Trade, infrastructure and education are key priorities to keep Iowa’s economy strong, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week at the Iowa Farm Bureau Policy Information Conference in West Des Moines.

"Trade relationships are critical for growing Iowa’s economy. We want to ensure that Iowa continues to be positioned to succeed globally as we explore not only maintaining our existing markets but looking for new opportunities," said Reynolds, who will take over as Iowa’s governor when current Gov. Terry Branstad’s appointment as the U.S. ambassador to China becomes official. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said last week that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could hold a hearing on Branstad’s nomination within the next month.

Reynolds said she will work to identify and address concerns Iowans have about potential trade disruptions caused by global competition, fiscal policies and President Donald Trump’s plans to renegotiate trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). About 50 percent of U.S. soybeans, 25 percent of pork and 15 percent of U.S. corn are exported.

Iowa’s overall economy is closely linked to agriculture, with one in five Iowans employed in production agriculture or ag-related industries, Reynolds noted.

Focus on trade

"I understand the trade concerns are troublesome for farmers and Iowa companies," she said. "I will be bringing together a group of trade experts and ag stakeholders to start to discuss issues, whether it’s modernizing NAFTA (or) unfair trade practices that put American products at a disadvantage, to ensure that Iowa’s high quality products continue to move across borders."

Reynolds said she learned through leading trade missions that Iowa’s agriculture products have a strong reputation across the world.

"Through these trade missions, we have established long-term relationships that have resulted in increased exports and jobs for Iowans," she said. "Iowa may be small in terms of our population but make no mistake, we are in fact a global player in terms of our economic impact."

Reynolds also proclaimed her strong support for Iowa’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educational initiative. All four STEM disciplines are closely linked to agriculture and will play a key role in helping farmers feed a growing global population, she said.

Education focus

"It is important that we continue to invest in education to equip our young people with skills and competencies to be able to capitalize on our successes in agriculture," said Reynolds, who heads the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, which is made up of leaders in higher education and business, pre-K through 12 educators, and state and local government officials.

Iowa’s farmers are also on the leading edge of new technologies in soil mapping, auto-steer, variable rate applications and data management, she added.

"What’s really exciting and en­­couraging with the advancement of technology is that it’s creating opportunities and generating interest of our young people to go back to the farm or stay on the farm," Reynolds said.

Precision agriculture and the "can-do spirit" of Iowans are also helping efforts to improve Iowa’s soil health and water quality, Reynolds said. Last year, the state provided $9.6 million for cost-share conservation practices on more than 157,000 acres, she reported.

"While the statistics are im­­pressive, what is more impressive is collaboration that we continue to see grow in this effort," said Reynolds. "We believe we have the right strategy, but we also recognize the importance of providing long-term, dedicated funding that will enable us to scale up those best practices.

Water quality funding

Reynolds said the Branstad administration is committed to additional funding for the water quality initiative despite a challenging budget outlook.

"Even with reduced revenue, water quality continues to be a top priority. By leading on this issue, we have an opportunity to modernize Iowa’s ag infrastructure, create jobs in rural Iowa and promote collaboration between urban and rural communities," she said. "We know that the rest of the country is watching what we’re doing, and I believe Iowa has the ability to take the lead."