Iowa Farmers Union candidate forum

GRINNELL, Iowa — Members of the Iowa Farmers Union got a front row seat for the 2020 presidential election during their annual meeting Dec. 6 and 7 as a bevy of Democratic candidates showed up to talk about agricultural policy.

“Our farmers said they were very happy to have the opportunity to see so many candidates at one time,” said IFU President Aaron Lehman. “It was really good.”

The six candidates at the forum were: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer.

They talked about the need to help farmers cope with low farm prices and the idea of paying farmers to help implement conservation practices that would combat climate change. They also talked about ideas such as better anti-trust enforcement and the need to reach trade agreements and end the present trade war with China. And they expressed support for ethanol and opposition to Renewable Fuel Standard waivers now being given to oil refineries.

“They were very prepared,” Lehman said. “Senator Booker even released a whole rural platform following the event. … I was really impressed with the level of background they had on the issues.”

But Lehman said there is stress on the farm and his members are feeling that stress. IFU members heard presentations about handling stress and about concerns regarding trade pacts.

The meeting happened before the announcement last week that an agreement had been reached regarding the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), but members said they were hopeful some type of agreement could be reached that would be equitable and would help both farmers and laborers in all three nations.

But there was little doubt that the headliners this time around were the candidates, some of whom reminded the group of their own agricultural bona fides, such as Klobuchar’s having been honored by the National Farmers Union or Steyer’s ownership of a beef cow herd.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.