Governor Terry Branstad is blaming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the recent layoffs at Deere and Co.
Deere announced last week that over 100 people will be laid off indefinitely from its plant in Ankeny, then Friday, Deere announced 460 people will be laid off at its tractor factory in Waterloo. Deere cited falling commodity prices as the primary cause of its drop in farm equipment sales.
During an appearance in Le Mars Friday afternoon, Branstad blamed the drop in corn prices on the EPA’s proposal to lower the Renewable Fuels Standard.
“A few years ago we had the best corn prices we’d ever seen,” Branstad said. “And now, because the EPA has cut the Renewable Fuels Standard … the price of corn is now below the cost of production and when farmers seek they’re not going to be making money, they quit buying equipment.”
Branstad has been criticizing the EPA for proposing a roll-back of the amount of corn-based ethanol that must be blended into gasoline this year. The EPA hasn’t made that new “Renewable Fuels Standard” level final, however, and Branstad said that uncertainty isn’t helping either.
“They’ve really done real damage to the farm economy and now to jobs at John Deere and farm machinery manufacturing as well,” Branstad said.
Deere expects farm equipment sales to drop 10 percent this year. The company has laid off workers at its East Moline plant, which makes combines, as well as the tractor plant in Waterloo. The plant in Ankeny makes cotton pickers and other farm machinery, like tillers and grain drillers
“Disappointing, obviously, and disconcerting,” Waterloo Mayor Buck Clark said of the layoffs in Waterloo. “We have gone through this in the past. We hate it, but not totally, totally surprising.”
Waterloo City Councilman Steve Schmitt said while this latest round of layoffs is upsetting, he doesn’t anticipate the kind of struggle his city faced during the depths of the farm crisis in the 1980s.
“Waterloo and Cedar Falls have a much more diverse employment base now than we did back then,” he says. “Back then it was purely John Deere and Rath Packing and I think one of the things we learned out of that was to have a wide diversification of employers.”
Deere currently employs over 6000 people at its “Waterloo Works” where tractors roll off the production line. Almost 1200 have been employed at the “Des Moines Works” plant in Ankeny where 110 workers got layoff notices last week.
(Reporting in Le Mars by Dennis Morrice of KLEM Radio; additional reporting and editing by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)