# Francis Thicke

Recognizing Bleeding Heartland's talented 2018 guest authors

The Bleeding Heartland community lost a valued voice this year when Johnson County Supervisor Kurt Friese passed away in October. As Mike Carberry noted in his obituary for his good friend, Kurt had a tremendous amount on his plate, and I was grateful whenever he found time to share his commentaries in this space. His final post here was a thought-provoking look at his own upbringing and past intimate relationships in light of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Friese was among more than 100 guest authors who produced 202 Bleeding Heartland posts during 2018, shattering the previous record of 164 posts by 83 writers in 2017. I’m thankful for every piece and have linked to them all below.

You will find scoops grounded in original research, commentary about major news events, personal reflections on events from many years ago, and stories in photographs or cartoons. Some posts were short, while others developed an argument over thousands of words. Pieces by Allison Engel, Randy Richardson, Tyler Higgs, and Matt Chapman were among the most-viewed at the site this year. In the full list, I’ve noted other posts that were especially popular.

Please get in touch if you would like to write about any political topic of local, statewide, or national importance during 2019. If you do not already have a Bleeding Heartland account, I can set one up for you and explain the process. There is no standard format or word limit. I copy-edit for clarity but don’t micromanage how authors express themselves. Although most authors write under their real names, pseudonyms are allowed here and may be advisable for those writing about sensitive topics or whose day job does not permit expressing political views. I ask authors to disclose potential conflicts of interest, such as being are a paid staffer, consultant, or lobbyist promoting any candidate or policy they discuss here.

Continue Reading...

Comments at a CAFO hearing

Francis Thicke is a soil scientist and organic dairy farmer. He has served as the National Program Leader for Soil Science for the USDA-Extension Service and was the 2010 Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The room was packed for an August 28 hearing on a new proposed confined-animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Jefferson County. Lots of people expressed their frustration that Iowa’s laws make it nearly impossible to stop a CAFO that will compromise the quality of life for the neighbors.

Here are my comments:

Continue Reading...

Iowa agriculture is a water quality problem waiting to happen

Francis Thicke is a soil scientist and organic dairy farmer. He has served as the National Program Leader for Soil Science for the USDA-Extension Service and was the 2010 Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I submitted the following op-ed to the Des Moines Register, but the newspaper did not print it.

In a recent guest column for the Register, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig presented the usual ag-lobby refrain that Iowa’s nitrate problem is caused by the weather. It is time for Iowa’s citizens to stop listening to this kind of misinformation and learn about the real cause of our nitrate problem, and how we can solve it.

Continue Reading...

IA-Sen: Three fault lines in a Democratic primary between Patty Judge and Rob Hogg

Former Lieutenant Governor and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge will seek the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, Jason Noble reported today for the Des Moines Register, citing multiple unnamed sources. She will make her candidacy official tomorrow. Two weeks should be plenty of time for her supporters to collect the 2,104 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

Three Democrats are already competing for the chance to run against six-term incumbent Senator Chuck Grassley, but once Judge enters the race, the main contest will be between her and State Senator Rob Hogg. Intending no disrespect to Tom Fiegen or Bob Krause, their performance in the 2010 IA-Sen primary suggests they will not be major factors on June 7.

I see three main factors influencing Iowa Democrats as they decide between Judge and Hogg.

Continue Reading...

Iowa officials disappointed by EPA's final Renewable Fuel Standard


Iowa politicians from both parties may disagree on hundreds of policy issues, but they have long been united in supporting the biofuels industry. Iowa’s elected officials expressed outrage in late 2013, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard, a “federal program that requires transportation fuel sold in the United States to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels.” Governor Terry Branstad and then-Representative Bruce Braley were among those who urged the EPA not to reduce the amount of ethanol required. Political pressure eventually delayed the EPA’s action on adjusting the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Yesterday the EPA released the final version of the RFS. More details, background and supporting documents on the rule are available here. The final standards for 2014 and 2015 “reflect the actual amount of domestic biofuel used in those years, and standards for 2016 (and 2017 for biodiesel) […] represent significant growth over historical levels.” They rule also sets higher goals than those the EPA proposed earlier this year. Christopher Doering reported for the Des Moines Register,

Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in an interview the ethanol quotas follow Congress’ intent to promote the increased use of renewable fuels. She said slower-than-expected growth in the nascent cellulosic ethanol industry and lower gasoline demand made the 2007 figures from Congress no longer achievable.

These numbers will “really drive the volumes significantly beyond where they have been in the last couple of years, which is what Congress intended, and that’s substantial growth, achievable growth,” McCabe said. “The industry is going to really have to push to achieve these, but it provides the signal they’ve been asking for. I think when people look at the numbers they will see that this really is very good for the industry.”

Nevertheless, Iowa politicians expressed strong disapproval yesterday of the EPA’s final rule. I’ve enclosed below statements from the governor’s office and several members of Congress and will update this post as needed.

Once you venture outside political circles, you can find Iowa voices questioning the consensus about federal policy on biofuels. At a January 2014 hearing organized by Branstad, Francis Thicke was the only speaker “to talk about the ‘other side’ of ethanol,” arguing that it is “disingenuous to frame the debate on the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) as a struggle between farmers and Big Oil.” Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad also defended the EPA’s planned update to the RFS. Whereas elected officials tend to cite Renewable Fuels Association statistics as gospel, Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson has questioned industry claims regarding biofuels production and job creation.

Continue Reading...

National Organic Program Rule Change

(Thanks for this guest diary on an important federal policy change that will affect consumers as well as farmers. The issue has been below the radar as the government shutdown and "Obamacare" rollout dominated the news. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

As a member of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), I have been asked by consumers how the rules recently got changed in the National Organic Program (NOP) to make it easier for synthetic materials on the National List of Approved Materials to be relisted when they sunset after five years (as required by law).  To clarify, any synthetic materials approved for use in organic production and handling must be approved by the NOSB by a two-thirds majority vote.  And, by law, those materials sunset in five years and must be re-approved by the NOSB to remain on the National List.  

