WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015 – Most Iowans know that they’ll see a lot of presidential wannabes running around the Hawkeye state - shaking hands in coffee shops and eating pork chops at the Iowa State Fair – between now and the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, tentatively set for Feb. 1, 2016. But once they move past Iowa, it’s difficult to get answers about where any of them stand on food and agricultural issues. Unfortunately, many don’t even list “agriculture” as an issue area on their websites.

But now that’s going to change, thanks to a new event organized by Iowa entrepreneur, Board of Regents president and influential GOP donor Bruce Rastetter. The Iowa Agricultural Summit will be held on Saturday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, starting at 8:30 a.m.

Rastetter told Agri-Pulse that the idea surfaced last November and Gov. Terry Branstad has been a big supporter of the event, even calling a number of candidates and encouraging them to join the discussion. Other Iowa agricultural leaders have jumped on board, too.

"I believe this forum will be important for more than just Iowa farmers, but for those beyond Iowa's borders and for those outside of agriculture,” emphasized Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey.

GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley has also been involved, after at least two candidates requested a briefing from him. Although Iowa’s senior senator won’t say who called, he advised them to be “sympathetic” to farmers facing corn and soybean prices below the cost of production. He also pointed out the importance of international trade and also ethanol - from the standpoint of protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“Ag issues really don’t get the attention they ought to,” Grassley said. “When only 2 percent of the people in this country are producing food, we need all the help we can get.”

Rastetter says participants will be able to introduce themselves and then respond to about 20 minutes of the same core questions. Asked about the subject matter, he said:

·       A combination of renewable fuels and wind energy.

·       Immigration and a stable work force for agriculture.

·       Biotechnology, organic food and labeling.

·       Free trade, Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

·       USDA subsidies, federal crop insurance and where that’s headed.

·       Sustainability, including EPA’s Waters of the U.S. proposal, and the appropriate role of government in agriculture.

Rastetter, who along with a handful of other GOP heavyweights made a big push to encourage New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to run in 2012, says he’s “neutral” on the next presidential race. “I haven’t committed to anyone and won’t for some time.”

For now, he’s happy that the Summit is attracting a “broader set of Iowans,” beyond farmers and agribusiness leaders to university students, and those interested in science and technology. But even better, he hopes to garner national attention to the challenges associated with producing food for a growing world population with demand for food doubling in the next 40 years.

“A reporter asked me the other day why this (event) was important to the rest of America,” Rastetter said. “The simple answer is that – the last time I looked – everyone eats.”


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