For Farmers, Not Farm Bureau

Tim Gannon

Tim Gannon, Democratic candidate for Iowa’s Agricultural Secretary

We must give a nod of thanks to the Pulitzer committee for giving the 2017 award for editorial writing to Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times. Since then we try to make it a practice of checking in with Mr. Cullen’s editorials. He always makes us think deeply on his subject of the day. Mr. Cullen uses an economy of words to convey some very deep thoughts in a way that every body can understand. And he makes a lot of sense.

This week his subject is the candidates for Iowa Agriculture Secretary. My headline is the headline that Mr. Cullen used in his editorial. The five words in that headline very succinctly captures the major difference between Democrat Tim Gannon (For Farmers) and Republican Mike Naig (Farm Bureau):

This used to be a sleeper job, the main responsibility making sure that fuel pumps work properly, and that grain elevators keep track of your corn and are insured if they don’t. That changed a few years ago. Republicans have built it up into an office that serves as an apologist for corporate agriculture that likes to run roughshod where it will. It now controls tens of millions in state funds for watershed improvement. Former Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey did not favor the release of how that money was being used, and we understand that the current administration under appointee Naig continues to hold watershed improvement plans close to the vest. That’s because Iowans would be disturbed to know that millions of dollars are being wasted on bioswales and other micro-patches of engineering that look nice but achieve little.

There is a considerable push to increase the state sales tax to accommodate a 3/8th cent stream of revenue to water quality, conservation and recreation. That would suggest tens of millions more under the dark money control of the Koch Brothers of Wichita and Bayer-Monsanto of Germany. And that is the way it works under a Republican administration. They turn over control of the state universities and research, they tell the public that we are doing something, and everyone is free to carry on as they are. Look: We have all these plans and all this money, so don’t worry. Yet, the nitrate levels in the Raccoon River persist. What the Republicans need is more money, more plans and more time to make this chemical agriculture work right for them.

Gannon comes from a John Deere lineage. We do not mistake him for Wendell Berry or Michael Pollan. But at least we know that his customer is the farmer and not the Farm Bureau. We need to know that someone is watching how agribusiness is spending our tax dollars. For now, the Koch Brothers are calling the shots over a huge river of money. The Farm Bureau, Iowa’s largest insurance company, last week endorsed Mike Naig. Gannon didn’t even get a mention. That tells us that Gannon is the man who can bring control over this increasingly opaque office that wields increasingly more power and influence in the state’s politics. The office is taking power and budget from the Department of Natural Resources to redirect the flow of money from natural resource preservation to agricultural engineering. Ag engineering got us into the problem of nitrate in the Raccoon River that poisons us and the Gulf of Mexico. It won’t get us out. Better stewardship will, and that starts with the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Gannon is the man who will watch out for farmers. Naig will watch out for Farm Bureau.

There is much more at the link, including some well thought out comments on Chuck Grassley’s current situation. 

Once again a big tip of the hat to Art Cullen. A very good and thoughtful column.

Let me add an interesting story found at       

In this article, Iowa Watch discusses the various ways the term “family farm” is being interpreted and how those interpretations can help or hinder the family farm itself. As you can imagine the lifestyle that the term “family farm” conjures up in our minds is not what those defining “family farm” define it as. Also the commonly held concept of a family farm is nearly extinct.

“What we’ve found is that the definition of family farm is being stretched…,” Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, said. “The public in general wants to see what they think of as a family farmer succeed and oftentimes we see that image distorted to include operations that indeed are much more corporate in nature.”

The federal government definition has become the overriding one for industry professionals when networking and marketing farm products and influencing public policy.


Stretching the definition in this way takes the focus off of small, non-conventional family farms, IowaWatch interviews showed.

While broad definitions by policymakers and the USDA effectively make small, non-conventional family farms invisible in research-based policy discussions, commodity interest groups like the corn growers, soybean and pork producers associations do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining and expanding markets for conventional producers.

A lot more at the link that helps explain why the true family farmer is a hard row to hoe in today’s world.

About Dave Bradley

retired in West Liberty
This entry was posted in 2018 Election Campaign, Blog for Iowa, Farming and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to For Farmers, Not Farm Bureau

  1. Anne Duncan says:

    As someone who has been a water activist for decades, I’m often cheering loudly when I read all or part of an Art Cullen editorial these days. But in this case, I’m a little puzzled and bothered.

    First, I wish he had been more specific about what he means by “good stewardship.” If he means that our farm conservation efforts should be focused much more on cover crops and extended crop rotations (in-field conservation) instead of bioreactors and saturated buffers (edge-of-field conservation), no argument here. A water-expert friend refers to those edge-of-field measures, in private, as “diapers.” But I wasn’t sure what he meant, and the average reader would be much less so.

    Also, bioswales are used mostly in urban settings, not on farms. I agree that too much of our limited water-quality state money is being spent on expensive small practices like bioswales in both rural and urban areas, but it would have helped if he had explained what he meant a little better.

    But most of all, I really wish he had explained his position on IWILL better. IWILL is the name of the 3/8th sales tax increase for natural resources. Iowa conservation groups are in favor of IWILL in part because there is an established formula in place for how the funding would be spent. If Cullen’s argument is that the formula would be changed by the Republicans who are in charge of Iowa now, that’s a very valid fear and concern. But that change would not be automatic, and he seemed to be implying that IWILL is just a bad idea, period.

    I strongly disagree. One reason many other states have better natural resources programs, including cleaner water and more public conservation land, is because those states are actually spending money on natural resources, unlike us. Iowa ranks, last time I checked, at a dismal 49th out of 50 states in natural resources funding. Better natural resources funding isn’t the only natural-resources change Iowa needs, not by a long shot, but it is vital.


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