January 27, 2020

Highlights and Summary: Iowa Ag Summit

Donnelle Eller and Jennifer Jacobs reported on the front page of Sunday’s Des Moines Register that, “Nine GOP White House contenders did their best to sound more compelling and better-versed on farm-related matters than their competitors Saturday as they were quizzed during an unusual showcase of agriculture policy on the presidential campaign trail.”

The Register writers explained that, “Unlike the raucous, free-wheeling political rock concert that was the freedom summit, which was hosted by conservative Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, [moderator and pork and ethanol entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter], a mainstream Republican, kept tighter control on the conversation. He staged a living-room-like setting with leather chairs and a vase of tulips and conducted interview-style question-and-answer sessions on renewable fuels, the wind energy production tax credit, normalizing trade with Cuba, biotechnology, illegal immigration, water pollution from farm runoff and other topics.

“The mood in the crowd of about 900 was warm but mostly subdued as they heard from, in order: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former New York Gov. George Pataki and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Despite the free tickets and free lunch, a third of the seats were empty by afternoon.”

Sunday’s article noted that, “The Republicans’ stances differed little except on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate that outlines how much ethanol and biodiesel must be blended annually into the country’s fuel supply. Most said they understand and accept the need for the mandate, at least until it can be phased out. Santorum and Huckabee in particular passionately defended it.

But Pataki expressed vocal opposition to the RFS, as did Cruz, whose answers were met with applause.”


DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Saturday that, “Ethanol and biofuel mandates in the RFS have been a cornerstone for the rural economy throughout the last decade. Even as much of the country slipped into recession in 2008 and 2009, grain prices and land values rose as the biofuels industry continued to create a demand-driven market for grains. Those market prices and land values have slipped over the past 12 to 18 months.

“Rastetter asked Christie about his support for the Renewable Fuels Standard and biofuels. Christie said President Barack Obama has to understand the executive branch needs to implement the laws passed by Congress.

“‘The law requires that, Bruce, so let’s make sure we comply with the law,’ Christie said.”

Mr. Clayton added that, “Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he was an early supporter of biofuels because the U.S. needs to create some specific essentials. ‘It needs to be able to feed itself, fuel itself and fight for itself,’ Huckabee said.

“Food security is a defense issue, Huckabee said. ‘God help us when we start importing food to our tables.’

“He added that the U.S. should produce so much energy it is exporting more energy around the world. That would ‘turn the tables on Russia and Iran,’ he said.”

(A related audio clip from Gov. Huckabee on Saturday is available here (MP3- 3:00)).

Mr. Clayton stated that, “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said EPA should create a more certain plan to ensure the RFS volume requirements are in place. The uncertainty makes it hard for people to make investment decisions. ‘As we move forward for the long haul, there should be certainty for people to invest,’ Bush said, ‘and we ought to continue to innovate to create the lowest-cost energy sources in the world so we can grow economically.’

Ultimately, however, markets should decide fuel production and usage, leading to a reduction of the RFS because ethanol will be considered part of the normal energy stocks. At some point the country will see the need to reduce because ethanol will be such a major part of everything else, he said.”

Mr. Clayton also noted that, “Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he too believes in the free market dictating energy policy on the federal level. At the same time, Perry said the president shouldn’t get rid of one mandate or subsidy without digging into others as well.

“‘I don’t think you pull the RFS out and discriminate and leave all these other mandates and subsidies in place.’ In 2009, Perry was part of a petition movement to suspend the RFS due to high grain prices.”

Reuters writer Andy Sullivan reported on Saturday that, “Neither Bush nor Walker, the Wisconsin governor, have weighed in specifically on the Renewable Fuel Standard before.”

Mr. Sullivan added that, “Conservative groups – and some potential candidates – decry it [the RFS] as a boondoggle.

“‘I don’t think Washington should be picking winners and losers,’ said Texas Senator Ted Cruz.”

Beth Reinhard and Mark Peters reported on Saturday at The Washington Wire Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “The answer you’d like me to give is, ‘I’m for the RFS.’ Darn it, that would be the easy thing to do,’ Mr. Cruz said. ‘But I tell you, people are pretty fed up, I think, with politicians that run around and tell one group one thing and tell another group another thing.’

“Both Messrs. Bush and Cruz said the demand for renewable fuels would create growth in the industry without federal interference.

