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Speculating how a trade war could impact Iowa’s AgTech companies

Tariffs impact Iowa

A potential trade war with China could negatively impact agtech companies in Iowa if it results in farmers who aren’t profitable.

But it could lead to more innovation.

The United States and China announced tariffs last week on over $100 billion worth of U.S goods that included steel, aluminum, pork, soybeans and beef.  Clay & Milk wanted to ask the question, how could that impact Iowa’s technology companies?

Kevin Kimle, director of the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative at Iowa State University, told Clay & Milk the people in the agtech industry worry about the general prosperity of agriculture and that they’ve got plenty to deal with already due to low commodity prices.

“If agriculture gets hit hard it could make it difficult for those creating a technology that you want farmers to buy,” Kimle says. “If farmers aren’t profitable they are going to be much more reluctant to make spending decisions.”

Importing the exports

On Tuesday, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said a total of $13.2 billion in Iowa goods were exported in 2017. According to The Des Moines Register, Reynolds said one in three hogs and rows of corn and soybean, are exported.

Kimle said if the proposed tariffs come to fruition and Iowa is impacted, more companies could look at new uses for their product or “hedging” and used the example of fish farming or Nebullam and their high-pressure aeroponics.

Steven Brockshus, the founder of, said he doesn’t see his company being impacted because they deal mostly with land acquisitions but said there is concern overall.

“There are concerns but we also understand in the ag industry what it means to have fair deals and have things equitable both ways,” Brockshus said. “We need good trade agreements otherwise American agriculture can’t operate as it has been.”

Kimle said another deal to keep an eye on from an ag perspective is the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

“Without even thinking about China, let’s get that house in order,” Kimle says. “Then hopefully a deal comes together with China and that ambassador does good work.”

The United States Ambassador to China is the former Governor of Iowa Terry Branstad.

“Let’s hope this is all about getting a better deal,” Kimle says.


Speculating how a trade war could impact Iowa's AgTech companies | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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