Politics & Elections: Farm Issues Largely Lost on Candidates in Iowa

Farm consolidation and the shrinking of the small family farm are being blamed for the distinct lack of interest in ag issues among presidential candidates in pre-caucus Iowa this year. According to President Obama, it's going to take a lot of people, working together, to pull lawmakers' attention away from ag lobbyists.

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Civil Eats notes that farm issues have been mostly absent as the candidates wander about Iowa.

Writer Steve Holt spends some time on Bill Couser’s farm in Nevada, Iowa. Couser says he’s played host to all of the Republicans in the race. He has a conference room near his feedlot he built just for the purpose of talking with candidates.

This year, however, the talk about agriculture has been thin, Couser says. Holt explains the lack of interest:

That’s because in a state where corporatization and consolidation has dramatically cut into the number of smaller, family-run farms, sustainable agriculture advocates are generally outnumbered when candidates show up in Iowa. Friese remembers cornering then-Senator Barack Obama at a 2007 Earth Day rally in Iowa City and asking him what he would do to transform an industrialized food system. After indicating that he’d been moved by a recent Michael Pollan column in the New York Times, Obama followed with a sobering piece of advice: “If you want to do anything in Washington about [the food system], you’ve got to bring me 1 million people. That’s the only thing that will counteract the billions of lobbyist dollars.”

Back in Iowa, Bill Couser says he and many of his neighbors are tired of being bombarded by political ads, but glad that the candidates start their campaigns in farm country, and bring the media with them. Has he met the perfect Iowa candidate in this field?

Many of them are “very smart and understand most issues,” but “when [they] come to the Midwest and talk about ag,” he says, “they’re all just a little bit short.”

Meanwhile, Jerry Hagstrom at DTN has a rundown on all the “ag action” in the Iowa caucuses, well, what little there is.

Jerry has one-stop shopping for what the candidates are saying (or not) about ag and rural America. And he has links and quotes from agriculture groups who have weighed in on the candidates — from the renewable fuel boys to New York foodie Mark Bittman.


The New York Times writes that “rural voters can swing the Iowa caucuses,” and listens while rural residents talk about the upcoming vote.

The newspaper first notes that the rural population of the state (36 percent, the 12th most rural state in the country) is “not all conservative. Fifty-one percent of voters in the state’s rural counties voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and 48 percent voted for him in 2012.”

Most rural counties have lost population in the last quarter century and that makes is harder for parties to recruit leaders for county committees. But, the Times finds that the democratic spirit is still very much alive.

“I think being in a rural area, you’re able to step up to the plate and take more responsibilities, which is awesome and a little scary also,” said Jordan Pope, the chairman of the Decatur County Democrats, who, at 18, is the youngest county chairman or chairwoman in Iowa.

“I have friends in Texas and Alabama, and they’re always jealous when they see me taking selfies with presidential candidates,” he said. “Yeah, you have primaries there, but the main way they see their candidates is on a TV screen.”


Bloomberg Business has a story about how Walmart’s decision to close some of its stores is leaving towns without a grocery. Of course, this comes after Walmart blew into town a decade or more ago and ran the local grocery out of business.

Walmart announced recently that it was closing 154 stores, mostly its smaller Express stores. Reporter Shannon Pettypiece reports that many of these are in “isolated towns.” She goes to Oriental, North Carolina to see what happens with the Arkansas retailer pulls out.

She writes:

“Towns like Clearwater, Kansas, and Merkel, Texas, are among those hit by Wal-Mart closures. In Godley, Texas, with a population of roughly 1,000, Wal-Mart opened a small store just a year ago. Within months, the only other grocery store in town — Brookshire Brothers, part of an employee-owned regional chain — shut its doors. Now with Wal-Mart gone, the closest full-service grocery store is about a 20-minute drive away.”

The good news is that with Walmart leaving, some local groceries are coming back to life. The Wall Street Journal reports that the closing of a Walmart in Winnsboro, SC, has stirred residents to try to revive the town’s retail sector, especially on the town’s main street.

The Journal has a handy list of all the Walmarts that are closing.

Bill Bishop is a Daily Yonder contributing editor. 



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