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By Staff | Mar 20, 2015

Today we will start off with what will be the prologue to comments on the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit held March 6 in Des Moines. The Ag Summit was a tremendous success in many ways. Politicians attend debates and cattle calls, but rarely are they given a forum where they are asked direct questions and return direct answers as was done in this agricultural forum.

The politicians questioned did not give speeches. Host Bruce Rastetter and each of the candidates had a conversation where they were both seated in chairs on a stage. Rastetter went through a question set including specific issues relevant to the ag sector while the candidates gave thoughtful reflective answers. You just don’t get those results from most formats for candidate interactions used today.

The media loves debates so they can get sound bites but we, the electorate, rarely get much useful information out of them. For example, Joni Ernst went through an entire campaign for U.S. Senate here in Iowa and I was never entirely sure of her position on the Renewable Fuel Standard. There was no ambiguity as to the candidate’s positions that Saturday. On issues of the RFS, trade, GMOs, immigration, crop insurance, nutrient runoff, the rural-urban divide … they gave expansive direct answers with none of the usual evasive over cautiousness that is typically the result of the media asking the questions.

Frankly, that is the difference. Rastetter is not a reporter … he is not the press … he is someone who knows what concerns the Ag sector and what questions needed answers. There was nothing political in the questions. Granted, politicians are going to give some political answers but much of substance was learned that day.

The great disappointment was that Democrats did not participate. They were invited and had they shown up it would have made the event even better. The Democrats allowed politics to cause them to miss an opportunity. Andrew Cuomo, Bernie Sanders, Tom Vilsack, Joe Biden, Any Klobuchar, Martin O’Malley, Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton were all invited and declined to attend.

R.T. Ryback, Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, gave the response critiquing the summit. It was the same old … same old partisan baloney characterizing the event as political, which missed the whole point. The result is that we now have some very specific positions from GOP candidates on issues that are very important to agriculture and we have nothing but political banter from Democrats. That is a shame.

The questions asked were not political. What do you think of the RFS? … Would you label food for GMOs? … Should the president have Trade Promotion Authority and what do you think of pending trade agreements? 80 percent of workers on dairy farms are immigrants what is your immigration plan? … How should nutrient runoff be managed? … Do you support crop insurance? … How would you address the rural-urban divide? These are questions that in my opinion, every politician, Republican or Democrat, that comes to Iowa to campaign for president should answer. Those at the Ag Summit did just that.

I didn’t like all their answers but I learned a lot and there were some revelations. As to some color from the event I ran in to Rick Perry at the coffee dispenser in the Embassy Suites at 7 a.m. We were alone and we exchanged “good mornings.” He amused me. He was wearing a ball cap, dress shoes and dark socks. In between he had on a suit coat over a t-shirt and baggy shorts and he had skinny white legs. He didn’t quite look put together and I am not sure he accomplished that later at the forum either. The demonstrators were outside the event at the fairgrounds doing what they do, chanting and waving signs. They see agriculture as a corporate entity that they find all kinds of fault with. I believe they understand little about the sector and mischaracterize most of that.

I see the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement anti-ag demonstrators as the opposite of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in terms of percentages. Remember the Occupy Wall Street slogan, “We are the 99 percent”? When in New York a few years ago my wife and I stopped by Zuccotti Park where they were located and spent some time talking with the people camped there. We enjoyed it. We had good conversations. I got their perspective. I noted they had a free library at the park with books that could be taken and read. One of notes was the biography of Norman Borlaug. I think it is ironic today that the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York saw Borlaug as the hero that he was, while the ICCI group protests Borlaug’s World Food Prize.

The other irony is that the Occupy Wall Street movement claims to represent 99 percent of the people against the 1 percent who are wealthy. In Iowa, the percentages are reversed. Iowa Agriculture represents 99 percent of the food production while the critics are the 1 percent. If the ag sector adopted their food production practices people would pay far more for much less food. Theirs is an unsustainable food production system. The ag sector is being unfairly and purposefully maligned by these groups. “We are the Norman Borlaug agriculture” and they are not. They got nothing for you that you need.

Bruce Rastetter put together an Iowa like forum where civil questions were given civil responses by serious people, one of whom may be president. The transparency, the depth, and the frankness of the event were pretty much unprecedented today for our political leaders in this political environment. As I said, this is just the prologue to my comments on the Iowa Ag Summit … and we will get into that in next week’s column.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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