The race to be Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture for the next four years features a southeast Iowa Democrat who runs a dairy and a Republican who raises crops in northwest Iowa. Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson has this campaign countdown report: Ag Secretary 2:41 MP3
Democrat Francis Thicke of Fairfield operates the organic “Radiance Dairy” near Fairfield. He introduced himself to Iowa State Fair-goers this summer at The Des Moines Register’s Soap Box.”I’ve been a full-time farmer for 27 years,” Thicke said. “I’m also a scientist by training. I have a Ph.D. in agronomy, with a soil fertility specialty and I’ve worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the past in Washington, D.C., where I served as national program leader for soil science.”
Republican Bill Northey, a corn and soybean farmer, introduced himself to Iowa Public Television viewers earlier this month. “I am a farmer from Spirit Lake. I’ve been actively farming up there since the early 1980s,” Northey said. “I’ve been secretary of ag now for four years, so finishing that first term. I think we did a lot of good things, including balancing a budget these last four years.” The nationwide egg recall centered at two Iowa egg operations has been an issue in this race.
Both candidates say the salmonella-tainted eggs from chicken farm owner Jack DeCoster’s operation have given the state a black eye. Thicke has proposed monthly state inspections for facilities with laying hens.”We’re the number one egg producing state and we have DeCoster here, so we need to be proactive,” Thicke says. “We need to be the leaders in this.” Northey says there should be one set of rules nationwide, with a federal agency determining the safety of food.
“We have a producer that had a problem and had a serious problem,” Northey says. “And I believe the new FDA rules will catch this kind of a problem in the future.” Thicke has called on Northey to send in state inspectors to gauge the safety of the feed that may be the source of the salmonella contamination. But Northey says as state ag secretary he lacks the authority to do so since DeCoster is grinding that feed for his own flock and state law only allows officials to inspect feed that’s ground and sold to another operation.
Turning to another key issue, Thicke has called for a moratorium on construction of ethanol plants that convert corn into the fuel. He says ethanol should eventually be made from perennial plants that can grow year-round. “We overbuilt the ethanol industry, frankly — the corn ethanol industry,” Thicke said this summer at the State Fair. “And it’s not the most resource-conserving kind of system because corn and soybeans, they’re annual crops. They’re planted every year. They take a fair bit of fertilizer and herbicides and pesticides.”
Northey says the ethanol plants in Iowa have helped farmers sell what could have been a glut of grain.”There wasn’t too long ago when we first hit out first 10 billion bushel corn crop. Now this year we’re looking at 13.5 billion bushels,” Northey said in August. “Thank goodness we have that extra demand that comes from renewable fuels.”
This month the U.S.D.A. reduced its estimate of the 2010 harvest to 12.7 billion bushels, which would be the third-largest crop in U.S. history.