Thursday, August 30, 2007

Will Record Rainfall Affect Record-Breaking Crop Predictions?

As the wettest August in Iowa's history comes to an end, farmers are assessing the impact of the recent wild weather on their crops. In some areas of the state, powerful storms dumped more than a foot of rain in less than one week.

Despite some areas where crops were damaged by flooding and powerful winds, most of the corn and soybeans in Iowa are doing just fine. That's the assessment of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service report released this week, rating 70 percent of the corn in Iowa in good or excellent condition. The week before the flooding, 71 percent of the crops were called good or excellent.

One corn farmer, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, said Wednesday that "generally, the crops around the state look really good." But the full impact of unprecedented August rainfall is not fully known. "This August is the rainiest August ever in Iowa," he said in a telephone interview with Iowa Independent. "And it looks like we're seeing the third-most precipitation of any month ever in the state of Iowa since they've been keeping records, and we have about 1,600 months that we've been keeping records."

Average rainfall across the state for the month of August so far was 9.65 inches, far above the norm of about 4 inches, said Northey.
"We'll certainly have to wait and see for sure until harvest to see what the damage was," he said. "The visible damage was very localized. But I'm not sure we even know what the impact is to a crop in standing water this late in the season. We know early in the season how if you have standing water very long it'll kill the crop and you've got to re-plant. But this late in the season, it's hard to even know what happens. We'll probably see some stalk rot damage because of the high humidity and warm temperatures."
Some areas of the state, however, can expect to have huge, possibly record-breaking corn harvests. "We have some really good corn in northeast and east-central Iowa," said Northey. "The crop report in August suggested that we could have crop reporting districts over there, in about 10 counties, where they would average 200 bushel. We're not used to those numbers, and it will be interesting to see if that really happens. But as I talk to folks in that area, they are very pleased with their crop. They really feel like they've got a good crop coming."

The rains may have destroyed some crops, but probably saved others. "Although the rains were too much in some cases, they did stop some of the damage that was happening in western Iowa and southern Iowa, where they were really short of rain. In those cases, we were anticipating some losses because of the dry weather, both in corn and soybeans. So it kind of stopped some of that. I think in general we expect a really good crop coming."

The USDA reported in June that across the nation, farmers have planted an estimated 92.9 million acres in corn this year. Iowa leads the nation in acreage dedicated to corn production.
An August USDA crop report projects a whopping 13.1 billion bushels of corn will be harvested this year in the nation, and if that holds true, it will be the second-largest corn crop in history. The state of Iowa is expected to produce over 2.5 billion of those bushels of corn.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Leaked Harkin Farm Bill Document 'Just Ideas,' His Staff Says

The Environmental Working Group has gotten its hands on what it says is a draft of Sen. Tom Harkin's proposals for the commodity title in the 2007 Farm Bill. But it's actually nothing more than a sheet of ideas for discussion, says Harkin's staff.
Harkin, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been keeping his cards close to his chest as his committee prepares to hold hearings next month to formally draft their version of the agriculture legislation. The Iowa Democrat has generally avoided specifics when openly discussing his plans for the bill, mostly emphasizing his strong commitment to expand the Conservation Security Program.
After obtaining the "leaked" proposal last week, the EWG distributed it widely. And EWG's Mulch blog criticized the plan as "basically a status-quo proposal, with many issues (like payment limits) not addressed."
But Kate Cyrul, Harkin's ag committee communications director, told Iowa Independent Tuesday that the EWG has it all wrong. "What EWG sent around is not the Harkin proposal," said Cyrul. "We shared a very brief explanation of what could be included in the commodity title with Dem staff of committee members and are in the process of meeting with some committee staff and with outside groups to discuss the counter-cyclical proposal in more detail. Just to emphasize, this is not legislative language, this is just ideas for staff of committee members to consider and respond to."
One of the key ideas presented in the document is the possible shift to a "revenue-based" system of counter-cyclical payments. The plan would base counter-cyclical commodity payments on commodity prices and crop yields, rather than just prices. The revenue-based approach has the endorsement of the National Corn Growers Association and has been pushed by Senate Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
In the House version of the 2007 Farm Bill passed July 27, a revenue-based payment program was inserted as an optional, rather than mandatory, system for farmers to receive counter-cyclical payments.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Obama Has Ear to the Ground in Developing Rural Policy

Presidential candidate Barack Obama is taking his sweet time as he develops a set of policies for rural America.
That's because the U.S. senator from Illinois is making time to listen to rural residents and agricultural experts instead of Washington lobbyists, says Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor.

