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By Staff | Apr 3, 2015

This is the final part of my series reviewing the Iowa Ag Summit.

Rick Perry was honest that his stance against the RFS, when he filed for a waiver from the rules for Texas, represented the interests of Texas cattlemen who wanted cheap corn, but didn’t change his view.

He is still representing Texas. He said that he would eliminate all energy subsidies leaving them to the states, but the subsidies that the oil industry gets are baked into the tax code so he would not end those – so he would really not end all energy subsidies – just those for petroleum alternatives.

I don’t think that his debate performance in the last election cycle was a fluke. I gave Rick a D.

Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina, was the surprise of the day. He not only handled the question well, but had the crowd laughing and cheering while he did it.

He sees every gallon of ethanol as one less gallon that we have to buy from people who hate our guts and would like to kill us.

He says that borrowing money from China to buy oil from people who don’t like us is stupid policy.

As to the rural/urban divide, he focused on our aging transportation infrastructure and need to stay competitive with the modern world. He says he’s offered a $20 billon plan to improve ports to handle post-Panamax cargo vessels and modernize locks and dams and inland waterways.

That was the best answer to that question of any of the candidates. He brought up Africa as I have in this report. He understands the future strategic importance of that continent.

He pushed back on GMOs saying that the GMO opposition was just a back door way to put us out of business. He nailed that question, too.

He said immigration reform is necessary and that to get it done Republicans will have to work with Democrats, and the solution would include some kind of earned path to legality.

He was pro-TPA and pro-TPP with one important caveat – he wanted a provision included addressing currency manipulation. That was the only mistake that I heard him make.

You can’t tie monetary policy to trade agreements or all of them would unravel. If you want to kill TPP then include this demand. That was the only deduction that I gave him, so went with a generous A-.

Exactly why former New York Gov. George Pataki was invited to the summit is a little puzzling to me, but he did provide one important piece of perspective. He opposes the RFS saying that he instead supports helping retailers install blenders pumps and would prohibit petroleum retailers from blocking ethanol.

He did identify the problem of market access to consumers, and we know that the petroleum lobby has aggressively blocked exactly the proposals he suggested. They got aid to retailers for blender’s pumps cut from the USDA budget.

They do block ethanol access to consumers through franchise restrictions. The RFS is needed because what he suggests as the alternative has been blocked.

Rick Santorum is a strong supporter of the RFS from a “made in America” perspective. He says that without the RFS we essentially would have a mandate to use oil.

He is opposed to GMO labeling, but supports COOL. I was surprised at the support for COOL from the candidates as they brought it up.

Santorum is a blue collar trade skeptic. His definition of “made in America” likely extends to some protectionism. My notes say that he was science mixed. By that, he picks the science that fits his position rather than the other way around.

The conversation with Santorum was low key. I gave him a C.

Scott Walker supports the RFS. As governor of the neighboring state of Wisconsin, Walker has had association with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Bruce Rastetter, and it showed. They have explained to him that the issue is market access and Walker gets it, where a Ted Cruz never will.

He had the most interesting comments on food stamps wanting to tie eligibility for those without children to employability programs and require drug tests. He says his objective is to make it easier for those on food stamps to get a job.

The irony here is that a huge percentage of food stamp recipients are employed, many of them at Walmart. Even after Walmart increases its minimum wage for commercial reasons someone working there for that wage would have income well below the level for food stamp eligibility.

Being employed and getting a living wage are too different things. Maybe because Walker lives next door in Wisconsin I gave him a B.

Frankly, some of the grades given were different from my pre-conceived notions. There was total consensus from the participants on the issues of supporting GMOs opposing labeling as well as rolling back the EPA which they universally described as in overreach.

They all favored elimination of the estate tax and continuing to block trade with Cuba. There were many significant differences between the participants on the issues of trade and immigration.

My question of, “If a GOP Congress sent you a bill repealing the RFS, would you sign it?”… was not asked, but that did not inhibit clarity on where the candidates stood on the RFS.

The ag forum was a great success in defining where these candidates stood on all these issues important to the ag sector.

I think this type of forum is woefully missing given the discord in the political process today and proved that in Iowa we can still host thoughtful relevant discussion that is alien to Washington.

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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