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Scott County pork producers are crossing their fingers for luck as new agricultural free-trade agreements are debated in Congress.

The U.S. House of Representatives is to debate the agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama today, and the pacts also are set for a vote today in the Senate Finance Committee.

"This has been on the table for four years, and it's high time it gets passed because of the value it has for all of the agricultural products we produce in the United States," Tom Dittmer said Monday. Dittmer raises hogs and owns Grandview Farms in Eldridge, Iowa.

"This is something we need to embrace and go after," Robb Ewoldt said. Ewoldt, president of the Scott County Farm Bureau, is a pork producer and farmer near Blue Grass, Iowa.

The free-trade agreements were first formed four years ago and have been idled until now, partly because of congressional concerns.

The lag time means that other countries have gotten the jump on the United States, according to Ron Birkenholz, communications director for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, West Des Moines. "We produce the best pork product and the lowest-cost pork in Iowa," Birkenholz said. "That's why we can get those markets back."

Corn sales to Colombia have been lost to Brazil because of the delay, Ewoldt said. "Colombia is getting the food it needs from other countries, and we are losing out."

Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes projects that if passed, the new trade agreements mean an $11 price increase for farmers on each hog sent to market. Dittmer is not sure it will be that much, but believes the positive impact will boost the nation's economy.

"I don't see it as a windfall," Dittmer said, "but there's no doubt it will help move the product."

Iowa farmers raise more than 19 million hogs a year, and have been doing that "pretty consistently" for a number of years, Birkenholz said. The pork industry has a nearly $12 billion impact on Iowa's economy, and accounts for 63,000 jobs in the state.

"Those folks out in Washington, D.C., will hopefully look out for us and realize passing these trade agreements will be good for us," Ewoldt said.

"We'll wait and see and, hopefully, the votes are there."

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