At a closed-door meeting at the White House on Aug 19, President Donald Trump looked increasingly alarmed as his top envoy to China delivered evidence of rising Farm Belt frustration over his biofuel policy along with a stark warning: You’ve got a problem in Iowa. Terry Branstad, the former Iowa governor and now US ambassador to China, told Trump that while farmers may have remained loyal to him despite the economic pain caused by the more than year-long trade war with China, they would not stomach policies favouring the oil industry at their expense, according to four people familiar with the substance of the meeting. The administration, he explained, was undermining Trump’s support in the battleground of Iowa and Wisconsin, by freeing too many oil refineries from obligations to add corn-based ethanol to their fuel, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss internal deliberations. At the near two-hour meeting that also involved Trump’s top security and economy advisers, Branstad showed a map of counties that had flipped in Trump’s favour in 2016 but were now considered at risk in the November 2020 election. Branstad also listed quotes from Democratic presidential candidates assailing his biofuel policy as a betrayal of corn farmers, and headlines about ethanol plants shutting down across the Midwest, the sources said. His presentation shocked the Republican president, who was previously assured by his political advisers that he had Iowa “locked.” “This was the first time that the president was made fully aware of how angry these farmers are over this issue and that he could have a serious problem in Iowa and potentially other states where this topic is an issue,” said one of the sources. Before the meeting ended, Trump had already dispatched his Cabinet members to come up with solutions to stem the farm anger, the sources said, setting off a chain reaction that the US corn industry now hopes will mean fresh concessions to help farmers reeling from plunging crop prices and the loss of their biggest export market, China. CORN VS OIL The previously unreported details of the meeting underscore the political bind Trump has found himself in as he looks to two of his most prized constituencies – Big Oil and Big Corn – to again propel him into the presidency next year. It also shows how the biofuel debate, once an overlooked policy backwater, has become a volatile flashpoint as Trump tries to appease these competing interests. The Renewable Fuel Standard requires oil refiners to blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol into the fuel pool or pay a price, but allows the government to issue waivers to small refineries who can prove compliance causes a hardship. Smaller refiners say the blending mandate creates a high financial burden that threatens their plants, jobs and regional fuel supplies.