Soybean farmers across Iowa participated in a telephone townhall meeting, speaking directly with Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Tuesday evening December 6. It was the first of several opportunities planned by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) in an effort to focus attention on the critical topics of agricultural policy and trade issues impacting America's farmers.
ISA has extended the invitation to all major Presidential candidates to participate in telephone call sessions with Iowa farmers. Gingrich, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was the first candidate to accept the invitation.
The questions raised by ISA members during the call aligned closely with the issues that have emerged during the association's recent District Policy Conferences held around Iowa. The farmers who participated in the telephone session weren't shy about asking tough questions. There were no softballs thrown. And candidate Gingrich didn't hold back in answering.
Iowa soybean farmers participate in phone exchange with Gingrich
In light of the proposed federal budget reduction, several members of ISA expressed concern that cuts in government spending should not be aimed at agriculture disproportionately and, considering ag's return on investment, the government should continue to invest in areas like research and infrastructure "that benefit U.S. agriculture and all of America."
Gingrich responded, "As is the case in our personal lives, there is a big difference between the government's investing money and just spending money." Citing his years as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, when the budget was balanced and large national debts were paid off, Gingrich said he would strongly support investing in research, confident it will lead to increased production.
He also expressed understanding of the need to improve roads, adding he would favor onshore and offshore oil drilling to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and using the proceeds for improving infrastructure in the United States.
He believes U.S. can have free trade and also keep jobs in America
Foreign trade was the topic of several questions. Recognizing that half of Iowa soybeans are exported, with China as the number one customer, one farmer questioned U.S. leaders who are challenging China's currency manipulation and expressed concern that such a challenge could start a trade war. Gingrich said he would favor "being tough but in the right way. We have to roll up our sleeves in negotiations to open markets, not start trade wars."
He believes the U.S. can have free trade and also keep jobs in America. One way would be by allowing the writeoff of 100% of farm equipment the first year to help keep and create manufacturing jobs.
Callers also asked about taxes, specifically estate taxes that make it difficult to pass the family farm to the next generation. Gingrich favors permanently abolishing "death taxes." He also proposes a "fair tax" on income, offering taxpayers the option to pay a simple 15% flat tax. Gingrich said, "We can't replace the current system without a fair and complete understanding" of the repercussions, but he would support a commission to work for a year preparing a "fair tax" and then let taxpayers choose from options.
What kind of farm bill financial safety net would Gingrich support?
When farm bill issues were raised, callers indicated in a poll that a crop insurance subsidy is their top priority. Gingrich admitted farm policy is not an area where he is knowledgeable, but he would seek input from ag leaders like Senator Grassley and Congressman Latham.
Gingrich said he realizes farming is more technical, more sophisticated and costly than it used to be and it requires protection via a financial safety net for farmers during the tough times. He also noted the conservation component of the farm bill is "a useful way to support farmers while protecting the environment."
Callers expressed concern about the trend of increasing regulations, specifically mentioning Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules. Gingrich said he would get rid of the EPA and replace it with an environmental solution agency that would show "cooperation and common sense."
Regarding labor rules that would regulate kids' helping on the farm, one caller said, "We teach our kids to work, but we teach them to do it safely." Gingrich said he has actually proposed that more young people who don't live on farms should learn to work for a living.
Says he supports the renewable fuel standard and biofuel tax credits
Gingrich said he supports RFS2 and biofuel tax credits and believes "we will see remarkable increases in the next years." When it comes to investing dollars, he said, "I would pick Iowa over Iran," adding that he wants to see the United States be independent of the disruption caused by concerns about attacks on oil supply.
A livestock producer who hires immigrants and who participated in the call said, "They do work that U.S. citizens don't want to do and they pay taxes. We need them." Gingrich said, while he favors a patrol along the U.S. border to reduce the number of people entering the U.S. illegally, and possibly a fence, on the borders and English as the official language, he recognizes many "illegal immigrants" have been living and working in the U.S., contributing to communities for years.
Gingrich answered that by saying if elected president he would propose having local review boards that would give "guest workers" who have a sponsor in the U.S. a certificate of residence, making these people legal.
ISA doesn't endorse any candidate; will offer more opportunities to visit
ISA plans to offer its members additional opportunities to visit with presidential candidates, as these candidates accept the invitation to visit with ISA members.
ISA leaders point out that their organization does not endorse any candidate. They say the purpose of these telephone townhall meetings is to provide information to ISA members and to help ensure that members' concerns are conveyed to candidates. The townhall meetings are not funded by the soybean checkoff. To learn more about ISA, visit www.iasoybeans.com.ISA develops policies and programs that help farmers expand profit opportunities while promoting environmentally sensitive production, explains ISA chief executive officer Kirk Leeds. To fund its programs, ISA uses funding from the Iowa soybean checkoff and other resources. ISA is made up of more than 8,000 farmer members and is governed by an elected volunteer board of 21 farmers.
This item originally ran at WallacesFarmer.com