By Frank Holdmeyer and Phil Brasher

DES MOINES, IA, Aug. 13, 2015 - Although he hails from the nations smallest state, Lincoln Chafee insists that living in Rhode Island and representing the state in the U.S. Senate gave him an appreciation of the land and working knowledge of farm policy.

Rhode Island is the second most densely populated state in the country, but we do have our ag, the long-shot Democratic presidential candidate told Agri-Pulse. Ive always been interested in making sure it stays strong, including its dairy farms.

Farmers in Rhode Island planted just 12,000 acres of crops this year, most of it for hay. By comparison, Iowa has 25 million acres in production this year. Hawaii, which surpasses only Rhode Island in crop acreage, has 19,000.

Chafees closest personal experience with agriculture came after he graduated from Brown University and moved to Montana State University to learn how to be a farrier. Chafee, 62, later worked at race tracks before returning to Rhode Island to go into politics.

Chafee, who likes to garden and describes himself as an outdoorsman, said farming is important, not just for the politics or practical aspects. 

I believe in protecting our land, he went on, adding that there is nothing more basic than having food.

Chafee, who was a Republican at the time, was appointed to succeed his father, John Chafee, in the Senate in 1999, won election to a full term in 2000 and the lost his re-election race in 2006. He later served one term as governor of Rhode Island, running as an independent, and switched to the Democratic Party in 2013.

Chafee registered less than 1 percent support among Iowa Democrats in a CNN-ORC International poll conducted Aug. 7-11.

During his Senate career, Chafee voted against the 2002 farm bill, which passed the Senate 64-35 in its final form, and he supported attempts to roll back the sugar program. He considers himself a supporter of the Renewable Fuel Standard, although he voted against the 2005 energy bill, which created the RFS that set the first usage mandates for corn ethanol. Chafee was out of the Senate in 2007 when the RFS was sharply expanded.

Asked why farmers should vote for him for president, Chafee told Agri-Pulse that as a practical matter he will have to deal with a Congress where agriculture has considerable clout.

Farmers are well represented in the Senate. Thats the beauty of the Senate, every state gets two senators no matter how small the population so farm industry is well represented and if Im going to be president I want to have a good relationship with the legislature to get anything done, he said.

Just from a purely practical point of view, (even) if Im not from a big farm state I would be very sympathetic to farm issues.

Chafee has a mixed view of agricultural biotechnology. He said regulators should approach it very, very cautiously.

We have to be careful with whats happening out there and strike a balance between good production and crossing the line on how we genetically modify some of these crops, he said. He said that scientists should be allowed to do their work, but that the public has to take ethical issues into consideration.

Chafee voted for the Central-American Free Trade Agreement when he was in the Senate and he supported Congress giving President Obama fast-track trade authority this year to finish negotiating agreements with 11 other Pacific Rim nations and the European Union. I dont like to flip-flop. I like to be consistent, Chafee said.

He also has been backing President Obamas effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities. Its important we address climate change and keep our economy strong at the same time, he said.

Chafee opposed repeal of the estate tax when he was in the Senate but would be in favor of raising the exemption as high as $15 million, well above the current $5.43 million. You should be able to pass on your business. There should be a high threshold before the estate tax kicks in, maybe $15 million, he said.

Congress set the exemption at $5 million in 2010 and indexed the limit to inflation.


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