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Update on the Iowa Ag Summit

In a two page article, with several helpful graphics, Donnelle Eller and Christopher Doering reported in Thursday’s Des Moines Register that, “Bruce Rastetter, the man behind the Iowa Agriculture Summit, is determined not to give away too much about the farm issues he will press potential presidential candidates to discuss Saturday in Des Moines.

“Undoubtedly, Rastetter will pepper the nation’s top Republican contenders about their support for ethanol and biodiesel. Biofuels are a political hot potato that either cuts our need for foreign oil and creates rural jobs or is unnecessary because of higher domestic production, depending on which expert you talk with.

But there’s a host of other issues the presidential aspirants must prepare for: free trade, immigration, conservation, biotechnology and food labeling, government subsidies, wind and solar power, and livestock production and animal welfare, Rastetter said.”

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The Register article indicated that, “Here’s a closer look at five top ag issues:

“1. Immigration

“The issue: Farm organizations say an overhaul is needed to protect undocumented agricultural workers, but it should come from Congress, not the White House. President Barack Obama tried to use his executive power to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation last November, but it provided minimal relief to agriculture and has been overturned by a Texas judge. During the last Congress, the Senate passed a new immigration reform bill, but the Republican-led House failed to act.”

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Thursday’s article noted that, “2. Water quality

“The issue: Despite assurances otherwise from the EPA, agricultural groups contend the federal Waters of the U.S. rule would expand the ‘navigable waters’ protected by the Clean Water Act to include not only rivers and lakes but also ditches, stream beds and self-made ponds that carry water only when it rains. Farmers say they would face higher costs for environmental assessments and would need to apply for permits to allow them to till soil, apply fertilizer or engage in some conservation practices.”

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The article continued, and pointed to: “3. International trade

“The issue: Republicans and the White House have pledged to work together, and one indication of that sincerity could be trade. While much of the attention in recent months has fallen on Cuba, where Obama has proposed to normalize trade relations, a bigger boon to agriculture could come through the Trade Promotion Authority. The so-called fast-track authority, which expired in 2007, would allow Obama to negotiate trade deals, and submit them to Congress for a vote.”

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Next on the Register list: “4. Biotechnology & labeling

“The issue: If more states require labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients, Congress could be pressured to establish a uniform, nationwide law regulating the controversial technology found in much of the U.S. food supply.”

And lastly, Thursday’s article indicated that, “5. Ethanol mandate

“The issue: Lawmakers and oil trade groups led by the American Petroleum Institute are opposed to the Renewable Fuel Standard, a mandate that requires a certain amount of the largely corn-based fuel to be blended into the gasoline supply. They are pushing ahead to change or repeal the 8-year-old law popular with farmers and rural America. But change appears difficult. Many newly elected Republicans support the existing measure.”

Also in today’s Register, Kathie Obradovich stated in a column that, “Presidential candidates need to do more than just wear a seed-corn cap and get their eggs in the right baskets on farm issues to impress Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and other Iowa voters.

“‘I wouldn’t want somebody to just walk in and say, ‘I’m against California on eggs, I’m for RFS,’ and just check the boxes trying to get the positions right,’ Northey, a Republican, said. ‘They better explain why … and they should be able to fit that into their overall philosophy of government, if they’ve thought through those things.’

Ms. Obradovich added that, “What does hurt is if a candidate gets caught trying to pretend that playing Farmville on their phones somehow makes them the next John Deere. The gaffes stand out like Gucci loafers at the Iowa State Fair.”

Meanwhile, Geoff Earle reported on Wednesday at the New York Post Online that, ” Former Gov. George Pataki is about to join a throng of potential Republican presidential candidates appearing at high-profile speaking events in South Carolina and Iowa – and he’ll be emphasizing his down-on-the-farm roots.

“‘I’m from New York and I probably spent more of my life on a farm than anybody out there,’ Pataki told The Post, referring to rival Republicans, days before heading out to one GOP event, the Iowa Agriculture Summit.”

The Post update noted that, “Pataki grew up on a family Peekskill farm with ‘everything from corn to tomatoes starting with strawberries in the spring and running through apples and pumpkins in the fall.’ Now, he and his wife, Libby, run a farm that sells cherries, hay, and has 85 head of cattle.

“‘We’re doing grass-fed free range, hormone-free beef. I am not unaccustomed to getting my hands dirty on a farm,’ said Pataki, who also has a successful government consulting and legal practice.”

And Bloomberg writers Julie Bykowicz and Alan Bjerga reported on Thursday that, “The summit dovetails with efforts by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican who is close to Rastetter, to start a grass-roots effort to make ethanol a central issue in the Iowa caucuses next January, traditionally the first vote of the presidential primary season. Earlier this year, Branstad announced the formation of a new group, America’s Renewable Future, which intends to mobilize a pro-ethanol army of 25,000 people from each party to participate in the caucuses. The group is backed by Growth Energy, the most active ethanol lobby, and headed by Branstad’s son Eric, who was Iowa field director for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign. He says he plans to open an office in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. ‘We can get our message into the coffee shops where the candidates are,’ Eric says. ‘Then we can use Iowa’s unique status to teach the rest of the country how important ethanol is.'”

Beth Reinhard reported on Thursday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “For decades, presidential candidates have bowed to Iowa’s corn-based ethanol industry while campaigning in a state where corn is king.

But several of the likely Republican candidates slated to address the state’s agricultural industry on Saturday backed the sunset of ethanol subsidies in 2011, and many oppose the industry’s new sacred cow: the renewable-fuel standard, which requires blending ethanol and other biofuels into the gasoline supply.

“How the likely White House contenders navigate the issue will signal how much Republican politics are now driven by the party’s conservative base, which balks at government interference in the marketplace. Two GOP contenders who want to phase out the renewable-fuel standard, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, are skipping the event.”

The Journal article added that, “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is making his first trip to Iowa since flagging his White House ambitions, doesn’t appear to have publicly commented on the fuel standard, which was signed into law by his brother, former President George W. Bushf. However, the former Florida governor praised Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty for ‘truth-telling’ when he advocating phasing out ethanol subsidies in 2011…Longstanding support among presidential candidates for Iowa’s agricultural interests began to crack in the 2008 campaign, when Republican Sen. John McCain opposed federal ethanol subsidies that totaled $6 billion a year.”