The recent rule change — made by USDA without consultation with the NOSB — turns the voting upside down, changing the voting for sunseting materials from a former two-thirds majority to re-approve a sunseting material to two-thirds majority to de-list a sunseting material.  As Jim Riddle, long-time leader in the organic community and former Chair of the NOSB points out below in a letter to the Organic Trade Association (who supports the rule change), that is a huge change.  

Continue Reading...

Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy Will Not Work

(The author is an organic farmer with a Phd in soil science. He was the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2010. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

We have been hearing a lot of hype from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey about how the voluntary approach to changing agricultural practices to improve water quality — as proposed in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) — will be effective.  However, my experience in over 25 years of work on water quality tells me that this is very naive thinking at best, and deceptive to the public at worst.  Below are the comments on the NRS that I submitted a few days ago.

Continue Reading...

Lean finely textured beef/"pink slime" linkfest

Competing rallies about lean finely textured beef took place on the Iowa State University campus yesterday. Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and Representative Steve King were among the speakers at a rally supporting continued use of the additive used in some ground beef. Before that event, some family farmers joined activists at a rally to “to protest the collusion between industrial meat production and our political system.”

It’s time for a new Bleeding Heartland thread about lean finely textured beef, known to detractors as “pink slime.” A dozen links to news and commentary about this controversy are after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Nuclear power in Iowa links and discussion thread

Expanding nuclear power is again a hot topic at the Iowa statehouse. It’s not clear whether Iowa Senate Commerce Committee Chair Matt McCoy can find the votes he needs to advance House File 561. McCoy announced last week that new language in the bill would protect consumers and satisfy a majority of his committee members. However, opponents say the changes address only one of many problems in a bill that would primarily benefit MidAmerican Energy at the expense of its ratepayers. McCoy was forced to delay consideration of House File 561 on March 8, but he is expected to bring up the bill before his committee sometime this week–if he has the votes.

Follow me after the jump for analysis on the prospects for passing House File 561 and the merits of the bill.

Continue Reading...

More understanding, less mystery: milkers get it

Iowa may soon have as many milking coaches as lactation consultants.   After a lapse of about four decades, human breastfeeding has secured its place once again in our culture as the premiere way to nourish an infant.  In a parallel narrative, fresh wholesome milk from cows, sheep, and goats is regaining its reputation as a premiere health food.   To boost that growing reputation, milking coaches are pulling up another milking stool to help people learn more about the realities of milk fresh from the udder.  
“We've only used manmade milk (formula and pasteurized milk) for around 60 to 70 years but we've used breast milk and raw milk for 6000 years.   If it wasn't for breast milk and raw milk, we wouldn't be here!” says Brad Hopp, a milking coach near Lawton in northwestern Iowa .   “Learning more about milking helps people understand it better, and I'm all for that.”
Although mothers' milk retains some of its mystery in the face of scientific inquiry, mothers these days know how precious it is to their babies' health and growth.   A little mystery in the food supply passes when it's balanced by strong instincts and a solid record of success.   But mystery can feel uncomfortable when it strays too far from knowledge and experience.
“The idea of raw milk feels exotic and mysterious to many people in Iowa ,” says Christy Ann Welty, homeschooling mother of two who helps milking coaches and new milkers find each other.   “More understanding and less fear will help everyone as they make decisions about the best ways to feed their families.”  
More understanding and less mystery: that's the meaning of “Milkers get it.”
A second meaning of the phrase relates to Iowa state law.  
Drinking wholesome, fresh milk — fresh from a healthy, grass-fed cow, sheep, or goat without processing through a pasteurization vat — has been illegal since 1968 for most people living in Iowa .   The privilege of choosing whether to drink milk fresh or pasteurized is reserved to the few who control livestock, land, and have mastered the skill of milking; everyone else is restricted to only Grade A pasteurized milk, except for those who are willing to operate in the gray areas of the law.   “Giving away milk is not covered by our rules,” says Dustin VandeHoef, communications director for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), “but all sales are illegal.”
Passages from Chapter 192 of the Iowa Code (state law) say, “Only grade 'A' pasteurized milk and milk products shall be sold to the final consumer, or to restaurants, soda fountains, grocery stores, or similar establishments;” and later, “No person shall within the state produce, provide, sell, offer, or expose for sale, or have in possession with intent to sell, any milk or milk product which is adulterated or misbranded;”  
VandeHoef says, “We interpret the words 'adulterated' and 'misbranded' to include raw milk, and this is also the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] interpretation which is adopted into the Code.”
The IDALS interprets “sales” to mean “exchanges of value.”   During a phone call to his office, VanderHoef was reluctant to specify which circumstances would be considered prosecutable and which would be outside IDALS's rules.  
A broad interpretation of the meaning of “sales” puts giving away raw milk, and even drinking raw milk from one's own animal, into the gray area between legal and illegal: renting a stall in a farmer's barn to shelter your cow if you do not have a barn; bringing a sandwich to the person milking your goat for you; bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party where the hostess serves raw milk.   Membership in a private kitchen club could be interpreted as a “sale” if one of the members gives away samples of raw milk.  
To steer clear of potential gray market entanglement, all milking lessons from “milkers get it” coaches are free, and no donations are accepted.   “We're not trying to get around the law,” says Welty.   “Our purpose is to pass along a valuable skill to people who want to be self-sufficient or live a sustainable lifestyle or simply exercise choice about the food they eat.”

