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Day-after disappointment and hope
Last June, when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Ray Gaesser was among a small group of farmers who got to have breakfast with the former Massachusetts governor.
Gaesser, a corn and soybean farmer from the southwest Iowa community of Corning, had expected a hard-driving numbers guy.
"He was a pleasant person to be around and was asking questions," Gaesser recalls. Romney wanted to learn more about why the group was in agriculture and what their needs were. At the end of the meal, Gaesser found himself standing next to Romney, as he answered reporters' questions. The group appeared on the evening television news.
Wednesday morning, Gaesser was coming to terms with his man narrowly losing the race for president in the popular vote, a common sentiment in a group that was solidly Republican, according to several polls.
"Every election cycle somebody is disappointed," Gaesser said. "As we heard from Mitt Romney last night and President Obama last night, there's some healing to do."
"I tend to lean conservative. I'm not 100% that way. I think the government should encourage farming, encourage foreign trade, and encourage conservation," he said. That's what a new farm bill would do, along with maintaining the safety net of crop insurance. "It allows everyone to have some security and protect them from catastrophes, especially this year."
Gaesser, who serves on the American Soybean Association Board, was speaking as an individual farmer, but like many, he'd like to see a farm bill passed soon.
Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, is another Republican. He celebrated election night with his party in Des Moines. As he lost some of his friends in the Iowa legislature, for a time, "it felt like a blood bath," he said. But when the votes were counted, the Iowa House remained in Republican control. "It actually puts a lot of things right back to where we were."
That's certainly true at the national level as well. Northey, who has a farm near Spirit Lake, Iowa, said that it appeared that Romney did better among farmers than the GOP did in the presidential race in Iowa in 2008, when Senator John McCain had less support.
"I think Romney reached out to the agricultural community," Northey said. "He certainly didn't create the negativity that McCain did four years ago." That was a reaction to McCain's opposition to government support for ethanol and to the farm bill, Northey said. And, even though "the secretary of agriculture made some good cases out there," the ag secretary, Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, couldn't prevent some farmers who voted for Obama in 2008 from going back to support for a Republican candidate, Northey believes.
Northey hopes that in Washington, with control of the House and Senate unchanged, the public will expect less partisan gridlock.
"I would hope that is a good reason to expect folks to work together on a farm bill," he told Agriculture.com. "I think that is actually a great place for a compromise."
He's less optimistic about Congress dealing quickly with tax cuts that expire at the end of this year and with the mandatory spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over 10 years, known as sequestration, that start in 2013. That combination of events that could end the fragile economic recovery is known as the fiscal cliff.
Northey said that, while Congress as a whole might gain public approval for dealing with the fiscal cliff, "I'm not so sure it's in the individual congressperson's interest." That's especially true if that member of Congress got elected on a promise of not raising taxes.
Northey is also waiting to find out from the Food and Drug Administration on how the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will have to enforce the Food Safety and Modernization Act. The 2011 law, which sailed through Congress with bipartisan support, requires food processors to keep better records for food safety. And it applies to animal feed, Northey said. His department will be responsible for enforcing that aspect of the law. Final regulations are among many that the Obama Administration did not release before the election.
Matt Russell is an Iowa farmer who raises beef and vegetables sold at the Des Moines farmers market who supported Obama in the election. Russell grew up on a 1,000-acre corn, soybean, and cattle farm in southwest Iowa, and he sees the administration policies benefitting many types of agriculture.
"As a farmer that's doing small-scale, retail agriculture direct to consumers, we're very excited that the administration is carrying that forward," Russell said. But along with the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, the department has also worked to improve trade and supported ethanol and other programs that benefit larger farms, he said.
"If you look at the policies of this administration, they are doing a pretty good job of trying to support all of agriculture," Russell said. At the same time, they haven't pleased every group all the time, either, a sign of fairness to Russell.
"I think that's a plus that the administration isn't carrying anybody's water all the time," says Russell, who also serves on the Farm Service Agency's state committee in Iowa. But Russell said he's speaking as an individual farmer.
If there's anything that seems to unite farmers in the state that first launched Obama to the White House, it's shared support for a new farm bill.
"I'm optimistic that we'll get a farm bill," Russell said.
One other thing that seems to unite Iowans is relief at seeing no more political attack ads on television.
"I think everyone will say that," said Ray Gaesser.