Eleven politicians who say they may compete for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination will be featured at the first-ever Iowa Agricultural Summit tomorrow. The event’s host is Bruce Rastetter of Hubbard, a man who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative candidates and causes over the past decade and a half — from the fortune he amassed raising hogs and investing in ethanol production.
“Food doesn’t come from a grocery store. You just happen to buy it there,” Rastetter said during an interview with Radio Iowa, “so this is something that affects every American because every American eats and is concerned about food safety, the environment, sustainability — those kinds of things.”
Each candidate will have 20 to 30 minutes alone on stage to answer Rastetter’s questions.
“I hear a number of them are calling around, asking people for their views, their perspective, getting updates on policies and why they exist,” Rastetter said. “So I think that’s all a good thing and we had hoped they would be more up-to-speed with ag policy with just the idea of this summit.”
Rastetter said the topics for his conversations with the candidates haven’t been kept secret. For example, he plans to ask whether the candidates support federal crop insurance subsidies and pending international trade deals that could boost U.S. ag exports. He will also ask for their views on topics like organic food labeling and immigration policy.
Rastetter has been a major contributor to Governor Terry Branstad’s last two campaigns and Branstad has been an enthusiastic booster of the Ag Summit. Branstad personally recruited a few of the candidates who’ve agreed to come.
“I think it’s a pretty exciting opportunity for us to highlight agriculture which has been pretty much ignored by the president and the last two presidential campaigns,” Branstad said during an interview in his statehouse office Thursday afternoon.
The event comes at a critical time for agriculture, according to Branstad. He points to falling ag land values, layoffs at John Deere and the USDA’s prediction that net farm income will fall by 32 percent this year. Branstad said the candidates will have an opportunity to “articulate a vision” for bringing “prosperity” to rural America.
“I just think if somebody shows they have a total ignorance of agriculture and don’t know where our food comes from that wouldn’t be a good thing,” Branstad said.
A number of current and former governors will participate in Saturday’s event, including Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Scott Walker. Businessman Donald Trump, current U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, and 2012 Iowa Caucus victor Rick Santorum will also participate.
The Iowa Ag Summit will be staged at the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds. A thousand free tickets were issued for the event and organizers say there’s a waiting list.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is leading plans for counter programming this weekend. They’ll hold a “Food and Ag Justice Speak-out” on the state fairgrounds and an event at a church in downtown Des Moines on Saturday as well.