In order to exercise the simple choice of “Fresh or Pasteurized” without engaging black markets or gray markets, a person has to learn how to milk and has to control livestock plus enough land to support it.   One mission of “Milkers get it” is to help people overcome barriers that state law and bureaucracy have erected.   Another mission is to assist efforts to change the state law.
Challenging the statute with a court case is lengthy and expensive.   One current lawsuit disputes one circumstance in the gray area of the law: Freitag v Secretary of Agriculture was filed in January 2010 and litigation continues in Linn County 's district court.   Representing two milkers who boarded their cow with a Linn County farmer, the Farmer-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund “is acting in the capacity of a public interest law firm to protect the fundamental rights of the public at large ….”
Changing the statute directly with new legislation is another option.   Small-scale dairy farmers, health food customers, legislators, and many others worked together during Iowa 's 2011 legislative session to lift restrictions against consumers buying raw milk directly from farmers.   “We made progress,” says Francis Thicke, organic dairy operator and former candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, “but not enough to pass it this year.   We'll try again next year.”
Meanwhile, you can pull up a three-legged stool and try a free milking lesson for yourself, and encourage your state legislators to get some hands-on experience, too.   Accurate information and authentic experience are often the best tools for changing engrained habits of mind and for updating rules and procedures.   Milking coaches are ready to introduce all comers to the wholesome experience of squirting fresh milk from the udder of a healthy animal into a warm, foamy pail of milk.   When you feel the rush from a satisfying squeeze, you'll understand.   Milkers get it.

# # #

Hired Gun for Big Ag Endorses Francis Thicke's Opponent

(Disappointing but not surprising. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Yesterday the Iowa Agriculture Secretary, Republican Bill Northey, got an endorsement from a Democrat in his effort to get rehired by Iowans.  Jerry Crawford is not just any Democrat.  He is a close friend of Hillary Clinton, and Tom Vilsack, and has donated thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns.  So what is he doing on WHO TV talking about Bill Northey, instead of the Democratic candidate, Francis Thicke?
If blood is thicker than water, money in politics is thicker than that.  When it comes to agricultural issues in Iowa, politics is a blood sport, played for keeps.  If you think this is inside Iowa baseball, you should know that Iowa agriculture is the engine that brings GMO foods to your table, that is killing the Gulf of Mexico, and that can send contaminated eggs across the country and as far away as Guam.
Continue Reading...

Des Moines Register punts on down-ballot statewide offices

The “newspaper Iowa depends upon” won’t endorse a candidate in this year’s races for attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state, secretary of agriculture or state auditor, Des Moines Register editorial page editor Linda Fandel confirmed to me this week. Fandel told me the newspaper has been inconsistent about endorsing candidates for those offices in the past. She said limited staff time and resources lay behind the decision not to endorse this year. The Register did endorse candidates in the races for governor, U.S. Senate and all five U.S. House seats, as well as the Iowa Supreme Court retention vote, which the editors called the most important election in the state this year.

I understand limits on resources. Compared to previous election cycles, the Register’s newsroom staff is smaller, and its editorial pages contain less content. However, a newspaper that claims to have a statewide profile shouldn’t punt on elections offering such significant contrasts to voters. More thoughts on these campaigns are after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Thicke on tv and other news from the secretary of agriculture race

Despite the salmonella outbreak and egg recall that made national news two months ago, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture race has been overshadowed this fall by campaigns for other offices and the unprecedented drive to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices. In fact, Democrat Francis Thicke’s campaign has attracted more interest from nationally-known sustainable food advocates than from many Iowa news organizations. Peter Rothberg wrote in The Nation, “there may not be a more important contest this year for farmers and food activists nationwide.”

Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has been running television commercials for several weeks, but Thicke starts running his own campaign ad in the Des Moines market today. His campaign has an opportunity to increase the ad buy, and due to an unusual situation I’ll cover below, any additional air time Thicke reserves will reduce Northey’s television exposure during the final days of the campaign.

Commercials for Northey and Thicke are after the jump.

Continue Reading...

IA Sec Ag-Jim Hightower Picks Francis Thicke

Jim Hightower is an outspoken advocate for the Powers That Ought To Be, not The Powers That Be.  He is a populist progressive, and a funny, irreverent thorn in the side of the powerful.  He says that the real political spectrum isn't right to left; it's top to bottom.  A former Agriculture Commissioner who served two terms in Texas, he knows how important this job is for safe food, clean air and water, and a future in which farmers can afford to farm.

“In Iowa’s election for Secretary of Agriculture, the choice couldn’t be clearer. On one hand you’ve got Francis Thicke, who has worked as a dairy farmer for 27 years, selling his products locally and actually building the economy. On the other hand, you’ve got Bill Northey who has led a team that invested nearly $1 million in Brazil’s ethanol production. In a world where money talks, maybe Bill Northey should be running for Secretary of Agriculture in Brazil.”

Thank you, Mr. Hightower.  Well said.

Continue Reading...

Michael Pollan: "The Most Important Election This Year"

(Thicke has also been endorsed by 350.org founder Bill McKibben and best-selling author Jim Hightower. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

That assessment of Francis Thicke’s incredible grassroots campaign for Iowa Agriculture Secretary came from food writer Michael Pollan via Twitter. Another assessment, via a pollster, is that it’s winnable, but more about that below.  

For people who care about what they eat and how much they pay for it, Pollan’s tweet is not hyperbole.  It is a tribute to an organic dairy farmer with no prior political experience who has put together a professional statewide campaign, and is now within three percentage points of a well-financed Republican.  Francis Thicke (pronounced Tickee) does have experience in government.  He worked for the USDA after getting his PhD in Agronomy, and he has been advocating policies like reducing the concentration of market power in agriculture for years.  But with this campaign, he is trying to get his hands on the government machinery and change what it does.

Continue Reading...

Bill Northey's dishonest campaign message (updated)

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has run a low-key campaign for re-election so far this year. Democratic challenger Francis Thicke has faulted Northey for not doing enough to ensure food safety, proposed stronger regulations for Iowa egg producers and an energy policy that would increase farm incomes. I expected Northey to respond by telling voters how he has protected the food supply or helped farmers improve their bottom lines.

