America Needs Farmers, Not Cory Booker

Posted: December 26, 2019 | By: John Altendorf Tagged: Blog

Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Cory Booker adjusted his campaign strategy this week to win the Iowa caucus – make an enemy of farmers and the agriculture sector. Agriculture contributes over $70 billion to Iowa’s economy, highlighting its importance to caucus-goers, and currently they have a lot to question about Cory Booker’s agriculture policy.

On Monday, Senator Booker filed legislation that would place a moratorium on animal agriculture facilities, preventing farmers from building new barns and shutting down any “large” barns currently in operation by 2040. Furthermore, his bill would reestablish mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) which would result in a WTO case against the U.S. and $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs, crippling the beef and pork industries (two industries that contribute a large percentage to Iowa’s economy).

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane strongly opposes the failed policies Booker is attempting to resuscitate and released a statement conveying his dissent. Lane asserted that growing up and living his entire life in urban New Jersey, Booker has no personal experience with animal agriculture and the care and technology Iowa farmers are using in their barns to take care of their animals each day. Furthermore, this bill shows an obvious lack of understanding of how the food Americans consume is produced. The bill is not supported by most credible agriculture groups, gaining traction with fringe groups and radical environmental activist organizations.

The main premise of the legislation is to “promote competition”, revive the “family farm”, and “protect the environment”. While this sounds great on its face, it is juxtaposed with reality within the agriculture community when considering the following data points. In 2018, 98 percent of farms were family-owned. There are more than 64,800 operations with pig sales in 2017, up nearly 9,000 units since the last data collection in 2012. The pork industry is responsible for 0.3 percent of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and from soil to plate the beef industry contributes only 3.3 percent to all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, the U.S. food system is the envy of the world.

While Booker introduces policy opposed by the agriculture community, the Trump administration has taken steps forward in recent days to help Iowa farmers. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement has passed the House and a tentative trade agreement was announced with China. Iowa farmers are looking for open markets and a level playing field accomplished through free trade deals and regulatory relief.  Instead, the legislation submitted by Booker would impede the ability of farmers in Iowa to sustain and grow an efficient operation if passed.

Booker has not had a lot of success to speak of either in Iowa or nationwide polling, reaching only four percent in Iowa and two to three percent nationwide in the latest polls. He also has not reached the polling threshold to appear in the December Democratic debate, possibly this strategy was meant to move himself to the left to align his rural America policy with the more progressive senators in the race.

Senator Warren and Senator Sanders also have unfavorable policies for the agriculture industry but have been doing much better in the polls. Their plans include supporting the Green New Deal, intervening in market competition, and dismantling free trade agreements. While these plans may not matter or even be favorable to Democratic Iowa caucus-goers or the urban electorate in a general election, they will be heavily criticized by greater Iowa and agriculture groups. It makes me wonder how these candidates hope to win back rural America and the electoral college in November.

Katelyn Gradert, whose family farms in northwest Iowa had a clear reaction to Cory Booker’s bill. “Growing up in a family largely reliant on the agriculture economy and surrounded by farmers trying to run an efficient business I know legislation like this would restrict farms and rural communities like mine from reaching their potential,” Gradert said. “It is hard and frankly, scary to see how Cory Booker could craft legislation which would directly hurt farmers trying to make a living and provide for their families then turn around and ask Iowans to make him president.”

There are many phrases I am wrestling with to effectively conclude this blog. The options include, but are not limited to – “the best way to lose Iowa”, “politics 101…know your audience”, and “Booker has beef with farmers”. Any way you want to conclude, the real take away is if candidates like Cory Booker want to win back rural America, they need to start listening to rural America. Bookers favorite burger may be the impossible burger, but his election chances may be just as impossible