I spent Friday evening and Saturday at the Iowa Farmers Union annual convention in Ankeny. What a great group of people! Their dedication to supporting farmers, their mastery of the issues, their convictions – I’m very impressed. Several people have asked for a copy of the speech I gave, (which was enthusiastically received) so I posted it on my web site, www.votewendy.org/ifu_speech.html
Let me share some of the things I picked up on while I was there.
The CAFO problem is worse than I realized. There’s a hog rush going on, like a gold rush but with a cloud of ammonia gas. Corporations are rushing to get their confinement buildings built before the next legislature writes stricter laws to rein them in. The corporate hog industry believes that if they build the buildings, they will get “grandfathered in” and not have to abide by the new restrictions that eventually will be passed. But hey, we took those faux slot machines out of the convenience stores after they were established, and we can shut down the these bad neighbors too. Just because you’ve been here a couple of years does not give you the right to make your neighbors sick and destroy their property value.
Not everyone is giddy with the prospect of corn-based ethanol, but there is some excitement for it.
Some people say they detect an “anti-livestock sentiment” in the ammonia-laden political wind, with opposition to CAFO siting as proof. Is being anti-pollution and anti-having knee-deep hog manure spread all over everything the same as anti-livestock? Is being anti-vertical integration anti-livestock? This is worthy of its own post, which I’ll get back to.
Bill Northey, the Republican candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, is firmly against allowing counties the authority to regulate where CAFOs may be sited, although they have that authority over other types of industry (this is what’s called the “local control” issue). It’s like:
“Hi, I want to build a factory in your county. Can we put a steel mill on this piece of land here?”
“No, sorry, that is not an appropriate use of that land. It is not allowed.”
“Okay, then, how about a confinement building with 30,000 hogs in it?”
“Well, that’s not an appropriate use of that land either, but I can’t stop you.”
Northey apparently does not believe that people living in the neighborhood should have any right to prevent the destruction of their property values or the quality of the air they breathe.
Jeff Vonk, Director of the Department of Natural Resources, believes his days in that position are numbered – no matter who wins the governor’s race, he will be replaced come January. It’s too bad, because the movement spent a lot of effort educating him. Vonk for President, anyone?
As illustrious an environmentalist politician as Joe Bolkum doesn’t realize that environmental issues are farmer’s issues. When he got their letter announcing that they wanted to give him their “Friend of the Farmer” award, he said he wondered, “What in the heck for?” The Farmer’s Union is wise to forge new alliances with urban politicians who coincidentally support positions favorable to farmers.
I heard from several people that the Farm Bureau is just an insurance company, they don’t really advocate for farmers any more. It’s similar to the fact that General Electric is mostly about financials and not making small appliances any more. It seems like they should change their name, rebrand themselves with a more accurate moniker. Suggestions?
Chet Culver came in, shook everyone’s hands, went to the podium and gave his prepared speech, shook everyone’s hands again and left without answering any questions. He did, however, finally recognize that there are more than two candidates for governor, asking me (from the podium) for the correct tally. Why should I know that better than the Secretary of State? (the rumor is that there are 5 - Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian and Socialist Workers.)
Chet blasted Nussle for living in Washington D.C. and then this graduate of a Maryland high school and a college in Virginia let us know that he is a real Iowan, since as a child he visited Effigy Mounds and Pikes Peak State Park. I love those parks. I also love Palisades-Kepler, Backbone, Wildcat Den, Makoqueta Caves, Ledges, and Dolliver. I like to take an afternoon and rent a canoe at Lake MacBride or Wapsipinicon. I feel a bit inadequate that I don’t know the parks in western Iowa very well. Western Iowans, please add a comment to this post and tell me - what are the best state parks in western Iowa? We could set a date to meet there and discuss issues. How about Oct 1, 2, or 3?
Chet’s suddenly all about pollution control. He promised $3 million towards cleaning up Iowa’s waters (which are a disgrace to the state, by the way. Rumored to be the worst in the nation.) I didn’t get a chance to ask him how he would spend that $3 mill, he left so quickly. If you see him, would you ask him about it? I mean, he could give all that money to a company like Halliburton and get basically nothing for it, if he’s not careful. Also, if you get a chance, please remind him that it’s a lot easier to keep the pollutants out of the stream than it is to take it out once it gets in.
To be fair, Republican Bill Northey also is concerned about pollution. He is especially concerned about run-off from city streets into streams. And he is right, the cities should do a better job of keeping lawn chemicals and motor oil out of the river. Bill points out that farmers plant big wide strips of grass between the field and the stream. When it rains, these grassy regions filter out the chemicals which leach off the field. Unfortunately, when city dwellers see a big wide strip of grass, they saturate it with chemicals. When it rains, the chemicals are going to wash out of the grass into the stream. As much as I’d like to see more strips of grass in the city...
A big thanks to Iowa Farmers Union. I had a great time and learned a lot.