As Obama pursues the Democratic nomination for president, he and his campaign staff will continue collecting the ideas of rural Americans "to ensure that our campaign is listening to people's opinions before offering policy proposals," Vietor said. "After all, the last thing we need is another plan written by and for Washington that doesn't do enough to address the real issues Iowans confront in their daily lives."
One such venue was Obama's "rural summit" held last week in Tama, where approximately 350 people participated in breakout sessions on major issues facing rural America. At the end of each session, policy recommendations were presented to Obama by the group.

There was also an online component to the summit, where anyone could voice opinions and submit questions.

Vietor said that Obama will review all of the recommendations then release a rural plan this fall.

Obama has assembled a team of agriculture and rural economic development experts to help craft his rural policies. One is Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University. In an interview with Iowa Independent, Hamilton said that the Tama summit was successful as a forum for collecting the opinions and concerns of rural residents.

"There were three different sessions at the summit, one on energy, one on rural development and quality of life, and one on agriculture," said Hamilton, pictured at right. "I sat in on the agricultural session and there was a lot of discussion on farm programs and farm program reform. There was discussion about issues of creating opportunity for beginning farmers, about what we can do to help support farmers with prices in the marketplace, and there was discussion about competition issues. We went through an exercise in which we had small groups that identified their top four or five ideas and then we put those on the board. The major issue that was discussed was related to farm programs and payment reform."

Hamilton said that improving conservation programs and strengthening enforcement of competition provisions in agriculture law were also hot topics at the summit.
Many of the topics that will become part of Obama's rural policy are being debated for the 2007 Farm Bill. Some may even be passed into law before the presidential election. But, as Hamilton observed, there's more to it than just getting initiatives passed in the farm bill. "Certainly the 2002 farm bill shows us, it's not what you get passed in the bill, but it's how it's actually implemented by the administration," Hamilton said. "From the position of being the president, Sen. Obama's hope is that if he's elected president he'll be able to put the people in place in the administration to actually implement the bill."

Hamilton recalled being with Sen. Tom Harkin "in a meeting a year and a half ago and we were talking about the 2007 farm bill and what ought to be in it, and his comment was: 'A good starting point would be to actually implement the things that passed in 2002 that we've never actually done yet.' And that's still true to some extent. A number of the ideas that are going to be key in the 2007 bill are not new ideas. They're things that people have been working on that haven't actually been implemented or adequately funded yet," said Hamilton.

Another of Obama's advisers is Gary Lamb (pictured below), a farmer from Chelsea who has long been an active advocate for agriculture.

"For about the last four presidential elections, I've been trying to meet with presidential candidates and encourage them to really take a serious look at the negative impact that's taking place out here in rural America," said Lamb. "Not just farmers leaving the land, but in all the communities, the businesses that are leaving. The institutions, the schools, small rural hospitals, fire departments, EMTs -- they're struggling to maintain their viability because they lack one vital resource: people. So I hadn't had too much luck in trying to encourage these presidential candidates to have a dialog, bring in some of the most knowledgeable, respected people and try to determine what we need to change in public policy for agriculture and rural America."

But Lamb said that Obama's approach has been quite different from most presidential candidates of today and in the past. "Most of them, it kinda goes in one ear and out the other. And I don't mind saying I was pleasantly surprised when Obama's rural outreach director called me and wanted to come up and talk to me. My first response was, well, just another presidential campaign that wants to pretend they're concerned about agriculture and rural America. You know, I've traveled and visited with lots of presidential candidates, and for the most part, their thoughts are focused on other questions. I've been trying to get presidential candidates to do something like this for the last four presidential elections. I've been to hundreds of meetings all across the country over the years, and I was impressed with the knowledge and experience and the concern of the people that participated in the summit in Tama."