“‘The markets are ultimately going to have to decide this,’ said Mr. Bush, who declined to set a firm deadline for ending the fuel standard imposed a decade ago by his brother, former President George W. Bush. ‘Whether that’s 2022 or sometime in the future I don’t know,’ he said.”

The Journal writers added that, “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker backed the RFS, saying that while he tends to oppose government intervention, a marketplace issue exists for ethanol. He said consumers do not have the same access to corn-based fuel as gasoline, and because of that there’s a need for the standard.

“‘Right now we don’t have a free and open marketplace, and so that’s why I’m going to take that position,’ he said.”

Video Recap From Bloomberg Politics: The Iowa Ag Summit in 2 Minutes

Specific Candidate Coverage- Jeb Bush

Beyond ethanol issues, Chris Clayton reported on Saturday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Bush downplayed the economic benefits of trade with [Cuba] right now, comparing it more to North Korea as a dictatorship than a country emerging toward a freer place.

“‘Any efforts taken by the Obama administration right now has not offered any benefits in return,’ Bush said. He added shortly after, ‘Right now this is not something that we should be doing unless there are big-time changes in Cuba.’

“Bush later added that free trade is going to be ‘one of the great Godsends for the next generation of agriculture.’ The president should be given Trade Promotion Authority from Congress, he said.”

The DTN update added that, “On crop insurance, Bush said crop insurance was critical to Florida producers when he was governor. He pointed to various hurricanes as well as crop diseases such as citrus greening. ‘The crop-insurance industry creates a stability that makes it possible in very volatile kinds of situations for farmers to be able to be successful.’

“Talking about water challenges dovetailed into the EPA-Army Corps of Engineers rule redefining what classifies as waters of the United States. Bush called it ‘just outrageous, the definition of water.’ He noted Florida, before it was settled, was basically a giant wetlands.”

(A related audio clip from Gov. Bush on Saturday is available here (MP3- 3:00)).

Seema Mehta reported in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times that, “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush outlined his plan to fix the nation’s immigration system: Secure the borders, change the mix of immigrants who are allowed to enter the country, and finally, create a path to legalization for those in the country illegally.

“‘This is the only serious, thoughtful way of dealing with this, and we better start doing it,’ Bush told an audience at an agriculture gathering on Saturday.

Hundreds of Iowa Republicans sat stone-faced in response.”

Jason Noble reported on Saturday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Bush said he supports genetically modified crops and opposes labeling requirements for GMOs, supports crop insurance.”


Scott Walker

Jonathan Martin and Trip Gabriel reported in Sunday’s New York Times that, “The candidates — answering a similar menu of questions for about 20 minutes each from Bruce Rastetter, a prominent Iowa agricultural executive and Republican donor — did not criticize one another by name. But there were differences on policy, and Mr. Walker took a thinly veiled shot at Mr. Bush, saying: ‘I’m not a supporter of amnesty. I know there are some out there.’”

Bloomberg writers John McCormick and Michael C. Bender reported on Saturday that, “Walker, who catapulted to the top of many Iowa polls following a strong performance at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January, appeared poised and confident during a question and answer session.”

The Bloomberg article added that, “Asked about food safety, Walker responded: ‘We have some of the safest and most fresh food in the world right here in the United States. We should be proud of that, and we shouldn’t let anybody else tell us anything otherwise.’”

(A audio clip from Gov. Walker on Saturday is available here (MP3- 4:00).

James Hohmann reported on Saturday at Politico that, “The one eyebrow-raising moment came when Walker blanked on the name of Norman Borlaug. A procession of speakers had already heaped praise on the deceased Iowa biologist for unleashing the green revolution. Walker referenced him as the guy who had won the Nobel Prize, but he couldn’t remember who it was.”


Chris Christie

Chris Clayton reported on Saturday at The DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Regarding Trade Promotion Authority, Christie questioned letting the Obama administration make a major trade deal. ‘If any of us have seen the president negotiate over the last six years are concerns about how the president negotiates’ — Christie said.

Christie said he had concerns about opening up trade and relations with Cuba. He talked about the family of a New Jersey police officer who was killed by a woman who fled to Cuba. Christie said the Obama administration should negotiate to hold criminals accountable. Still, Christie left open the idea of working with Cuba.

“‘I have a number of issues with it, but if they are willing to play ball, we should be.’”

