Debate this: Which presidential candidate is better for agriculture?

Sep 19, 2012

The presidential candidates have yet to meet in a face-to-face debate. But last week in Des Moines, Iowa, ag leaders witnessed a preview of sorts during a Presidential Forum on Agriculture held in advance of the annual meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

With Midwestern leaders standing in for the presidential candidates, a 90-minute surrogate debate addressed agriculture concerns such as regulations and taxes.

The debate was a lot like boxing. On the left was Iowa’s former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, representing President Barack Obama.

“I think you all know that he and the first lady have been in Iowa many times this summer campaigning. I have to tell you that sharing a pork chop and a beer with him at the Iowa State Fair is a story that I plan to repeat to my grandchildren,” she said.

That story didn’t square with the fighter on the right — Sen. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican who held the torch for candidate Mitt Romney. Johanns was the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture during the George W. Bush administration. And the senator didn’t pull his punches when it came to criticizing the president

“I’ve been there in the United States Senate, and I don’t use this terminology lightly — but he has been anti-agriculture,” Johanns said.

That was one of the more generous statements Johanns used to describe Obama’s agriculture policy. He said just look at recent proposals by the Environmental Protection Agency — like the so-called dust regulation — which would have limited the amount of dust farmers could create.

“Do you know how long we have been fighting them on the dust regulation? Don’t be fooled, if Barack Obama is re-elected we are going to be dealing with the dust regulation again,” he said.

But Judge said it’s not fair to bring up rules that didn’t become law and won’t be introduced again.

“There are no pending regulations by EPA to regulate farms dust. Period, the end,” she said.

But Johanns wasn’t deterred. He kept up his harsh analysis of Obama and the EPA, claiming that they were using drones to spy on ranchers, something he called a direct insult. And, Johanns said, the president’s tax plan — particularly the estate tax — poses a direct threat to farming families.

“Do you know how many family farms and ranches are going to be taken away – they cannot pay that kind of rate. Mitt Romney on the other hand says look, we tax you your whole life, does it make a bit of sense that we would tax you on your death, and he proposes the elimination of the death tax,” Johanns said.

But Judge called that a misrepresentation of the Romney tax plan. She said Romney’s plan won’t help working class families — it would only aid the already well off.

“You know I lived through the 1980s on a small farm in southern Iowa, I’m going to stand here and tell you trickle-down economics does not work; it has never worked. Some sort of idea that if you put more money in the pockets of rich people that that’s going to create job for us, has never worked,” she said.

Judge credited President Obama with helping to bring back a thriving farm economy.

But Johanns said agriculture has survived in spite of — not because of — Obama’s policies. He said Obama is waging a war against ag with too much regulation, and not enough support for trade.

“All I can tell you is I think there are storm clouds on the horizon,” he said. “Thank goodness for farmers and ranchers, who have kind of knuckled down. That’s what is making this happen It isn’t the policies of this administration, believe me.”

Who and what the voters of Iowa believe on ag issues may well determine the outcome of the presidential election.