Lamb is a veteran in the fight to improve policies affecting rural America. During his life he has made an unsuccessful run for Congress, worked as an agriculture liaison for Iowa Sen. Harkin, and served as president of the Iowa Farmers Union. "I became aware of influences in farm policy back in the early '80s, and I got involved because I began to recognize that public policy of any kind, including farm policy, doesn't set to right itself. Somebody or something influences it."
He wants to remind everyone about the farm crisis of the 1980s, and how we must all work to make sure that situation doesn't arise again. "I was convinced in the early '80s that we were headed for a train wreck. Our land was inflating in value and all of the so-called experts were telling us it was the 'Golden Era of Agriculture;' we were getting rich in our sleep because our rent was inflating. I began to stand up and publicly question this and asking what would happen if land values went down," said Lamb.

"I was told at that time by the president of the largest farm organization in our country, and I won't mention any names, but I asked him what would happen if land values went down. His response was, 'We don't need pessimists and negative thinkers in today's agriculture.' Well, my worst fear became reality a year or so later. Land values went down 60 percent and we were reminded rather painfully that agriculture is about much more than the farms that dot our countryside. We lost thousands of small businesses. The point I'm making is, this is more than just farmers and agriculture. The farm crisis rippled way beyond the farm gates."

Lamb said that reforming farm programs will be an important step to strengthen small family farms rather than large agribusinesses to ensure that such a crisis does not happen again. Farm payment limitations were the major issue discussed at the summit, he said. "We need some kind of reasonable payment limitations put on this thing. The House farm bill really didn't do that. When you have an atmosphere out there where 10 percent of the farmers get about 70 or 75 percent of the total subsidies, it's just a vicious cycle. They use those big subsidies to get even bigger and squeeze out the young farmer or small farmer."
"Now the argument has been made that rice and cotton farmers down South are opposed to payment limitations," said Lamb. "Now that's not exactly true. I've met with a lot of people from rice and cotton country, and they see a lot of the same thing that we see happening up here. And I'm fairly well convinced that if the formula for payment limitations would take into account the higher input costs for rice and cotton, they would support that. And of course there's entities out there like Riceland Foods in Arkansas that got $15.8 million in subsidies. They wouldn't be for that I suppose, but I'm convinced that the average rice and cotton farmer, if we were to give them a little higher payment limitation for the higher input cost, they would support it."

Obama has called for significant reforms in farm program payments. He has called for a cap of $250,000 as a payment limitation, and has worked for competition reforms in agriculture. The next step for the campaign will be to continue collecting the opinions of rural residents before finalizing a rural policy that will be released early this fall.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Albia Restoration Days

If you're looking for something fun to do this weekend, head over to Albia for our annual Restoration Days celebration.

Restoration Days are a time for people of Albia and Monroe County to celebrate our community's beautifully restored Victorian-era town square. Albia has one of the most historically intact town squares of any town in the Midwest.

Anyway, click the photo above to see a full-size schedule of events.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mudcat Saunders: John Edwards is Plum Fed Up

John Edwards has an ace up his sleeve in the fight to win the support of rural Iowans.
Edwards' political adviser Dave "Mudcat" Saunders has a record of turning red counties blue in Virginia, and is now working his mojo on Iowa's rural Democratic caucus-goers.

Saunders, who co-authored the book "Foxes in the Henhouse -- How the Republicans Stole the South and the Heartland and What the Democrats Must Do to Run 'Em Out," spoke with Smoky Hollow on Wednesday and discussed Edwards' strategy to win rural Iowa in the 2008 caucuses.

Saunders talks in a slow, southern Appalachian drawl and freely uses blunt language. His basic theory is that if Democrats would stop ignoring rural voters and work hard for the rural vote, it would pay off on Election Day.

"Inside every rural Republican is a Democrat trying to get out," said Saunders. "But they're not going to come with us if we don't invite them. Iowa, and the rest of the heartland in presidential campaigns, it's much like the South. When John Kerry ran for president and conceded 227 electoral votes before Election Day, that's a strategy of fools. And I think John Edwards is the only candidate that doesn't have to go with that 20- or 21-state strategy to win the thing. If John Edwards is the nominee, in my state of Virginia, we'll win it. We'll win in North Carolina. We will win Iowa. And you're going to see a bunch of red states turn blue. And it's time."