Instead, Northey’s opening television commercials have spread the usual Republican lies about Iowa’s “budget deficit” in order to depict Northey as a leader in keeping down his department’s exPenses.

UPDATE: Northey is also distorting Thicke’s stance on ethanol plants in Iowa. For more, scroll to the bottom of this post.

SECOND UPDATE: Another central claim from Northey’s ads turns out to be false. As Thicke points out in the comments, Northey didn’t “work with the legislature” to reduce his department’s budget.

Continue Reading...

Thicke unveils forward-looking energy policy for agriculture

Francis Thicke, the Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture, announced a “comprehensive energy policy for agriculture” that would increase the use of renewable energy in the agriculture sector, with a focus on systems that “put profits in farmers’ pockets.” Corporate agriculture interests have often demonized environmentally friendly energy policies as bad for farmers, but Thicke points out that farmers are currently vulnerable to volatile energy costs. I’ve posted his full statement on the energy policy after the jump, but I want to highlight a few parts:

As a state, we currently have no plans for how to power agriculture beyond fossil fuels, leaving us vulnerable to the effects of escalating and widely fluctuating energy prices. In 2008, oil prices rose to $147 per barrel, but within seven months fell to less than $34. This wild fluctuation whipsawed agriculture. Fertilizer and fuel prices tripled; corn prices spiked and fell sharply; ethanol plants went bankrupt.

Oil economists tell us that repeated cycles of price spikes followed by precipitous price falls are the future for energy costs as long as we are dependent on fossil fuels.ii  Even the U.S. military warns that oil prices will rise greatly, and we should expect oil shortages in the near future.iii

Our current biofuel production is not targeted to secure the energy future for agriculture. We use about a third of our corn crop to produce ethanol, but use it for cars driving on highways, not to power agriculture. Iowa farmers are selling corn as an energy crop at cheap commodity prices while paying high retail prices for the fuel needed to power their farms.  Biofuels today make only a dent in total U.S. fuel needs,iv but could go a long way toward making agriculture energy self-sufficient.

Thicke also advocates stronger policies to encourage wind energy production, not only looking at the total megawatts generated, but at wind energy systems that would create wealth for farmers and rural communities:

Today, 20 percent of the electricity generated in Iowa comes from wind power. That is good. However, the next generation of distributed wind systems holds promise to put more of the wealth created into the pockets of farmers and increase the amount of wind energy that can be distributed through the existing electrical grid.

When farmers lease out land to put corporate-owned wind turbines on their farms, they still pay retail rates for the electricity they use to power their farms. In other words – like with biofuels – farmers sell cheap and buy high.

The next generation of wind power should be mid-sized wind turbines on farms all across Iowa, so the wind that blows over the farm will power the farm, and the wealth created will be retained on the farm. This kind of distributed wind power has several advantages:

  1. The wealth created by the wind turbines is retained by the landowner and stays in the local community,

  2. The electricity generated is used locally, avoiding the need to build new transmission lines, and

  3. Distributed wind turbines will more fully utilize wind fronts as they move across the state, compared to when most wind farms are located in a few places in the state.

Policies the Legislature could enact to hasten the development of mid-sized wind turbines on farm across Iowa include mandatory net metering for all Iowa electrical utilities and feed-in tariff (FIT) policies. FIT policies have been used successfully in Europe to encourage the rapid expansion of solar-powered systems.

I urge the Iowa Legislature to adopt a FIT policy targeted to small and mid-sized wind turbines that are owned by Iowa farmers and landowners. The FIT policy would require electrical companies to pay a high rate of return per kWh for the initial years of the lifetime of targeted wind systems. That will allow farmers and landowners to pay for the wind systems during those initial years. After the specified initial time period, the rate of pay will drop to wholesale rates. That will allow the power company to buy cheap, green energy for the remainder of the lifetime of the turbine, and allow the farm wind turbine to continue to generate electricity to power the farm and to serve as a profit center for the farm.

Feed-in tariffs have been successful in many other places, and there’s no reason not to use them in Iowa. Getting the policy through the Iowa legislature would be an uphill climb no matter which party was in control, however.

Thicke rolled out his energy policy this morning in Des Moines. He has public events scheduled later today in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, September 23 in Dubuque, Davenport and Iowa City, and September 24 in Council Bluffs and Sioux City. I hope the media will cover his ideas, because they have potential to make farming more profitable while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s too bad that neither the current Secretary of Agriculture, Republican Bill Northey, nor his predecessor, Democrat Patty Judge, took the initiative on reducing our agriculture sector’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Continue Reading...

Thicke backs Maine model for egg safety rules

Democratic candidate for Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke is calling for regulations “modeled after a program that has been used successfully in Maine for more than 22 years to return integrity to Iowa-produced eggs.” Thicke introduced the proposal during his September 11 debate with Republican incumbent Bill Northey. Excerpt from his opening statement:

The State of Maine’s egg safety program complements the new [Food and Drug Administration] egg rule and shores up weaknesses in the federal rule. Specifically, the Maine program has three features that go beyond the requirements of the new FDA egg rule: 1) An effective program for vaccination of laying hens; 2) Monthly inspection of laying facilities for sanitation, and testing for Salmonella within the building; and 3) Egg testing when Salmonella is found in the building.

I’ve posted the full text of Thicke’s opening statement after the jump. Gabe Licht covered the debate for the Spencer Daily Reporter, and Lynda Waddington was there for Iowa Independent. Northey defended his record on egg safety, denying his department had the authority to inspect the feed mill suspected in the salmonella outbreak:

Thicke reiterated the secretary of agriculture should inspect feed mills, noting the [Jack] DeCoster feed mill filled 12,500 semi loads annually.