Mr. Clayton added that, “Christie also said he supports crop insurance and thinks it provides the right type of safety net. ‘Let’s face it, if we don’t do that, the government will step in anyway in that kind of disaster and all the costs will be paid by taxpayers.’

“‘Washington DC can help provide the safety net, but they shouldn’t dictate the terms.’”

(A related audio clip from Gov. Christie on Saturday is available here (MP3- 2:15)).

Bloomberg writers John McCormick and Michael C. Bender reported on Saturday that, “Leading off the stream of prospective candidates, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie argued for more local control in U.S. agricultural policy.

“‘I want to make sure we include farmers and your associations and our state officials in making these judgments. Washington, D.C., can help to provide the safety net, but they shouldn’t be dictating terms,’ he said. ‘There is no way that a way a bureaucrat in a cubicle in Washington understands these issues better than the local farmer here in Iowa.’”

Jonathan Easley reported on Sunday at The Hill Online that, “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie followed up his unmemorable performance at the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend with another flat showing at the summit in Des Moines.

“The early-morning crowd didn’t seem warmed up yet for Christie, the first GOP contender of the day to sit for the question-and-answer session. But he didn’t help his cause by continually turning questions about agriculture policy into broader attacks against the Obama administration, arguments that summit-goers weren’t necessarily there to hear.”


Rick Perry

Bloomberg writers John McCormick and Michael C. Bender reported on Saturday that, “In his appearance, former Texas Governor Rick Perry sold his personal experience as a farmer and as a one-time agricultural commissioner in his home state. ‘Somebody that actually understands the industry would be good to have in the White House,’ he said.

On genetically modified food, Perry said agricultural interests need to do a better job of informing consumers about the safety, rather than mandatory government labeling.  ‘Where would the world be today, if we had some of the resistance to our genetic engineering and our ability to improve livestock and improve our seed stock?’ Perry asked. ‘It’s safe and that it will make our farming and ranching more sustainable.’”

Philip Rucker and Dan Balz reported in Sunday’s Washignton Post that, “If the Republicans disagreed on immigration and energy subsidies, they were unanimous in their criticism of Obama’s diplomatic overtures to Cuba. Former Texas governor Rick Perry said the negotiation to release U.S. government contractor Alan Gross was ‘a bad deal.’ He added, ‘We traded Mr. Gross for three Cuban spies and, in my opinion, we got the way short end of that deal.’”

James Hohmann reported on Saturday at Politico that, “But Perry’s presentation most heavily emphasized his own roots in agriculture. He grew up on a cotton farm 200 miles west of Fort Worth. His mom worked at a cotton gin as a bookkeeper. He didn’t have running water in his house until he was ‘six or seven.’ He was active in the 4-H and got a degree in animal science from Texas A&M. After the Air Force, he spent four years farming and eight years as Texas agriculture commissioner.

In a way that his rivals did not, Perry expressed concern about falling crop prices and new challenges facing farmers.

“‘I’ve watched a wheat crop be lost to a hail storm,’ he said. ‘I understand the vagaries…’”


Mike Huckabee

Jonathan Martin reported on Saturday at the First Draft Blog (New York Times) that, “The agriculture industry generally supports free trade and an immigration overhaul, but former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas made clear Saturday at an industry summit here that he is more of a populist than many of the other Republican presidential hopefuls.

“Mr. Huckabee, one of several possible 2016 candidates to appear before potential Iowa caucusgoers, raised questions about opening up trade with other countries further, saying: ‘If it’s not fair trade, it’s not free trade.’

He also said he would not back restoring trade with Cuba, saying that officials in Havana ‘kick their people in the groin.’”

James Hohmann reported on Saturday at Politico that, “Even more than during his 2008 bid, the former Arkansas governor set himself apart from the pack Saturday by expressing skepticism of trade agreements and decrying the outsized power of business in the Republican Party.

“‘There are three types of people: globalists, corporatists and nationalists,’ he said, identifying himself as the latter. ‘We have allowed the Chinese to get away with things in trade agreements that we never should have done, and we’ve done it because we have a lot of globalists and frankly corporatists instead of having nationalists who put forward the best interests of the United States and working families.’

“Huckabee blamed stagnant wages on bad trade deals. ‘We need to start making it so that Americans can prosper and not just so that the Chinese can buy Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags,’ he said.”


See also this report from Bloomberg analyst Mark Halperin, “Who Made the Grade at the Iowa Ag Summit?”

Keith Good

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