A native of Roanoke, Va. who has dabbled in real estate development and sports writing, Saunders' first major victory as a political consultant was with the 2001 Virginia gubernatorial campaign of Mark Warner. He explained that the Warner campaign didn't just use the traditional Democratic urban campaign strategy. By hammering away on economic issues in rural areas, rural voters came to Warner's side. "We had to win rural Virginia in that particular race, and we ended up taking our message to rural Virginia concerning economic fairness or the lack thereof," he said. "And we ended up getting something like 51.7 percent of the rural vote in Virginia, just by going out and talking to people. And understanding the culture and the power of the culture."

Warner was the first Democrat to win a majority of the Virginia rural vote in a generation. "People ask me all the time, How'd y'all do that?" It's all about understanding and respecting the rural culture. The same strategy can apply to Iowa, he said. "There's not 50 cents difference between a Bubba in rural Iowa and a Bubba in rural Virginia. I mean, Bubba is Bubba."

Saunders drives straight to the point on economic fairness as the centerpiece of a rural strategy, and he rails against the corporate powers that have squeezed family farms out of business. He said that John Edwards' passion for fighting for economic fairness is what brought him to the campaign. And the big-business influence is not only controlling the Republicans, but also many Democrats. "One of our opponents, obviously, has very close ties with Tyson," said Saunders. "And to me, it's disingenuous for this candidate to come out to rural America anywhere. Obviously, I'm talking about Hillary. You know, it's common knowledge inside the beltway, everybody knows it, that if the Clintons would have gone to bat for universal health care like they did for the trade treaties, we'd now have universal health care."
Asked if he believes that the Edwards campaign can defeat a candidate with the strength of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, he replied, "Oh, they're strong. They got corporate America behind 'em. I mean, look at Fortune Magazine. When Fortune Magazine puts her on the cover and says she's Wall Street's choice, that oughta tell Iowa caucus-goers something."

Saunders has been crisscrossing Iowa over the last three weeks, organizing caucus supporters for Edwards, and he says he is surprised at what he's seen in Iowa's rural areas.
"I thought that we were getting screwed in the southern Appalachians, with our loss of textiles and furniture jobs. You know, with these ridiculous trade treaties. But as I look at rural Iowa, I've never seen people screwed like these people have been screwed out here. For instance, in 1978 there were 60,000 family hog farms in Iowa. Today there's less than 9,000. And we all know the reason for that, it's because of corporate control of Washington. The family farmer has just flat been run out of business, and that's the bottom line. And with the family farmer goes the American dream for his kids, local economies are wrecked, like our local economies are wrecked in the southern Appalachians. Like many of the local economies in rural Iowa are wrecked by this vertical integration in the agricultural industry. And John Edwards is going to stop it. And you know, that's why I'm with him. He's already called for the moratorium on CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and we're for a packer ban (on ownership of livestock). That's what we're for. And I think, you know, the ethanol push on corn is wonderful, and you know it's going to be a great boon for Iowa, and I think that's great, but there's still the food considerations. And the lifestyle considerations of the family farm. And our culture is going away, the culture of rural America, because our kids are leaving. And the Pied Piper of greed is the one who's calling them. And that's why I'm with Edwards, cause we're gonna fight these guys."

Washington lobbyists and the influence of money in politics is a particular sore spot for Saunders. "We've got to get money out of Washington," he said. "My candidate, John Edwards, supports publicly financed campaigns. When I first went to Washington and went to work for John Edwards in December of 2001, I think there were something like 13 or 14,000 federal lobbyists. Today there's over 35,000. And I can promise rural Iowans, nobody's up there lobbying for them. And we've got to stop it. And the only way to stop it is to get these bastards out of government. And the only way to do it is to go with publicly financed campaigns."

Edwards is still running strong in the polls in Iowa, but he trails Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in nationwide polls. But Saunders said that the Edwards campaign will get its message out, and its the message and the issues that will win the nomination.