“First of all, there is a distinct word in there,” Northey fired back. “… Commercial feed mills that sell feed. The reason that we do that is to actually protect the consumer of those that are buying feed from others. Our regulations are actually not for food safety, but are for protection of consumers… We have been told … this mill does not sell feed — that birds at the other facility are owned by DeCoster as well… Just as we don’t go to a farmer mixing his own feed, we do not go to those mills that are producing feed for private facilities or on their own facilities.”

“The secretary of agriculture has the authority to make rules to cover loopholes and this is a DeCoster loophole playing a shell game and we should not play that game with him,” Thicke said.

The incumbent had pointed words for his rival.

“Unless you know something we need to know more about the situation …, it would be important to … wait for the information and be able to find out whether they were actually in violation of that or not,” Northey said. “… We don’t just make decisions on large facilities different than others because our rule says we are to inspect commercial facilities selling feed to others, not facilities of a certain size.”

Thicke has said Iowa Department of Agriculture rule-making could have closed the loopholes that allowed DeCoster’s feed mill to avoid state inspections.

The secretary of agriculture candidates also clashed over agricultural zoning:

Although both candidates were clear that there is enough room in Iowa for all types of sizes of agriculture, and that they would support all aspects of the industry, a major difference between them was exposed while answering a question regarding local control of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) placement.

“Absolutely,” said Thicke, who argued that allowing local government to decide the site of CAFOs would not add additional regulations for owners, who already must follow county building policies, but would allow local residents control over their environment.

Northey disagreed and stated that agribusinesses “need one set of rules,” otherwise there would be “a real challenge” in getting any new developments approved.

Thicke, who formerly served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, sympathized with country residents who had to live near “toxic fumes,” while Northey sympathized with producers “who have been demonized.”

Speaking of local control, last week Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now wrote about the connection between DeCoster’s operations and Iowa’s 1995 law protecting CAFOs from zoning at the county level:

After initially rising from poverty in Maine with a small chicken operation, DeCoster’s run-ins with New England legal authorities led him to flee to Iowa, where he ventured into building hog confinements and factory farm egg facilities just in time to coincide with that state’s loosening of the environmental regulations in 1995, with the passing of House File 519, which stripped all local authority from regulating factory farms.

The passage of this piece of legislation single-handedly pushed more independent hog farmers out of farming in Iowa, the nation’s number one hog and egg producer, than any other law in the state’s history. Since 1994, the year prior to the passage of H.F. 519, Iowa has lost nearly 72% of the state’s hog farmers, as the number has dropped from 29,000 to 8,300 today. As part of the industry trend, hogs moved off pasture into massive warehouse-style confinements, hundreds of which Jack DeCoster built across much of central Iowa, laying the foundation for a “protein” producing empire that included pork, eggs and a steady stream of state and federal violations.

That would be a great issue to use against Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad, in an alternate world where the Culver-Judge administration and the Democratic-controlled Iowa legislature had done something to advance local control during the past four years.

Continue Reading...

Egg recall news: Northey and Thicke to debate, Sierra Club wants broad investigation

Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will debate his Democratic challenger Francis Thicke on September 11, the Thicke campaign announced today. The Spencer Daily Reporter is sponsoring the debate, which will take place from 11 am to 12:30 pm at the Clay County Fairgrounds, during this weekend’s county fair. The Thicke campaign’s press release states that the Spencer public access cable channel will broadcast the debate, but I hope Iowa Public Television and other media organizations will bring the exchange to a wider audience. Thicke argues,

Iowa voters deserve a full discussion of the issues that are important in this campaign – protecting water and air quality; local food production; local control over – and reducing the impacts of – concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs); more diversity on the landscape, including more use of cover and perennial crops; and truly sustainable, renewable, farmer-owned energy systems for agriculture.

Thicke is seeking five debates with Northey, one in each of Iowa’s Congressional districts, but details about other possible meetings have not been finalized. The candidates clashed last week over the Iowa secretary of agriculture’s responsibility to inspect feed mills like the one where a recent salmonella outbreak seems to have originated.

Northey has won the endorsement of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, while Thicke has the Iowa Farmers Union’s endorsement. Last month Thicke published the questionnaire he completed for the Farm Bureau Federation and called on Northey to do the same, so that “so that Iowa voters can determine for themselves where each candidate stands on critical farm issues.”

In related news, today the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club sent an open letter to Attorney General Tom Miller requesting a “thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the egg recall for shell eggs produced by Wright County Egg and Hillandale Farms Inc for violations of state law. This investigation should also include Quality Egg LLC Feed Mill, the supplier of the feed to both egg producers.” I’ve posted the full text of the letter after the jump. It includes a detailed list of facts supporting the Sierra Club’s view that the egg producers showed “reckless disregard for the health and well-being of the public.” To prevent similar violations in the future, the Sierra Club is also asking the Attorney General’s Office to consider possible “internal policy changes, legislative needs, and administrative rule changes.”

Miller recently returned a $10,000 campaign donation that Peter DeCoster made in 2005. DeCoster’s father owns the company at the center of the egg recall.

Continue Reading...

Northey ignorant about Iowa Code and other egg recall news

Following up on yesterday’s post, the recall of half a billion Iowa-produced eggs continues to reverberate in Iowa politics.

Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey still denies that he could have done more to ensure food safety regulations were followed at the DeCoster facilities. Northey’s opponent, Francis Thicke, has said feed mill inspections “could have identified a strain of Salmonella Enteritidis before 1,470 Americans were sickened and a half billion eggs were recalled.”

Meanwhile, the non-profit Food Democracy Now announced that two major supermarket chains have agreed to stop selling eggs produced by Jack DeCoster’s operations.

Details and more links are after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Egg recall linkfest: Northey's inaction, Thicke's vision and Branstad's delusion

Democratic Secretary of Agriculture candidate Francis Thicke spoke this morning about the recall of half a billion eggs originating from two Iowa companies. I’ve been wondering why our current Secretary of Agriculture, Bill Northey, has kept quiet about the salmonella outbreak that prompted the largest food recall in history. Thicke pointed out that Northey had the authority to license and inspect feed mills like the one that served “habitual violator” Jack DeCoster’s operations, but instead Northey did nothing.

