VermeerVermeer Corporation Chair of the Board and AEM Hall of Fame Member Mary Andringa was a featured guest panelist this past week for the kick-off of a new virtual town hall series, AgTalks, which aims to provide a new forum for farmers and policy leaders to discuss solutions to challenges on trade, supply chains, and global competitiveness.

The series is being conducted by several AEM partners, including Farmers for Free Trade, the National Corngrowers Association, the National Farm Bureau Federation, and more. Andringa addressed many of the industry’s key policy priorities, including tariffs and supply chain issues, the simmering trade conflict between China and the United States, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), infrastructure investment, and the importance of rural broadband. The new town hall series, which kicked off in Iowa, is featuring discussions on trade and its importance to the health of rural economies. 

“I’m proud to be an Iowan. Iowa is critical to the food supply around the world, there’s no doubt about that,” said Andringa, who was the only manufacturer on the panel.

Panelists joining Andringa were Kirk Leeds, CEO, Iowa Soybean Association, Kevin Ross, president, National Corn Growers Association, Jim Sutter, CEO, U.S. Soybean Export Council, Brent Shanks, director, Center for Biorenewable Chemicals, Iowa State University, Craig Willis, senior vice president of global markets, Growth Energy, and moderator Sara Wyant, president, Agri-Pulse Communications.

“We’re thrilled to have Mary Andringa represent equipment manufacturers during AgTalks kick-off to its 2020 town hall series,” said Kip Eideberg, AEM senior vice president, government and industry relations. “With the 2020 elections less than 100 days away, this is a critical time to remind our elected officials that we need strong, pro-manufacturing policies to ensure that manufacturers such as Vermeer are given every opportunity to succeed. Mary has been an unwavering advocate for both equipment manufacturers and rural America over the years, and we appreciate her continued leadership on behalf of our industry.”

Here are some of the highlights of Mary’s comments on the panel.

On trade policy: “In trade, exports are really crucial for Iowa. In 2019, the manufacturers and Ag exports out of Iowa, sold over $16 billion dollars and went to 199 countries. That’s pretty substantial. And just in May this year, Iowa was again recognized as the number one exporter of large tractors and combines, number two in balers, hay equipment and seed equipment, and three in dairy equipment. USMCA was a huge deal for Iowa. Fifty percent of Iowa exports go to Canada and Mexico, with small and medium manufacturers in Iowa producing 81 percent of those exports. So, it’s important for all-sized companies. The Farm Bureau hopes we realize $2 billion dollars nationally in additional farm exports due to USMCA. At Vermeer, one out of every five of our team members has a job due to exports.”

On supply chain: “On supply chain, we would prefer to have all our components in the United States because it’s the best transportation, supply, and delivery situation. However, in reality 75 percent of our componentry and supply chain have a country of origin outside of the U.S. Europe is big location of suppliers for us. So, when we are hit with trade and tariffs barriers, that has an immediate impact to cost, gross margin and the bottom line, but also to availability. And COVID has made that worse in many conditions. So, ultimately, we saw an increase in steel prices at the end of 2017, 2018, that unfortunately has to flow down to our customers as well.”

On rural broadband: “There are so many reasons why we need good internet connections in rural areas - the need for information for Precision Ag, markets, sourcing, working from home and telehealth, just to name a few. According to the USDA, 80 percent of the 24 million American households who do not have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet are in rural areas. In Iowa, some of the money from the federal CARES initiative is going to be re-deployed for broadband for new construction and for areas that are less wired. Hopefully that will be a positive thing for Iowa.”

On infrastructure: "Investment in infrastructure is so important, and it's only getting worse. Right now, the U.S. is spending about one-third of what we were in 1960. We all use bridges, roads, ports, and waterways and cannot afford to keep falling behind in our infrastructure ranking."

Watch the full panel discussion.

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