"If we get the word out properly and start talking about economic fairness in the terms which we're doing, in which the average person can understand, we'll win," he said. "Rural Americans are proud people. You can talk about poverty. And John understands this better than anybody. Think of a guy whose farm has just been foreclosed on and he's lost his health insurance and his wife's lost her job. He's sick, and both his kids have left home because they couldn't find a job. Now you ask him if he's living in poverty, and he'll say 'hell, no, you know, I'm having some rough times, but I'm not living in poverty.' But you ask him if he's getting screwed, he's gonna say, 'hell, yeah.' Basically what we're gonna tell them is the truth. Those people that've been screwing you, we're gonna screw them. That's our message, we're gonna get after 'em. John Edwards is right where Mudcat is. He's plum fed up with this stuff. He's going to go all across the state and this thing's going to heat up until caucus night, whether it's Jan. 7 or the Monday night after next. Until that point in time, we're going to be spreading that message."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wind Power Captured at the Fair

Visitors to the Iowa State Fair this year will no doubt see the new wind turbine spinning high above the highest hill at the fairgrounds.

The working wind turbine is a new addition to the fair this year, standing 133 feet above the fairgrounds and capable of generating .5 megawatts of electricity. The structure was built by MidAmerican Energy, the current leader in wind power production in Iowa.
While the turbine is producing power at the fair, it's also sending a message to visitors from out-of-state that Iowa is serious about renewable energy. The turbine was dedicated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday with Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, who said that as people from all around the globe descend upon Des Moines to enjoy the fair, "they are able to see one more reason why Iowa is great -- renewable energy."
Culver noted the fact that in the past two years, three of the five major wind energy manufacturers, Acciona, Siemens, and Clipper, have chosen Iowa as the place to establish their North American production facilities.
There are currently more than 1,000 wind turbines in operation in Iowa, capable of producing more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 250,000 homes, Culver said.
The new MidAmerican Energy wind turbine at the Iowa State Fairgrounds was dedicated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the fair on Tuesday. Pictured are, from left, MidAmerican president Greg Abel, Iowa State Fair manager Gary Slater, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Lt. Gov. Patty Judge.

The wind turbine at the fair begins producing electricity any time the wind starts blowing at 11 miles per hour or more. It attains maximum power output when the wind speed hits 34 mph.
The tower itself stands 133 feet above the ground, and each of its three rotor blades are 64 feet long.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Huckabee on Farm Policy: Subsidies 'Not About Farmers' but Cost of What's in Your Grocery Cart

Mike Huckabee is just as comfortable chatting about agriculture as he is about the Fair Tax.

As the former governor of Arkansas was busy campaigning in Des Moines Friday in the closing hours before the Ames Straw Poll, he stopped for a few moments to talk farm policy with Iowa Independent.

The Republican candidate has a keen interest in the issues involved with agriculture and the 2007 Farm Bill, and he provided a fresh and different perspective on farm subsidies than other candidates in the race.

"A lot of people in urban areas don't understand," said Huckabee. "The farm subsidies are not about the farmers. They're about the consumers. It's about making sure the farm prices are stable enough and substantial enough, so that the cost of what comes to our table remains what it is."

The average family in America only spends 9 or 10 percent of its annual budget to purchase food, he said, and if it were to become more than that, it would bring drastic harm to the economy. To put it simply, that's money we wouldn't have to spend for other products and services.

"What it would mean is we would be just driving our whole economy down and changing the base of the economy," he said.

Huckabee said the stability in the farm markets provided by farm programs help to "give us the level of freedom and health that we enjoy in this nation.
He told Iowa Independent and echoed in his speech at the Ames Straw Poll that he is concerned about maintaining that stability in an increasingly globalized food marketplace.

"What worries me is that we are moving rapidly toward this concept of letting foreign importers bring more and more food in. I have a problem with the safety and quality of that food. And I also have a problem with the possibility that that food isn't produced in the same kind of standards that ours is, and that it begins to change our marketplace. I've said to many people, if you think that we have a problem with foreign oil, wait till we depend upon foreign food. That should never happen in this country. We've got to feed ourselves and fuel ourselves and fight for ourselves to be free."

One issue that has been a hot topic in Congress in the midst of writing the 2007 Farm Bill is mandatory country-of-origin labeling for food products.
Asked if he supports full implementation of the country-of-origin law, he answered quickly, "I do."

Mandatory country-of-origin labeling for retail food products was passed by Congress in 2002 but was never implemented. A provision to implement the law was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 27, but special interest groups are continuing to work toward weakening the law.

