Keep Your Eye on Iowa

October 29th, 2010 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Keep Your Eye on Iowa

There are estimates out there (and most people who pay attention to this sort of thing seem to agree) that when this midterm election cycle is passed, over 2 billion dollars will have been spent during the campaigns. And, keep in mind that this does not even include a Presidential campaign. As a result of all this money, many elections that would typically be known only locally and statewide are suddenly thrust onto the national scene. Who knew that we would all be so fascinated by the Senatorial elections in Nevada and Delaware? Many elections this cycle that would normally go totally unnoticed and create absolutely no fanfare whatsoever have suddenly become nationalized and we find ourselves overloaded with information that we could really care less about.

One election that you would think could barely even garner attention in its own state, but is beginning to gain a little traction on the national level is the race for Secretary of Agriculture in Iowa. Pretty amazing. I’d be pretty confident to make a bet that the majority of people in any state could not even name their current Secretary of Agriculture. For that matter, I’d be willing to go so far as to say that I doubt that the majority of the people in our country could name the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. But what makes the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture race so interesting is that it potentially has huge implications for the organic industry and for agriculture in general. Joe Fassler writing in The Atlantic:

In Iowa, the race for Secretary of Agriculture has started attracting national attention. Two starkly different candidates are in a dead heat for the traditionally low-profile post, and the winner will be a bellwether of our national attitudes towards food and agricultural policy.

The incumbent is Bill Northey, an establishment candidate who receives donations from Big-Ag corporations like Monsanto, Sygenta, Walmart, and DuPont. He’s been challenged by Francis Thicke (pronounced TICK-ee), the owner of a grass-based organic dairy who’s running for political office for the first time. “For the food movement, [this race] is the most important this election,” sustainable-food guru Michael Pollan told me by email. “If Thicke can pull this off—and he’s in range—it will send an important message nationally that even Iowa, the heart of corn and hog country, is eager for reform, and that the ‘Farm block’ is not as monolithic as people in Congress assume.”

The candidates’ ideological differences are readily evident. Northey, who’s also a full-time commercial farmer of corn and soybeans, poses for photos in front of a gigantic John Deere combine; his campaign logo features his name in that company’s trademark green and yellow superimposed over an endless view of monoculture corn. Thicke’s publicity photos show him out in natural pasture, tending to his Jersey cows by hand, or hauling old-fashioned hay bales on and off a rustic-looking tractor. Northey, who has an MBA, primarily views farms as economic producers; Thicke, who has a PhD in soil sciences, insists a focus on ecology and sustainability will pay off in 21st-century farming.

According to the most recent financial statements available, Northey has out-fundraised Thicke $273,590 to $60,772 in 2010—and the current difference is likely greater. But while the Thicke campaign gathers momentum—the race was within the margin of error in a recent poll conducted by his campaign—he will probably face a negative media blitz in the final days of the election. “No doubt the industry will throw a lot of money against him in the final days,” Pollan said, “as they did against Denise O’Brien, four years ago.” In that election, the Northey camp ads—complete with sinister slasher-movie music—branded O’Brien a “radical” with a “fringe agenda.” Already, the Northey campaign has shown the financial wherewithal to air TV spots in Iowa. The Thicke camp has produced a TV ad, but cannot yet afford air time for it.

With only days left until the election, no clear victor in sight, and enormous differences in policy at stake, the Thicke/Northey battle for the nation’s agriculture capital rages on. For anyone interested in food or farming, this hotly-contested race is the one to watch in 2010.

I would strongly encourage you to read the full article by Joe Fassler. There are many congressional races that are creating quite a buzz, and most pundits will be up late election night, babbling and delighting in all that happens. It’s doubtful that you’ll even hear about the results of the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture race on any news station, cable or otherwise. You’ll probably have to do a little digging online to get the results. But in our industry, perhaps no race will be more important come Tuesday night.