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Published November 05, 2012, 10:26 AM

Farmers and foodies for Obama

Concerned that neither President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign nor groups that champion local and regional agriculture are working hard enough to point out that the Obama administration has promoted both small farm agriculture and conventional industrial farming, two Iowa farmers have launched their own Internet campaign to encourage farmers and foodies to vote for Obama.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

Concerned that neither President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign nor groups that champion local and regional agriculture are working hard enough to point out that the Obama administration has promoted both small farm agriculture and conventional industrial farming, two Iowa farmers have launched their own Internet campaign to encourage farmers and foodies to vote for Obama.

“Coyote Run Farm, our 110-acre diversified farm marketing 100 percent of our production to local customers, is depending on the kind of support the Obama administration is providing to agriculture,” Matt Russell and Patrick Standley wrote in an email to friends and customers on Oct. 24. Their Marion County farm, near Lacona, Iowa, is about 40 miles from Des Moines.

“In addition, the Obama administration’s support for trade, disaster programs and tax policies have also benefited the 1,000-acre, commodity family farm that Matt’s parents and brother and sister-in-law are operating in Cass County (Iowa).”

Russell and Standley acknowledged that some advocates of small-scale, organic farming believe that Obama has been too supportive of industrial-scale agriculture and biotechnology.

“If you are like us, you haven’t been in love with every single food and agriculture decision from this administration, but the good stuff will all go away if Obama loses this election and historically speaking there’s a bunch of good stuff,” they wrote.

“Romney and Ryan basically have no agriculture policy beyond eliminating the inheritance tax and getting rid of as much federal regulation of agriculture as they can,” the email said. “There is no evidence they will keep in place support for organic ag, small farms, beginning farmers, nutrition programs, local foods and urban agriculture efforts like the Conservation Stewardship Program.”

Making a difference

Russell and Standley said voters who follow their line of thinking “need to stand up and be counted as food movement Obama supporters,” not only to defeat Romney but, if Obama wins re-election, “to be able to claim the food movement made a difference in that victory.”

A Washington recipient of the Russell-Standley email provided it to The Hagstrom Report.

In a recent telephone interview, Russell criticized both the Obama administration and the farmers for not touting the administration’s accomplishments. Russell, the state food policy project coordinator at Drake University, stressed that his views on Obama are his as a farmer.

Russell said he believes Obama has promoted “all of agriculture” and that he agrees with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has said that to choose between conventional farming and small-scale farming “would be like a father picking his favorite child.”

Although he said he wants his parents, who operate a large farm near Anita in southwest Iowa, to continue to prosper, Russell said he and Standley have been thrilled that under Obama USDA has allowed his farm to participate in the Conservation Stewardship Program and to use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to transition to grass-raised beef cattle and poultry.

“When we started our farm in 2005, our county Farm Service Agency office wasn’t interested in our fruit and vegetable production,” he noted. “For the last three years, we have had tremendous support from our county office for our farming enterprises.”

But Russell said that he does not believe the administration has been engaging in the “political spin” that it should have.

Slow recognition

Vilsack and Merrigan have both toured the country over the past four years, talking about everything from the merits of biotechnology to local agriculture. Merrigan has been received like a rock star at many of the college campuses where she has lectured on “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.”

But the rural section of the Obama campaign website does not even mention “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” and the administration has strict rules on the behavior of its political appointees. Vilsack has made limited campaign appearances, and Merrigan has stuck to running USDA during the campaign.

Obama got about 50 percent of the rural vote in 2008, higher than usual for Democratic presidential candidates, but a recent poll of rural voters in nine swing states including Iowa showed 59 percent of rural voters supporting Romney this year. The poll was conducted Oct. 9 to 11, after the first debate in which Obama performed poorly but before the second and third debates.

Russell said people in the food movement are coming late to presidential politics. Small-scale farmers are so used to working without much support and so accustomed to getting most of the support they do get from state and local government that they have been slow to recognize the Obama administration’s focus, he said.

Russell said small-scale growers need to “recognize you’re not always going to come out on top when difficult choices may need to be made, but sometimes you do.”

Now Russell’s message to his fellow farmers is “Come on folks, stand up. This is a tight election.”

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