More details on the perspectives of Northey and Thicke are after the jump, along with many other links on the egg recall story.

If you think Northey’s failure to prevent or adequately respond to this disaster is outrageous, wait till you hear the agriculture policy Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad rolled out this week.

Continue Reading...

Iowa statewide candidate fundraising roundup

The latest round of statewide and state legislative candidate financial reports are available on the website of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. For most candidates, these reports cover money raised and spent between June 2 and July 14. Some of the candidates didn’t file a June 4 disclosure report, and in those cases the latest filing covers the period from May 15 to July 14.

Fundraising numbers for Democratic and Republican candidates for statewide offices are after the jump. In addition to money raised and spent and cash on hand figures, I’ve listed the largest donors for each candidate. I am working on a post about the noteworthy fundraising figures from Iowa House and Senate candidates. John Deeth hit some highlights at the Des Moines Register blog. It’s important to remember that leadership committees for both parties will also spend a lot of money in the battleground legislative districts.

Continue Reading...

IA-Sen: Democracy for America endorses Conlin

Democracy for America, the organization Howard Dean created after his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004, has officially endorsed Democrat Roxanne Conlin in her campaign against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. Blog for Iowa’s Trish Nelson posted the e-mail blast DFA sent to its supporters. Excerpt:

We need to restore a civil political dialogue in Iowa and Roxanne Conlin is exactly what Iowa needs after 30 years of Chuck Grassley. She’s a fighter who will stand up for Iowans, like she did as Assistant Attorney General and U.S. Attorney. When an Iowa teacher was fired for being pregnant, she took that woman’s case all the way to the state Supreme Court – and won.

Roxanne will go the extra mile and it’s that work ethic that is going to earn her the votes to win in November. Now, we need to provide her with the resources to fight back against one of the Senate’s most entrenched Republicans.

Democracy for America has more than a million members, and as of Tuesday morning, the organization had already raised more than $14,000 for Conlin’s campaign. She can use the help, because Grassley has a big cash on hand advantage.

While looking around the DFA site I noticed a lot of support for Francis Thicke’s campaign for secretary of agriculture among DFA’s Iowa members. That network could become an important source of volunteer energy for the Thicke and Conlin campaigns.

Continue Reading...

Francis Thicke's "New Vision for Food and Agriculture" in Iowa

Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke is touring the state to talk about his just-published book, “A New Vision for Food and Agriculture.” He’s scheduled to speak in Oskaloosa on June 29, Marion on June 30, Storm Lake on July 1, Dubuque on July 6 and Mason City on July 13. All events are at 6:30 pm; click here for location details.

Thicke provides a brief outline of his vision on his campaign website:

   * Encourage the installation of farmer-owned, mid-size wind turbines on farms all across Iowa, to power farms, and help to power the rest of Iowa. I will lead in advocating feed-in tariffs, which are agreements with power companies that will allow farmers to sell their excess power, finance their turbines, and make a profit from their power generation.

   * Make Iowa farms more energy self-sufficient and put more biofuel profits in farmers’ pockets by refocusing Iowa’s biofuel investment on new technologies that will allow farmers to produce biofuels on the farm to power farm equipment, and sell the excess for consumer use.

   * Create more jobs and economic development by supporting local food production. We can grow more of what we eat in Iowa. Locally-grown food can be fresher, safer and healthier for consumers, and will provide jobs to produce it. I will reestablish the Iowa Food Policy Council to provide guidance on how to connect farmers to state institutional food purchases and greater access to consumer demand for fresh, locally-grown produce.

   * Expose predatory practices by corporate monopolies. We need Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting to restore competition to agricultural markets. I will work with Iowa’s Attorney General and the Justice Department to ensure fair treatment for farmers.

   * Reestablish local control over CAFOs, and regulate them to keep dangerous pollutants out of our air and water, and protect the health, quality of life, and property values of our citizens.

   * Promote wider use of perennial and cover crops to keep Iowa’s rich soils and fertilizer nutrients from washing into our rivers.

Not only is Thicke highly qualified to implement this vision, he walks the walk, as you can see from a brief video tour of his dairy farm.

Near the beginning of that clip, Thicke observes, “Energy is a big issue in agriculture. We are highly dependent upon cheap oil if you look at agriculture almost anywhere in this country. And that’s one of the big issues in my campaign: how we can make agriculture more energy self-sufficient, make our landscape more resilient, and make our agriculture more efficient as well.” It’s sad that our current secretary of agriculture has shown no leadership on making this state’s farm economy more self-sufficient. Using renewable energy to power Iowa farm operations isn’t pie in the sky stuff: it’s technologically feasible and is a “common-sense way” to cut input costs.

I highly recommend going to hear Thicke speak in person, but you can listen online in some of the videos available on Thicke’s YouTube channel. The campaign is on Facebook here and on the web at Thickeforagriculture.com. If you want to volunteer for or help his campaign in any way, e-mail Thicketeam AT gmail.com. Here’s his ActBlue page for those who can make a financial contribution.

Continue Reading...

Iowa, Oil and Agriculture-- Meet Francis Thicke, Candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture

(I enjoyed the diary and the video tour of Thicke's farm after the jump. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Who is the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture?  The answer to that question is, and has always been:  whichever faithful servant of Big Agriculture was keeping the chair warm and keeping Monsanto,  Koch and Cargill happy, Democrat or Republican.  (Currently, it's a guy who loves chicken factories.)  An urban dweller, I didn't think that the Ag Secretary had anything to do with me. 

