It's not yet clear whether Iowa's Republican Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, will seek re-election in 2010 or run against Governor Chet Culver instead. But at least one Democrat appears ready to seek Northey's job next year.
Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer near Fairfield with a Pd.D. in agronomy and soil fertility, announced yesterday that he has formed an Exploratory Committee to consider running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. I've posted the press release from Thicke after the jump. One of his top priorities would be expanding local food networks:
"Growing more of our food in Iowa represents a multi-billion dollar economic development opportunity." This potential economic activity could "create thousands of new jobs and help revitalize rural communities in Iowa, as well as provide Iowans with fresh, nutritious food," said Thicke.
Thicke would be an outstanding asset to Iowa as Secretary of Agriculture. A working farmer and expert on many agricultural policy issues, he currently serves on Iowa's USDA State Technical Committee and has an impressive list of publications. In the past he has served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, the Iowa Food Policy Council, and the Iowa Organic Standards Board.
He has also won awards including "the Activist Award from the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Outstanding Pasture Management award from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Friend of the Earth award from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C."
Here's an interview Thicke gave in 2003 about his organic dairy operation. He also wrote this piece on the benefits of pasture-based dairies for CounterPunch in 2004. I found a YouTube video of Thicke speaking about livestock farming in Pella last year.
Thicke's relationship with the Culver administration is strained, to put it mildly. He did not go quietly when Culver declined to reappoint him to the Environmental Protection Commission. In addition, Thicke is a strong advocate for "local control" of confined-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge opposes and Culver has not pursued as governor.
If Thicke runs for Secretary of Agriculture, his campaign is likely to become a focal point for environmentalists who aren't satisfied with our current Democratic leadership in Iowa.
UPDATE: Denise O'Brien responded to my request for a comment on Thicke's candidacy:
I have pledged my support to Francis. He has an excellent background to be a strong leader of our state agriculture department. His depth of knowledge of agriculture and natural resource management gives him credibility when it comes to truly understanding the relationship of agriculture to the rest of the world. It is my intention to work hard to get Francis elected.
March 20, 2009
THICKE FORMS EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE FOR IOWA SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE
Francis Thicke (Tic-kee) announced today that he has formed an exploratory committee to advise him on the possibility of running for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in the 2010 election. Thicke and his wife, Susan, are owners and operators of an organic, grass-based dairy farm near Fairfield . They process their milk on the farm and market it locally through grocery stores and restaurants.
Citing estimates that more than 80% of the $8 billion worth of food consumed in Iowa comes from out of state, Thicke said "Growing more of our food in Iowa represents a multi-billion dollar economic development opportunity." This potential economic activity could "create thousands of new jobs and help revitalize rural communities in Iowa, as well as provide Iowans with fresh, nutritious food," said Thicke.
The ethanol industry has been struggling to survive in today's changing economic climate. "Iowa's investment in ethanol production has brought economic development to agriculture, and we need to protect that investment," said Thicke. "However, it is time to reassess, and consider how future investments in renewable energy can be better targeted to profit farmers, and better protect our natural resource base."
Thicke has a Ph.D. in agronomy/soil fertility and has previously served at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. as National Program Leader for Soil Science for the USDA-Extension Service. Thicke frequently speaks at conferences and workshops in Iowa, across the Midwest, and nationally on a wide range of topics, including local food systems and economic development, ecologically sound animal production systems, organic farming practices, and soil management for sustainable farming.
Thicke has served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and the Iowa Food Policy Council at the appointment of Governor Vilsack, and on the Iowa Organic Standards Board at the appointment of Governor Branstad. He currently serves on Iowa's USDA State Technical Committee.
"I am looking forward to engaging people across the state in a dialogue on opportunities to make Iowa agriculture more prosperous and sustainable," Thicke said.