. Not quite yet. And no doubt there will be some sort of trade deal affirmed by Congress with Mexico and Canada, that will update NAFTA. But it is not a done deal, which adds no certainty to anything.

Southwest Iowa was washed out. There will be no corn planting on thousands upon thousands of acres this spring or several springs to come for what was given up to the Muddy Missouri. The Iowa senators say that relief is on the way. Yet again, Congress has not approved disaster funding for flooding, because the Trump administration objects to disaster funding for Puerto Rico. The farmers can wait. Hamburg can wait.

They have lost money so many years in a row they could get used to it if it weren’t fatal. But another year or two of down markets, delayed machinery maintenance and rolling over an old loan onto a bigger new one, and you start to have a serious conversation with someone.

The Democrats say that they can do something sometime after 2020. Can they get away with that in Iowa? Will we let them? Do they not control the House? Can they not shame the Senate?

Farm suicide rates are rising to their highest level since the 1980s Farm Crisis, especially among plagued independent dairy operators. Nobody we heard is talking about opening up that lame farm bill and actually doing something that might save the last of the independent producers.

So we occupy ourselves with hope.

That markets will swing up. They have been known to.

That we will produce a yield like we have never seen. It happens.

That Congress and Trump could do something productive, sooner than 2020. It’s not something you can take to the bank. Trump knows he needs the Midwest, which is suffering from Ohio to Iowa, and so we can pray for largesse. Or just pray.

That weekend tour can make hope spring at least for a few hours. It is the loveliest place anywhere on the planet as it comes to life. The smell of the soil tells us we live in the place of the greatest bounty. It is always a struggle, but we plant thinking that this could be the year. 

Hope prevails.

‘Big Medicaid mistake’

Long have we said that the Medicaid privatization cooked up by Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds is a disaster. The Des Moines Register won a Pulitzer Prize last April for saying it. 

If you don’t buy our line, try the N’West Iowa Review of Sheldon, with a GOP stalwart editorial page: “Well, it hasn’t been a smooth transition. That’s like saying the Titanic stopped for ice,” The Review said in an editorial April 6. (We wish we had thought of that line.)

Costs for care have gone up. Payments to health care providers are delayed, discounted or not made at all. One of the big insurance companies participating, United HealthCare, recently announced it was dropping out because it is bad business for them. 

The remaining two providers will receive $150 million more as inducements to hang in there. One of the two remaining companies, Centene, has “a record of disputes, complaints and sanctions,” The Review noted.

And this, from the paper that always supported Steve King and Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds, where liberal bias is seldom expressed but by accident:

“Privatization has proved to be a mistake. It’s time to end this unfortunate experiment and return to a state program.”

Take The Review’s word for it. Nothing fake about it.

Art Cullen is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of The Storm Lake Times.

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