A few months ago, I met Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer who is running for Secretary of Agriculture, and he changed my mind about that.   I have begun to grasp how this official affects the food I eat, the quality of the air and rivers where I live, and waters far downstream from Iowa.  I have even begun to hope for change in the way we produce food and use energy in Iowa, where we often set the example for farming practices across the country.

  Francis Thicke (pronounced “tickee”) has an organic dairy farm near Fairfield, Iowa, a small community best known as the home of Maharishi University.   Francis and his wife, Susan, make milk, yogurt and cheese with the milk from his 80 cows, and sell all of it locally.  Although he grew up on a farm, Francis wanted to be a musician.  He studied music and philosophy in college, and plays a mean trumpet.  But eventually he got a doctorate in agronomy instead, worked at the USDA, then came back to Iowa to start a dairy farm. 

 Radiance Dairy is no ordinary farm.  Livestock and landscape nourish each other.  Everything the cows eat is grown on land they fertilize, and as Francis says, they enjoy their work.  He uses solar panels to power pumps for water , to electrify fences, and to heat water for his dairy processing plant.  A wind turbine is in the works.  His operation is so innovative that he attracts visitors who come to learn, from local schoolchildren to the World Bank, and he travels frequently to teach and give lectures.   He has received awards from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, which recognized him as a “Steward of the Land,” among other awards.  People who know him regard him as a national treasure.

more below the fold… 

Continue Reading...

IA Ag Sec: Who's Afraid of Francis Thicke?

(The horror! - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Some farmers are afraid of me.

I know this because a farmer named Jerry wrote a letter to the Des Moines Register recently saying that they are scared.  It would be a “scary scenario for mainstream agriculture” if I got elected as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, he said.   Francis Thicke is a “true believer in everything organic,” he shuddered.

Running for office is an adventure.  But I never expected to learn that Iowa farmers, who are among the most resilient, shrewd and creative people on the planet, are afraid of a mild-mannered organic dairy farmer with a PhD in Agronomy and some ideas for helping them meet challenges such as peak oil.   So I thought I would write him a letter to reassure him that I’m not scary, because if we don’t get our act together to deal with the real challenges of peak oil, the disruptions caused by climate change, and the growing monopoly power of corporate agribusiness, then we really will have cause for concern.


Dear Jerry,

Don’t be afraid.  This is America, and no one is going to make you “go organic.”  It’s the Big Ag interests that want to limit your choices, not me.   You might save money and protect water quality and the health of your family if you understood how to apply sustainable farming methods that do not require farm chemicals, but you don’t have to.

No one is going to force you to make your own biofuels on the farm from perennial crops that make your farm resilient and energy efficient.  Nor will you be forced to drive a hydrogen or ammonia-powered tractor with fuel derived from wind power.   If diesel prices soar in the next few years, as the Defense Department[pdf] is warning us, it’s your right to pay $6 a gallon or more and keep right on using it.  There may be shortages in our future by 2015, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find fuel at some price, somewhere.

You have the right to keep doing things the way you always have, and not take advantage of science-based ways to bring your costs down and prepare for a future without abundant petrochemicals.  All I am offering is a vision for a thriving agriculture in the absence of cheap oil, and leadership to meet the challenges that we know are coming.   Energy will be a huge game-changer over the coming decade–for agriculture, and for everything else.

Continue Reading...

Findley pulls in big money for attorney general race

Financial reports for Iowa statewide candidates covering the period from January 1 through May 14 are now available at the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board website. John Deeth summarized the numbers for the statewide races other than the governor’s race, which I discussed earlier today.

The biggest surprise to me was Republican Brenna Findley’s haul in the attorney general’s race. She raised $124,078 since January 1 and has $95,528 on hand. Incumbent Attorney General Tom Miller clearly wasn’t focused on raising money, bringing in just $15,748. Because he started the year with nearly $90,000 in his account, he still has more cash on hand than Findley ($105,200), but Findley has a larger donor base (more than 700 donors).

As a long-time top staffer for Representative Steve King, Findley probably benefits from his donor contacts. It can’t hurt that Terry Branstad is talking up Findley at every campaign stop too. Deeth concludes, “We may have found our downballot sleeper race for the general election.” I don’t think Findley has a chance against Miller, who has been elected attorney general seven times. But she will be able to run a statewide campaign and raise her profile substantially. Miller will have to take this race seriously. His campaigning skills may be rusty, since Republicans gave him a pass in 2006. However, he has a strong record, and it’s worth recalling that he was returned to the attorney general’s office in 1994, an atrocious year for Iowa Democrats.

In all the other statewide races, the incumbents have huge financial advantages over their challengers. Secretary of State Michael Mauro has raised $30,021 since the start of the year, more than his three Republican opponents combined. Mauro has just under $128,000 on hand, whereas Matt Schultz and George Eichhorn both have more outstanding bills than cash on hand, and Chris Sanger has only about $400 on hand. Deeth has more on who’s given to Schultz and Eichhorn. Speaking of this race, I learned recently that the Secretary of State Project has endorsed Mauro.

State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald hasn’t raised much money so far in 2010 ($4,179), but he started the year with nearly $114,000 and spent almost nothing, leaving about $117,770 cash on on hand. Two Republicans are running against Fitzgerald, and their campaigns have less than $10,000 cash on hand combined. Story County Treasurer Dave Jamison has broader support than James Heavens of Dyersville, who loaned his campaign most of the money raised.

Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey raised nearly $40,000, and even though he spent quite a lot for this early in the campaign ($53,920), he still has $247,535 on hand. Democrat Francis Thicke raised $58,439, including a $10,000 contribution from the candidate, and has an impressive number of donors (at least 300). He spent a little more than $25,000 and has $33,320 on hand. Corporate interest groups will make sure Northey has tons of money to spend. Thicke will have to run a more grassroots campaign.

Share any thoughts about the statewide races in this thread.

