Agriculture can save small-town Iowa, Democrats say

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture candidate Tim Gannon said last week that another farm crisis could be brewing.
“I don’t want to be a doomsdayer, but I think that if we are in a prolonged economic downturn in agriculture, that’s a possibility,” Gannon said. “I’ve talked to folks who work for John Deere, building tractors in Waterloo. They’re very nervous. If the ag economy stays soft they’re going to see layoffs.”
Two other Democratic candidates spoke with Gannon about what the state can do to save the Iowa’s farming economy and small towns. Congressional candidate Cindy Axne joined in the conversation, along with Denise O’Brien, who’s running for Tom Moore’s seat in the Iowa House.
Gannon went after President Donald Trump’s tariffs and trade policies as reasons for the economic downturn, stating it makes more sense for manufacturers like Harley-Davidson to make their products somewhere else and pay one tariff on the final product, rather than paying a bunch of tariffs on component parts they’re already importing because they’re produced other places. 
“A lot of folks think the economy is humming along,” Gannon said. “Those folks aren’t the ones who are concerned with the price of pork and beans and live cattle...Those of us who watch that type of stuff have a right to be nervous.”
Moderator and former Des Moines Register journalist Chuck Offenburger asked the candidates what kind of impact they can have on problems the agriculture community is facing should they be elected. 
O’Brien said at the state level she can help improve water and soil quality and give back local control on things like livestock operations and concentrated animal feeding operations.
Giving young farmers an opportunity to thrive is also on O’Brien’s list of things to do should she be elected.
She said state programs are currently driving farmers into big, consolidated corporate structures. 
Younger farmers have a chance of making it on their own, she said, if they’re willing to move away from always planting corn and beans.
O’Brien said her farm used to have hogs, which she didn’t like since they were big and smelly, but they were important because they paid the mortgage while she was waiting for her corn to grow.
She and her husband, Larry, eventually got rid of the hogs in favor of an apple orchard. Now, they also grow strawberries and raspberries and a variety of fruit and vegetables. 
Still, O’Brien said, she understands farmers like to watch their margins because food in the United States is cheap.
“We don’t take in the costs of what it takes to grow food or grow commodities,” O’Brien said. “Those costs are water quality, the air quality, the soil — we’re talking about healthy soil now but much of the soil around here is dead. We’ve just used it as a median to put the inputs in and take the crops out.”
Iowa imports 85 to 90 percent of what is eaten here, O’Brien said. 
“How silly is that?” she asked. “With technology I can grow — and I’ve proven it — I can grow and sell food 12 months out of the year...I can gross more in one acre than one acre of corn. People have to understand that.”
She said the state needs more processing plants that will freeze and process the vegetables that can be grown here.
O’Brien also said the state can produce more food than it currently is and it needs to.
She then said the state needs to fund the Leopold Center again so ag related research can continue there.
Axne agreed, and said funding also needs to be restored to the Department of Natural Resources, where she used to work.
“People want to know why things aren’t being regulated, why we’re not addressing issues with CAFOs, why we’re polluting our water,” Axne said. “It’s because we are down to the levels of funding at the state as we were in the year 2000.”
She said since she left her job at the DNR, 200 jobs have been cut. Similar cuts have happened across the board at all state-level administrative offices, she said.
“I don’t understand how we got to the point where we’ve blown through all of our surplus for a rainy day and we cut staff and we cut services and we’re not doing better with delivering opportunities for the people here in Iowa,” Axne said. “It’s absolutely time for a change.”
Offenburger, who said he voted for and supported former governor Terry Branstand during his first four years in office, chimed in the conversation, stating “Terry 2.0” and Iowa’s newest Governor, Kim Reynolds, are attacking government.
“We need them as key partners in Iowa because we are a small state. We need them to pick up some aspects of our daily life out here,” Offenburger said. “And they’re withdrawing. They’re tearing that down. They’re privatizing and it’s not working.
“If you get down to privatization we don’t have the numbers to make some of this stuff happen,” Offenburger continued. “It bothers the hell out of me.”
O’Brien called the actions “anti-democratic” and “anti-human.”
“It’s tearing apart our democracy,” O’Brien said. “We are the government. We are responsible for electing people who will carry out the things that will take care of our country.
“That’s what I was brought up with. That’s what we learned in school” O’Brien continued. “That we care about our neighbors. That we care about our communities. That we will do whatever we need to make the comfortable. I think it’s really anti-democratic.” 

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