Iowa Agriculture Summit features national contenders

By Joseph L. Murphy

Nine potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates met at the first-ever Iowa Agriculture Summit last week in Des Moines to discuss agriculture issues important to the Iowa and national economies.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

The candidates were interviewed one-by-one for 20 minutes to answer questions by Bruce Rastetter, the CEO of The Summit Group, and organizer of the event.

Topics ranging from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and Country of Origin Labeling were all discussed by the candidates during the day-long event.

“Every four years, Iowa becomes an epicenter of American politics, often shaping and almost always reflecting national policy movements. Unfortunately, until now, there has not been a forum solely dedicated to matters that directly affect Iowa farmers who feed and fuel not just the country, but the world,” said Rastetter. “The 2015 Iowa Ag Summit highlighted and promoted agriculture. It allowed elected officials and public policy leaders to have a public discussion on issues that are vital to the Iowa and American economy.”

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush talks with Bruce Rastetter during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo Joseph L. Murphy)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush talks with Bruce Rastetter during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo Joseph L. Murphy)

The candidate forum also featured speeches by Iowa representatives including Governor Terry Branstad, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst and former Lt. Governor and ag secretary Patty Judge. Judge was the only Democrat to speak during the event.

Ron Heck, an Iowa Soybean Association director, attended the summit to listen to the candidates and gauge their positions on issues impacting his farm and agriculture in the state.

“Energy policies that incentivize all renewable energy sources and implement flexible, market-based mechanisms will allow farmers nationwide to be part of the solution in a manner that is good for our bottom line as well as the natural resources we depend on,” Heck said. “I urge the participants of the Iowa Ag Summit to recognize the importance of renewable energy to a strong and vibrant farming future — both at the summit and on the campaign trail. Finding solutions that support clean energy development should be a priority for policymakers and presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said that they support the RFS. Florida Governor Jeb Bush said that the market would decide the RFS and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former New York Governor George Pataki all opposed energy mandates.

Christie gave the shortest answer to a question during the summit when asked if GMOs should be included on food labels simply saying “No”. All of the candidates in attendance echoed Christie’s thoughts about GMOs saying in their own words that there is no scientific evidence that GMOs negatively impact health so they shouldn’t be included on nutrition labels.

Senator Ted Cruz answers questions from a group of national journalists after his appearance at the Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Senator Ted Cruz answers questions from a group of national journalists after his appearance at the Iowa Ag Summit. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

About 1,000 people attended the summit and 250 media credentials were issued to cover the event according to event organizers.

“I was impressed by the preparation of all 20 speakers,” Heck said. “Of course Grassley, Branstad, and many others are always prepared for ag issues, but I believe the most important success of the summit was that the national figures had all obviously taken the time and effort to educate themselves on ag issues. The Summit was a success before it even started, because the national speakers had taken note of issues that are important to agriculture.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news

Experts weigh in on land investments

By Joseph L. Murphy

You can add a new name to the ledger of Iowa farmland owners. On Friday, Donald Trump spoke to a capacity crowd of 600 farmers and ag-business professionals during the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines.

Donald Trump is interviewed by Ken Root during his appearance at the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Donald Trump is interviewed by Ken Root during his appearance at the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Trump talked politics and investment strategies with the business leaders while hinting at a run for the presidency. In the end, he was given a deed to an acre of Iowa farm ground as a present for his visit to the conference.

“Farmers in some cases are great real-estate people,” Trump said. “Farms have a tremendous, tremendous future but are very much a bull-bust market. I’ve known some farmers that have had tremendous times and some terrible times. I’ve known some farmers that have gone through hell and some of those same farmers have done very well later on. So you have a boom-bust mentality.”

The eighth annual conference also featured several breakout sessions and keynote speakers from around the world talking about subjects ranging from climate risks to African agriculture. The goal of the conference is to connect policy experts, climate specialists, economists, institutional investors with farm producers, land managers and others operating in agriculture.

Land values

Jim Knuth, senior vice president of Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica) spoke during one of the breakout sessions and gave timely information about land values, interest rates and what he thinks will impact Iowa agriculture in 2015.

Using the concept of benchmark farms, FCSAmerica was able to capture data showing trends concerning land values in the state. According to Knuth, the survey is the most comprehensive agriculture real estate database in Iowa and used nearly 3,400 real estate transactions and 64 benchmark farms in the four state region of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming to find trends.

The trends showed that a general reduction in cropland value was somewhat offset by gains in pasture values, and the strongest demand is still for quality cropland tracts.

“At the end of the day land prices are reacting to lower grain and commodity prices,” Knuth said. “Iowa benchmark values declined 6.9 percent in 2014, with 6.1 percent going in the last six months of the year.”

Out of 21 benchmark farms in Iowa one increased in value, 15 farms decreased and five remained unchanged. The data also showed that local is the name of the game when it comes to purchasing land.

“Farmers are the largest buyers of Iowa farmland by a wide margin. When you combine that with local investors you get about 90 percent of the market,” he said. “The trend is clear, local capital and local competition is driving this market. Not Wall Street, not east or west coast money.”

There is an expectation that in future years land values will react to lower grain production margins. Knuth said that is a normal expectation in this part of the cycle.

“Purchasing farm ground should be a long-term investment decision, and it should be from a position of financial strength,” he said.

In closing, he told the packed room that uncertainty shouldn’t stop progress.

“The wrong reaction is to freeze. I believe we should be in a time of proactive adjustments as we face uncertainty,” Knuth said. “The ultimate question becomes, ‘How do you position the operation with the benefits that are coming?’”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news