Lawmakers, lobbyists participate in Democratic ag leaders convention
Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; and Tom Vilsack, Agriculture secretary in the Obama administration, were among a long list of Democratic officials who gave reasons rural Americans should vote for former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday during a Leaders of American Agriculture virtual symposium.
More than 300 people watched the event, Laura Wood Peterson of Indigo Agriculture, who chaired it, told The Hagstrom Report. The online event took the place of a gala reception that lobbyists usually sponsor at the Democratic National Convention.
“Democrats have had farmers’ backs since the New Deal” and were key to helping farmers during the farm crisis of the 1980s, Heitkamp said. “What we haven’t done well is talking about it. Somehow along the way, the Republicans came in and snuck away those voters.”
Heitkamp said that’s why she and former Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., started the One Country project – “to reintroduce the Democratic Party to rural America and rural America to the Democratic Party.”
Heitkamp noted that when President George W. Bush was in office, he vetoed the farm bill twice and that it was Democrats in Congress who delivered the votes to enact it into law.
The message that Democrats should send to rural America, Heitkamp said, is “we can deliver” not so that farmers get a government check but so that they “can sell internationally and use technologies to grow even better.”
Noting that Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., had emphasized the importance of agriculture in the Alabama economy, Heitkamp said that if Democrats continue to lose elections in states like Alabama “we will no longer be one country.”
Klobuchar pointed out that the Trump administration has given waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard to oil companies and then goes to Iowa to say he is going to fix the problem.
Klobuchar said that she is sick of the urban-rural divide when a doctor can’t look at X-rays at his home on the weekend because he does not have high-speed Internet service and a rural student has to go to a liquor store parking lot to take an online test.
Klobuchar urged Democrats to show enthusiasm for Biden by making yard signs and wearing the aviator glasses that Biden wears. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Biden’s choice as a running mate, “makes it an exciting ticket,” Klobuchar said.
Stabenow said, “Four years with Trump has not been kind to agriculture.”
“The unpredictability is horrible,” Stabenow said. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement “was some help to agriculture,” but then Trump imposed aluminum tariffs. With Trump, “China is good, China is bad. Every day is something different.”
Vilsack said that having four more years of Trump would mean denying the country four years of Biden and Harris. Biden understands rural America, Vilsack said, because he comes from Delaware, which is a rural, agricultural state. He noted that on Monday evening prominent Republicans including former Ohio Gov. John Kasich had “put country above party” to endorse Biden.
Biden “has the ability to repair our damaged relationships around the world,” which is important because 30% of U.S. agricultural production is sold overseas, Vilsack said. He noted that the United States is in danger of importing more food than it exports.
Biden, who has lost a wife and children, focuses on other people while Trump “is totally focused on his own ego.”
Vilsack said “the call to action” from the convention is “to vote in as quickly as you can” and “speak to folks in rural places about the Biden plan. This is an opportunity to unify the country. I am encouraging everybody to work as they never have before.”
Officials from Corteva, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization and the National Farmers Union, which were among the sponsors of the event, also spoke but their comments were focused more on policy than politics.
The event also featured four welcome rooms to which journalists were not allowed access.
The National Corn Growers Association said NCGA CEO Jon Doggett, NCGA board members Brandon Hunnicutt and Deb Gangwish, Ethanol Action Team Chair Mark Recker, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and former USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie participated in the NCGA welcome room to discuss agriculture’s role in climate change policy, the Soil Health Partnership and the environmental benefits of renewable fuels.
“The virtual symposium gave participants the opportunity to hear directly from corn farmers on the sustainable practices they’re using on their farms to leave it better for the next generation,” Doggett said. “We had great participation from the audience and especially appreciated the remarks from Rep. Spanberger on her bipartisan work on behalf of agriculture.
“Rural America has a critical role to play in the 2020 election, and this was an excellent opportunity for corn farmers to share our positive story,” Doggett said.
The American Prospect, a progressive publication, said that the event was an indication that Biden’s agriculture advisers are “pro-corporate.”
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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that work on climate-smart agricultural policies should take place in the next two years so that Congress has experiences from which to learn before writing the 2023 farm bill.