Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — Democratic Secretary of Agriculture Candidate John Norwood visited Washington last week, speaking with a small crowd at Art Domestique about his views for the position.
While Norwood did not plug many specific policies at the meeting, he said the priorities of the elected position needed to change.
"The secretary of agriculture, it is not an elected lobbyist position, it’s not the secretary of just corn, beans and hogs,“ he said. ”That’s important, but those groups already have the loudest voices, already have the most money. The people who need to be represented most often are the people who are not even at the table.“
The view is one that may put the candidate at odds with Iowa’s powerful agriculture lobby, a fact he acknowledged at the meeting, saying public opinion was turning in his favor.
“Iowans presented with the options, they have more clarity as to what is happening to us,” he said. “If enough people wake up and say, ‘I want a representative who’s going to understand how to balance all these competing interests,’ then I think it’s not up to a small segment of the population, or the farm bureau … it’s up to Iowans.”
Bob McConnell, a farmer in Washington who attended the meeting, said he worried the pitch wouldn’t win ballots.
“I want to elect a Democrat, and I want a message that’s perceived as with and behind the farmers,” he said. “I have, obviously, a lot of conservative friends, and they do think of themselves as wanting to conserve the farmland … I want a message that’s absolutely perceived as pro-farmer, even though the votes are in the urban areas.”
Norwood said he thought he could thread that needle between urban and rural viewpoints.
“I want to be pro-farmer, but pro-farmer while advancing the things we need to advance,” he said. “I think there’s a difference of opinion between the leadership of the Farm Bureau and the grassroots … I have Republican supporters write me $1,000 checks and who I’ve developed relationships with who like the soil health message and other things I’m talking about, because we don’t have a system that’s sustainable.”
If elected, Norwood would hold a place is one of high importance for one of the most agriculturally productive areas in the world. The candidate said Iowa’s farming decisions influenced others around the globe.
“The rest of the world and the rest of the country actually watch Iowa to see how Iowa does its agriculture,” he said. “How we do agriculture here may be copied and replicated in other places, so what we do really matters.”
One priority of the campaign is conservation efforts. Norwood said a renewed focus on sustainability was needed.
“We are really stewards of the land, any particular generation is not here a particularly long period of time,” he said. “We have to think about what we consume today versus what we provide for tomorrow … we have a tremendously productive system here today, but we do not have a system that’s built to last.”
Some challenges loom for agriculture that can’t be prevented. Norwood said these “megatrends” like climate change, lowered ethanol reliance and changing diets would impact the state, whether Iowans were ready for them or not.
“We don’t get to control changing climate, it’s going to happen to us,” he said. “We can control our response, which is things like being more systematic about cover crops and how we scale cover crops, being more systematic about how we fix and modernize ag … and what we grow and where we grow it.”
From an economic perspective, Norwood said Iowa should focus on regrowing its shrinking agricultural workforce by coming up with ways to incorporate new farmers.
“We need to think about our agriculture and our farming and our food production from a perspective of inclusiveness,” he said. “Really, the only typical way to do (farming) is to be born into that situation, that’s how you get to five or six generations. Without that … we’re not talking about starting with hundreds of acres, we’re talking about starting with a couple of acres.”
At a wider scale, the candidate said the state needed to rethink where its output was promoted around the world.
“We spend a lot of time right now running over to places like China to convince them to buy our corn,” Norwood said. “We really are almost dependent on them buying our corn, and that puts us in a weak position from a national trade position.”