US Senate candidates diverge on how to support family farming

Family farms are essential to Iowa’s rural economies, the state’s two U.S. Senate candidates agree, but they differ on how to ensure the farms’ long-term viability.

Longtime U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, said a strong federal safety net for farmers and trade policies that benefit their exported products are most important.

His Democratic challenger, retired Navy Admiral Mike Franken, envisions a resurgence in the number of small farms — led by a new generation growing crops beyond corn and soy — in an agricultural system that balances efficiency and redundancy.

The candidates’ remarks were part of back-to-back “Senate Candidate Conversations” this week hosted by the Iowa Farmers Union. The organization advocates for family farming, sustainable agriculture and the strengthening of rural communities.

Discussions with Grassley on Wednesday and Franken on Thursday were recorded and can be viewed on the group’s Facebook page.

“We should be less concerned about efficiency and more concerned about the availability of our food supply,” Franken said.

He said Iowa was once a “leader in a variety of cultures that were farm-to-table. We got away from that a long time ago.

For decades, farms in Iowa have been shrinking in number and growing in size, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and that has contributed to rural population decline. There were about 85,000 farms in Iowa in 2020, up from 206,000 in 1950.

The average farm size of 169 acres in 1950 had increased to 360 acres by 2020.

“We need to bring profitability back to agriculture,” Franken said. “It’s not based on a business model, but rather an individual model with guaranteed prices of sorts, and not this huge fluctuation that we see.”

Grassley said rural towns fare best when farmers are able to maximize their production. He said he supports the USDA’s conservation reserve program, which pays farmers not to cultivate land to improve soil and water quality and habitat for the wildlife. But he warned that having too much agricultural land listed in a concentrated area can be detrimental to rural economies.

“Putting too much money into CRP in one area has ruined small businesses,” Grassley said.

Grassley is also concerned about federal initiatives that seek to transition the country to electric vehicle use and the impact that could have on the ethanol industry, which is a major market for corn from the l ‘State. More than half of Iowa’s corn is used to make ethanol, and state and federal lawmakers have moved to increase your availability at service stations.

“When you go that direction (of electric vehicles), we have the potential to lose 46,000 biofuels jobs in the United States,” Grassley said. “So I think one of the main things is – not maybe changing things – but advocating for the importance of biofuels and ethanol production in the United States – especially in Iowa, being the number one of the biofuels – is very, very important.”

Franken said there are potential markets for biofuels beyond passenger vehicles that should be explored. He also said emissions and heat generated by ethanol plants could be channeled to greenhouses, where a variety of crops could be produced and distributed locally.

Both candidates said it was important to expand local meat processing in Iowa to reduce the stranglehold of a small number of large companies on the industry. Grassley for decades pushed the legislation this would help small cattle producers negotiate more informed prices with meat packers.

A bill has been approved by a Senate committee in June but stalled. USDA has offered substantial funding to support small meat processors.

Grassley and Franken both grew up in rural Iowa; Franken in Lebanon and Grassley near New Hartford. Franken said he worked for farmers as a teenager and later at a slaughterhouse in Sioux Center.

Grassley grew up on a farm that is now primarily operated by her son and grandson. He boasts of being one of two active farmers currently serving in the Senate and said Wednesday that he is part of “the backbone of representation for the family farmer.”

About Keneth T. Graves

Check Also

Agriculture as a Service Market Analysis, Growth Rate, Demand, Size

Market Overview: The global agriculture as a service market size is expected to grow at …