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Bustos talks trade, flooding with area farmers

Some relief is on the way, but it may not be enough, some experts say

PROPHETSTOWN – Jeff Brooks’ home sits just 75 yards away from a tree line that shares glimpses of the swollen Rock River in between the breaks of green foliage.

A rising river is expected around this time of the year, but what hasn’t been expected, Brooks said, is the high amount of water saturation to his cropland.

Thursday, during a private meeting held at Brook’s Farm, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos listened as Brooks and other Whiteside County farmers voiced their concerns over their anticipated crop yield, which they expect to be low because of the abnormally wet season, and a tariff war between the U.S. and Mexico.

“We’re actually pawns in the trading wars, because we’re major exporters of our products,” Brooks said of the tariffs.

President Donald Trump promised during his 2016 campaign that the current North American Free Trade Agreement with U.S., Canada and Mexico was insufficient. Congress is negotiating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but the president’s threats to increase tariffs because of immigration has Mexico officials pushing back.

The White House filed legal notice Friday that it will impose punitive tariffs on all Mexican imports starting Monday, even as negotiations intended to resolve the standoff dragged on for a third day, according to a Tribune News Service story, and Trump and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico expressed reserved optimism that a compromise was possible.

Much could happen between now and Monday, but the labor enforcement and reducing the cost of prescription drugs are what’s “holding up” the trade agreement vote, Bustos said.

“Right now, I want to be sure it does right by our family farmers, and I also want to be sure it does right by our other workers, as well,” the East Moline Democrat said.

Tariffs remain a concern, Brooks said, but he told Bustos the main issue was the immediate impact flooding has had on him planting corn, soybeans and hybrid seed corn, and what that means for his yield this year.

Whiteside County is one of 34 counties Gov. J.B. Pritzker included in his disaster proclamation because of the recent flooding, which is now in its 12th week.

Since then, the governor has deployed 400 Illinois National Guard members to high-impact areas to assist with monitoring and controlling the increasing flood levels.

Brooks and those who attended the meeting also are concerned with what’s happening below ground, where water drainage points are backed up from the spring melt and constant rain.

Of the 2,850 acres Brooks and his father farm, they’ve planted only about 35 percent; he estimates 300 to 400 acres will go unplanted.

In the 30 years he’s farmed, Brooks said, he’s never had to use the prevent-plant insurance for his crops, and he doesn’t want it be something he needs to use.

Farmers who are eligible for prevent-plant can be reimbursed for crops left unplanted, but that amount is lower than it has been in the past, Gary Sandrock, with Cornerstone Agency, said.

Prevent-plant reimbursements for corn are normally between 60 to 75 percent, now they’re 55 percent, he said.

Pre-plant costs, for things such as fertilizer, are costs farmers won’t recoup.

While Bustos was visiting her district, a disaster relief bill was sent to Trump for his signature. The bill appropriates about $3 billion to provide relief for various disasters, including crop losses from flooding.

That relief will help, but it isn’t enough, Sandrock said, adding that when the bill was drafted, Congress couldn’t foresee the flooding that’s occurred this year.

“We’ve heard the bottom-of-the-barrel speech from some folks. It’s getting very personal.”

When farmers hurt, the industries that support farming also hurt, he said. Whether it be a grain elevator operator or supplier, their success depends on farmers’ success, Sandrock said.

“There’s just a lot of industry that’s intermingled with the farmer. It’s not just the farmer.”

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