Sure, That’ll Work

There was a mirrored symmetry to the news last week that reflects badly—but not unfairly—on American agriculture.

On Jan. 18, Farm Futures Magazine released its updated presidential surveys among farmers for both the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus and the overall United States. The clear leaders among farmers who said they’d vote GOP in either Republican contest were billionaire Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

It’s not too surprising that 66 percent of Iowa’s farmers and 59 percent of all U.S. farmers surveyed by the magazine chose two, largely untested political ideologues (other say demagogues; neither is a compliment) with little-to-no record in American farm and food policy.

Poll after poll, after all, shows the nation’s Republicans collectively favor Trump and Cruz by as much or more than all the other GOP candidates combined.

The reason, say political pros, is that this year’s GOP presidential race is being framed as a fight between simple and complex. Cruz and Trump offer simple solutions—build a wall; bomb till the desert glows—for costly, complex problems like illegal immigration and terrorism. The other candidates offer “government”—complex, costly—ideas.

The electorate prefers simple and cheap because, say the pundits, it understands simple and cheap.

Farmers and ranchers are often the same. Sure, almost all are far more deeply involved in “government” (crop insurance, soil and water conservation, federal grain standards, food safety laws…) than other Americans, but, hey, they like simple and cheap, too.

So Trump and Cruz’s “simple” is solid in farm country.

Simple also describes how Big Ag votes for U.S. presidents. Farm Futures explained it this way: “(Our) survey is dominated by commercial-sized, full-time farmers” where “…about 85% or more of these growers typically vote for Republican candidates at the presidential level.”

Wow, if elections in farm country really are that simple—virtually every GOP candidate is A-OK in Big Ag’s eyes—why would any candidate know the difference between, say, coffee and CAFOs or ethanol and your neighbor Ethel when one party already has 85 out of 100 votes in its pocket without needing to know, well, anything?

This simple, sad electoral fact explains why most farm and food policy discussions are over before they begin: there’s simply nothing to talk about because no one needs to know anything about farming and food to be elected.

That lack of public discourse, however, has created a policy vacuum that Big Ag is very happy to fill. Today, more than ever before, just a handful of farm and commodity groups drive nearly all policy discussions at the local, state, and federal level.

By design, however, this narrow policy base delivers narrow-minded policies. For example, despite overwhelming consumer support to label the origin of meat and poultry sold in the U.S.—Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL—a few farm and commodity groups successfully held it at arm’s length until they finally strangled it with global trading rules.

Some of those same groups worked to “ditch” of the Waters of the U.S. rule even as consumer anger over water quality rises to a fever pitch. Others continue to fight any state effort to label food content, and a few even continue to claim that climate change is either a hoax or conspiracy or both.

None of these simple “solutions” solves any of the underlying problems farmers and ranchers face now or down the road. Consumers will always want to know where their food comes from and will always want its ingredients labeled. Moreover, “ditching” any clean water effort by any government or public interest group only invites more consumer anger and more costly court fights.

In the end, farmers and ranchers will lose on every one of these issues because, as they well know, the “market”—consumers, voters, eaters—is always right. It will “solve” these problems, not farmers and ranchers.

Until then, however, we’ll continue to believe that our illegal immigration problem will be fixed by building a wall that “they’ll pay for” and we’ll end today’s brutal terrorism by carpet bombing somewhere, maybe everywhere, until we find out “if sand can glow in the dark.”

Sure, that’ll work.

© 2016 ag comm

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