"I want to know where this food comes from," said Huckabee. "I have a lot more confidence in catfish farmers in Arkansas than I do in the Vietnamese who are selling me something that they're saying is catfish when it isn't. I have more confidence in our rice farmers in Arkansas and in your corn farmers than I do in somebody who is producing food in a foreign country. I don't know what kind of conditions, I don't know what issues they're dealing with, with pesticides and herbicides. I have no idea, and, frankly, their government probably doesn't either and probably doesn't care as long as they're shipping it out."

Huckabee said he was pleased with most of what he's seen going into the 2007 farm bill so far, particularly in the areas of health and nutrition.
"I like the fact that we're putting some more money into fruits and vegetables. That's something I think we need to do, to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables, particularly among kids."

Friday, August 10, 2007

Day Two at the Iowa State Fair

11:22 a.m.
I'm here at the fair and will be doing stories again for Iowa Independent. Expect lighter updates today, lots going on and not as much time to get in here to the crowded media center to get online.

I've seen John Cox and Mike Huckabee so far, and I snapped photos for use later in a story for Iowa Independent. Mike Huckabee has drawn the largest crowd yet, with a big crush of media following him around. I am going to make a prediction right now, Mike Huckabee is going to exceed all expectations at the Iowa Straw Poll tomorrow.

Oh, and he said he would not be eating any corn dogs, due to his diet. He will look for something that is mostly protein, like a pork chop or something like that.

So far I have eaten a pecan caramel roll and a milk from the awesome stand across the street from the Livestock Pavilion. Year after year, this is my absolute favorite thing to eat at the fair.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Live From the Iowa State Fair

I arrived today at about 9:30 this morning for a two-day tour of the Iowa State Fair. I'm going to try to do a whole bunch of updates to this post, so I don't have a long list of separate posts. I'll treat it like a kind of intermittent liveblog. I'm also going to be doing a bunch of stories for Iowa Independent.

So far I have eaten one corndog (from the stand right behind the DM Register's building.) and had one small root beer (from the stand next door).

11:26 a.m.
I just watched Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul at the Register's Soapbox. I spoke with both of them, and will be writing stories about it for Iowa Independent. Now I am sitting at the Iowa Telecom Technology Park, under a nice shade tree. Somewhere in the distance, I hear "Big Balls" by AC/DC.

Here are some photos I snapped of Ron Paul (above) and Duncan Hunter (below).
Newt Gingrich is wandering around here somewhere.
12:21 p.m.
Started south on my way to the 4-H Building, and ran into Gary Belzer, of Albia. Had a nice chat. Also ran into Mark Pearson of WHO Radio's The Big Show. He's an important voice in the world of agriculture, for his work on The Big Show and also on his public television show Market to Market. I introduced myself, and had a nice conversation.
The crowd is pretty big as far as I can tell, especially for mid-day on opening day of the fair. Usually the biggest crowds are on the weekends, but it's already kinda tricky getting from place to place.

I drank a Pepsi at the 4-H Building.

2:13 p.m.
I spent quite a bit of time walking around up by the new Knapp Animal Learning Center. I'll have a story all about it for a post later today on Iowa Independent. It's quite an impressive facility, and it's only partially completed. I understand construction of the building was finished only very recently. Nevertheless, it's definitely one of the major new attractions at the fair.

On the way back to the media center (I had to come in here because the laptop battery is dying) I ate an order of cheese curds:

4:06 p.m.
Okay, I just got done following Sam Brownback around. He's still out there enjoying himself at the fair, probably still munching on a pork-chop-on-a-stick. Here's a pair of photos:

Brownback speaks the language of Iowa State Fair-goers better than the other candidates who have visited today. He had the full media treatment as well, with a bunch of TV cameras and reporters following him around, unlike Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul. Brownback struck up a nice conversation with a guy waiting in line for the pork chops.
Little-known Republican candidate John Cox is also out and about right now at the fair. I'll see if I can run into him next time I go out.

I drank two glasses of lemonade, one from a stand by the Varied Industries Building, and one from a stand near Ye Old Mill. And after watching Brownback eat that pork chop, I couldn't resist and had to get one for myself. It was absolutely wonderful.

