Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (left), a Democratic presidential candidate, is seeking to position himself as the authentic and relatable rural voice amid a crowded Democratic field. “If we lose these communities,” Bullock said Tuesday in Rippey, “we’ve lost this country.” (Photos by Douglas Burns)
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (left), a Democratic presidential candidate, is seeking to position himself as the authentic and relatable rural voice amid a crowded Democratic field. “If we lose these communities,” Bullock said Tuesday in Rippey, “we’ve lost this country.” (Photos by Douglas Burns)

July 10, 2019

RIPPEY

Months of trade war with China have depressed Iowa farm markets and outlook while record-low, long-term jobless rates in west-central Iowa are devastating to a labor-starved agricultural sector, farmers and ag businesspeople told Montana’s governor in Rippey Tuesday afternoon.

“None of us want white trash, and that’s what we’re up against,” Alan Neese, co-owner of Neese Inc. in Grand Junction said of challenges he faces finding adequate employees.

Neese was one of about a dozen rural Iowans to talk with Democratic presidential candidate Steve Bullock, the two-term governor of Montana, on a tour of the Heartland Cooperative’s Rippey branch in southern Greene County. Bullock is seeking to position himself as the authentic and relatable rural voice amid a crowded Democratic field.

“Montana is, in some respects, not unlike Iowa,” Bullock said.

Neese, who farms and runs the ag sales and service operation with his wife, Kate, joined others in giving Bullock a polite earful on the current plight of rural America.

For their part, the Neeses have had success in the past hiring seasonal labor for manure application in the fall and early winter from Belize, a Central American nation. But that’s not been possible lately, they said.

“To say that we don’t need foreign labor is crazy,” Alan Neese said.

So who do you end up hiring, or how do you handle the work? Bullock asked.

“We go low and try to find whatever,” Neese said.

Greene County posted a 2.3 percent unemployment rate in May, while neighboring Carroll County recorded a 1.7 percent rate, and Boone County reported a 2 percent rate, according to Iowa Workforce Development figures released earlier this week.

James Holz, a Grand Junction farmer, had some strong words for President Donald Trump’s use of social media in trade discussions.

“A tweet by the president affects us with real money,” Holz said.

Andy Riley, a Rippey farmer, said he’s not sure it makes sense for many in the next generation to enter farming.

“The last 12 months have been pretty tough with the trade war,” he said.

Soybean farmers are bearing much of the brunt of Chinese retaliation for Trump tariffs in tech and industrial sectors.

According to The Des Moines Register, China bought nearly $24 billion in U.S. farm goods in 2017, including $14 billion in soybean purchases. Last year, China’s total farm purchases dropped to about $9.2 billion.

Riley doesn’t much like the idea of Trump’s planned bailout for farmers, seeing it as too little and poor policy.

“We just want a fair-market price for what we are trying to grow,” Riley said.

Bullock said ag producers are getting hit because of what Trump is attempting to do with trade and technology.

“Impacts to agriculture, impacts to workers have always been stepchilds to any trade deals,” Bullock said.

Bullock also called for the extension of faster Internet into rural America and spotlighted a program in his state to relieve college debt for graduates who return or head to ranches for work.

Small towns in America must survive, the governor said.

“If we lose these communities, we’ve lost this country,” Bullock said.

In response to a question from the Jefferson Herald following the cooperative tour, Bullock called for the resignation of U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta for his role — as a prosecutor in Southern Florida — in a plea arrangement with convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a New York City hedge-fund manager with ties socially to President Trump, former President Bill Clinton and other public figures.

“I think that he (Acosta) has violated the public trust, and he should step down,” Bullock said.

Federal authorities Monday indicted Epstein on child-sex-trafficking charges and uncovered hundreds of explicit photos, many of which appear to feature children.

What we saw of Epstein was disgusting,” Bullock said.