Agriculture on the front burner in Iowa

President Obama addresses a crowd of 8,000 on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa city, Iowa, on Sept,. 7, 2012. (Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio)

This was the first week in some time that neither presidential candidate campaigned in Iowa. But that doesn’t mean this swing state has been quiet on the political front. 

In the absence of the candidates’ presence, the conversation turned to agriculture this week.  You’d think it would have come up earlier as President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney fought for support here. But it’s only been recently that campaigns have really started pushing it.

Still, details have been scarce regarding how a Mitt Romney administration would handle ag issues. Finally this week, a Republican stand-in for Romney tipped his hand a bit.

At a surrogate debate in Des Moines on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, a Nebraska Republican, said a Romney administration would peel back regulation and put fewer restrictions on farmers. Johanns, who was U.S. Agriculture Secretary under President George W. Bush, also focused on doing away with the estate tax, which he said harms families passing on farms to their sons and daughters.

Johanns painted a pretty bleak agriculture picture if the president is re-elected.

“All I can tell you is I think there are storm clouds on the horizon, I just think,” Johanns said. “Thank goodness for farmers and ranchers who have kind of knuckled down.”

Johanns said those farmers and ranchers are what’s making the agriculture sector prosperous during the president’s first term and called the Obama administration truly anti-agriculture.

Former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who represented President Obama in the debate, disputed that characterization.

Agriculture also was the center of attention earlier in the week, when Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad defended a record-breaking incentive package for a foreign company to build a fertilizer plant in southeast Iowa. This was just days after he blasted President Obama in a Des Moines Register column for picking winners and losers in the marketplace.

“I think we’d be unrealistic to say there will never be a time when we’ll have to provide some incentive because it’s a world economy out there,” Branstad told reporters at his weekly press conference. “We are in a world economy and we are marketing a lot of products we make here in Iowa all over the world.”

He said the farmers of Iowa were the biggest beneficiaries in this deal because they’ll be able to buy the fertilizer from here in Iowa.

Some Iowans blasted the governor for being a hypocrite.

What do you think? How are agriculture issues influencing -- or not -- presidential politics? Iowa voters, join Harvest Public Media's Network to share your perspective.