5:39 p.m.
Just got a couple of stories posted over on Iowa Independent. Check em out if you get the chance.

Took a nice break and sat in the shade for a while by the Bill Riley stage. I was amazed to see five 9-to-10 year old girls dancing on the stage to Motley Crue's "Girls Girls Girls." I wonder if those girls' parent know what that song is about?

Food Update: I ate a dozen of those miniature donuts from the St. John's Basilica Catholic Church food stand over by the ag implement displays. And a glass of iced tea.

Here's the Channel 13 "Cast Your Kernel" poll total so far:

6:21 p.m.
Just took a walk through the midway, and over by the Ye Old Mill again. I had intended to go down by the Livestock Pavilion and then go up the hill, but I was drawn by a trio of street drummers, making some glorious and amazing music using only water bottles, wooden stools and kitchen pans. Then I went over to the Steer 'N' Stein and got a $5 plastic glass of Budweiser. Then I decided to sit in the shade again for a little bit. Hillary is way ahead now on the kernel count, followed by Edwards. Romney's winning on the Republican side.

7:52 p.m.
Went and met up with my mom, dad and nieces for a little while. They were going to eat supper, so I went with them. We went to the Cattlemen's Beef Quarters, where I ate a hot beef sundae (mashed potatoes covered with roast beef and gravy, with shredded cheese and a cherry tomato on top). Washed it down with an iced tea. On the way back here to the media center I got a root beer from the A&W stand by the Beef Quarters.

Going to probably sign off for tonight. The media center closes at 8 p.m., and I don't have any battery power left. I'll be posting more tomorrow, so be sure to come back!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

State Patrol Rolls Out First Flex-Fuel Vehicles

State Troopers are now patrolling Iowa's highways in flex-fuel vehicles.
In a press conference Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver announced that the Iowa State Patrol has received its first order of 10 E-85-compatible patrol cars.
The vehicles are built specifically to be able to burn an 85-percent ethanol fuel blend.
Culver said the state patrol has another 119 flex-fuel patrol cars on order, and from this year forward all of the cruisers purchased by the state patrol will be E-85 compatible.
Iowa Gov. Chet Culver speaks at a press conference Tuesday at the state capitol to announce the new flex-fuel vehicles purchased by the Iowa State Patrol. Pictured are, from left, Iowa State Patrol Col. Robert Garrison, Culver, Iowa Corn Growers Association CEO Craig Floss and Iowa Commissioner of Public Safety Gene Meyer.
"We are the nation's biofuels production leader, and now we must be the leader in biofuels use as well," said Culver. "And that work begins here in state government. There is no more visible or widely-known symbol of state government in our communities and on our highways than an Iowa State Patrol car."
Culver said that in three years, the entire state patrol fleet will consist of flex-fuel patrol cruisers.
Two months ago, Culver signed an executive order stating that 60 percent of the entire state government fleet would be flex-fuel vehicles by 2009.

Is Ron Paul Magneto in Disguise?

I'm probably not the first to notice this, but I haven't seen any speculation out there. Ron Paul looks an awful lot like Ian McKellen. Part the hair a little differently, and he's a dead ringer for Magneto. I'm sure if you stuck him in a fake beard and a pointy gray hat, he'd look like Gandalf.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Iowa Republicans Making a Mistake by Ignoring Tommy Thompson

Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson can't seem to catch a break.

The former Wisconsin governor has seemingly done everything right in his quest to win the Iowa caucuses, yet his campaign hasn't seemed to gain any momentum. Why Iowa Republicans continue to pass him by is a mystery.

He can put his credentials up against anybody else in the race. As a three-term governor of Iowa's neighbor to the northeast, Thompson was able to lead successfully in a state that didn't always match his political ideology.

He reformed welfare systems during that time, and he did it in a way that pleased both sides of the aisle. He said his efforts reduced the Wisconsin welfare caseload by 93 percent, and those welfare reforms became the model for change across the country throughout the 1990s.

Thompson also has just enough experience in the federal government to count as a big feather in his cap, but not too much time -- not enough to make him a Washington insider. He served as secretary of Health and Human Services during the first term of President George W. Bush, though he should gain a few extra points for getting out of the Bush administration at the end of that first term.

Thompson has logged more miles on Iowa highways and visited more Iowa towns than any candidate in the race, Republican or Democrat. This kind of traditional politicking ought to be making a difference, as Republicans jockey for position in a wide-open field. But when Thompson's bus rolled into the small town of Albia a few days ago, a grand total of 13 locals showed up -- and that's counting me.

Thompson gave a passionate pitch for the support of the few Republicans at the event.
He hit all of the crucial Republican notes -- he's pro-life and always has been, he's tough on immigration, and he's used his veto pen more than 1,900 time to keep taxes low in Wisconsin. Oh, and he's a farmer.

On the surface, he seems like a fantastic candidate for the Republicans, especially those Republicans reportedly dissatisfied with their current top-tier options.
Thompson is good at working a crowd, and those Midwestern credentials ought to be worth something in the minds of Iowa Republican caucus voters. Sure, he may not be as charismatic as Mitt Romney, or as famous as Rudy Giuliani, but he shows the executive branch qualities that make a good Republican presidential candidate.

But it's make-or-break time for the Tommy Thompson campaign, and he knows it. He has put all his chips in to make a splash at the Republican Straw Poll on Aug. 11. At each of the more than 100 stops on his current bus tour, he's offering people free transportation and tickets. If he doesn't do well in the straw poll, he's done.

Republicans would do themselves a favor by giving him a look before the straw poll.

Harkin Takes the Reins as Farm Bill Focus Shifts to Senate

Though the U.S. Senate's agriculture committee won't take up the 2007 Farm Bill until September, committee Chairman Tom Harkin has been quite vocal that the Senate's version will be different from the bill passed last Friday by the House of Representatives.

The Iowa Democrat, who also chaired the Senate ag committee in 2002 when the existing farm legislation was forged, may unveil some parts of his proposed bill as early as next week, reports Peter Shinn in an article on Brownfield Network. Harkin has said he wants lower limits on farm program payments than allowed in the House bill.

The House passed restrictions of payments only to individuals making less than $1 million annually in adjusted gross income. "I don't know where we're going to come in on that," Harkin told Shinn. "But it's going to be tougher than the House."

A new "competition title" in the farm bill also will be an item to watch. The Senate bill is expected to include a new provision to enhance competition in livestock markets to improve livestock producers' ability to receive fair prices for their animals. Rep. Leonard Boswell, an Iowa Democrat who served as chairman of the House subcommittee on livestock, dairy and poultry, had submitted a competition provision in the House bill, but it was removed before the bill went to the floor.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis said in a press release this week that he hopes to see these needed competition reforms, such as a ban on meat-packer ownership of livestock, included in the Senate bill. Buis also is hopeful that resources will be found for a permanent disaster program when the Senate Agriculture Committee takes up the farm bill in September.

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is watching the bill closely.

Iowa Independent visited on Wednesday with Mark Salvador, national policy adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, who said that members are pleased with the House bill. "While Farm Bureau members certainly do support strong conservation programs, a strong energy title in the farm bill, and rural development initiatives, we have asked Congress to be diligent in considering the needs of rural America as a whole, and not focus too heavily on any one particular field that ultimately may result in a bill to the detriment of the whole agricultural community," said Salvador.

He expects the Senate bill to shift to more of an emphasis on conservation programs. "We expect Sen. Harkin's bill to include a new comprehensive stewardship incentive program, which is, as I understand it, a melding of the current Conservation Security Program and the current Environmental Quality Incentives Program," he said. "I expect Sen. Harkin's bill will put pretty heavy emphasis on the conservation title and stewardship practices, maybe more so than the House bill did."

He also expects the Senates' version to include a competition title like the one Boswell introduced in the House, which will have Farm Bureau's support in the Senate.

Another item to watch closely in the Senate debate is mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for food products. Enacting the COOL program has been one of the main efforts of the National Farmers Union. The House bill included a provision to enact mandatory COOL by September 2008 for all meats, fruits and vegetables sold in retail markets in the United States. COOL has had many opponents, but all signs are pointing to the provision passing through the Senate and being enacted on schedule.

The ag legislation is not likely to make it to the Senate floor before mid-September, which may be a difficult time to work on the legislation because that is when a major report on the war in Iraq is due to be discussed in Congress.