Iowa Democrats and Republicans holding district conventions tomorrow

This weekend, activists across Iowa have a chance to hear from their party’s candidates for Congress, the Iowa legislature, and statewide offices. The Iowa Democratic Party is holding conventions in all five Congressional districts on Saturday, April 24. These events are open to the public as well as the media. In other words, you do not have to be a convention delegate or alternate to attend. Here’s a list of Democratic convention locations and some scheduled speakers:

WHAT: 1st District Convention WHEN: 10:00AM WHERE: Northeast Iowa Community College 10250 Sundown Rd. Peosta, IA SPEAKERS: Senate Candidate Roxanne Conlin, Senate Candidate Tom Fiegen, Governor Chet Culver, Candidate for Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke, Congressman Bruce Braley

WHAT: 2nd District Convention WHEN:11:00 AM WHERE: Fairfield Arts and Convention Center 200 North Main St. Fairfield, IA SPEAKERS: Senate Candidate Roxanne Conlin, Governor Chet Culver, Candidate for Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke, Congressman Dave Loebsack, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan

WHAT: 3rd District Convention WHEN: 9:00 AM WHERE: Adventureland Inn 3200 Adventureland Dr. Altoona, IA SPEAKERS: Senator Tom Harkin, Senate Candidate Roxanne Conlin, Senate Candidate Tom Fiegen, Governor Chet Culver, Secretary of State Michael Mauro, Candidate for Secretary of Agriculture Francis Thicke, Congressman Leonard Boswell

WHAT: 4th District Convention WHEN: 10:00 AM WHERE: North Iowa Fairgrounds, Olson Building 3700 4th St. SW Mason City, IA SPEAKERS: Senate Candidate Tom Fiegen, Governor Chet Culver, Secretary of State Michael Mauro, Candidate for Congress Bill Maske

WHAT: 5th District Convention WHEN: 9:00 AM WHERE: Atlantic Middle School 1100 Linn St. Atlantic, IA SPEAKERS: Senator Tom Harkin, Senate Candidate Tom Fiegen, Governor Chet Culver, Secretary of State Michael Mauro, Candidate for Congress Matt Campbell, Candidate for Congress Mike Denklau, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan

The Republican Party of Iowa is holding conventions in the second, third and fifth districts this Saturday, and in the first and fourth districts on Saturday, May 1. (Click here for event details.) GOP conventions are open to the media but not the public.

The second and third district conventions will be well-attended because of the competitive GOP Congressional primaries. If no candidate wins at least 35 percent of the vote in the June 8 primary, district conventions will have to reconvene in June to select the nominee. Seven Republicans are running against Representative Leonard Boswell in the third district, and at least four of them are campaigning actively.

According to Republican blogger David Chung, there is “unprecedented” interest in the second district convention because of the four Republicans running against Representative Dave Loebsack. Chung writes, “For the first time in my memory, Linn County has filled [its] delegation. We have never actually had as many paid delegates as we were allotted.” Chung considers it “likely” that a second district convention will need to reconvene to select Loebsack’s opponent. Some other people following that race closely expect the contest to be decided on June 8, with only two candidates as serious contenders: Rob Gettemy and Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Gettemmy has the most cash on hand and the support of many influential Linn County Republicans as well as the National Republican Congressional Committee. The 2008 GOP nominee, Miller-Meeks, has spent the most time campaigning around the district. She has more cash on hand than either Steve Rathje or Chris Reed and is likely to do particularly well outside Linn County, where her three Republican rivals are based.

The district conventions will also elect members of the parties’ State Central Committees. Former Republican SCC member Chung is seeking that position again and expects a “massive shakeup” on the committee, because “several current members have decided not to run” again.

UPDATE: I’ve been told that Thicke will be at the fourth district convention as well, and Senate candidate Bob Krause will be at some of these conventions too, but I don’t have details.

Continue Reading...

Obama in Iowa City and events coming up this weekend (updated)

The big event of the week is President Barack Obama’s visit to Iowa City today. Approximately 16,500 people requested tickets for the event, where the president will tout the benefits of the health insurance reform law he signed on Tuesday. Some 150 to 200 people showed up for last night’s Republican event opposing the new law.

I hope some Bleeding Heartland readers will post comments or a diary about today’s presidential visit.

UPDATE: Scroll down for the full text of Obama’s remarks in Iowa City, as prepared. What he said about children with pre-existing conditions being able to get insurance coverage this year isn’t accurate, unfortunately.

I’m excited about a couple of other great events for progressives this weekend. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (formerly known as Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa) holds its spring book sale from March 25-29 in the 4-H building at the State Fairgrounds. It costs $10 to get in on opening night, but admission is free for the rest of the weekend. You will find a huge selection of books in almost every category you can imagine, as well as some CDs, DVDs, comic books and posters. Mr. desmoinesdem and I always find some wonderful out-of-print children’s books. Click here for opening hours and more details. Proceeds from the book sale support Planned Parenthood’s education programs in Iowa and Nebraska.

Another free event worth checking out this weekend is the Natural Living Expo at the Polk County Convention Center in downtown Des Moines Saturday from 10-6 and Sunday from 11-4. About 150 local businesses and non-profit organizations will be represented at the expo, including Iowa farmers, green home remodelers, and cloth diaper sellers. Francis Thicke’s campaign for secretary of agriculture and Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy will have booths too. Click here for a list of vendors, free lectures and panel discussions. If you have children, bring them along, because they may enjoy the storytelling, art and activities like hula-hooping and yo-yos in the kids’ area. I’ll be helping out a couple of non-profits at the expo, so I may see you if you stop by, but I won’t be wearing my “desmoinesdem” hat.

More events coming up this weekend are listed after the jump.

Continue Reading...

Weekend open thread: Food and farm policy edition

Share anything that’s on your mind this weekend in the comments below.

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Justice jointly hosted a workshop in Ankeny devoted to concentration in agriculture, antitrust issues and market practices. After some controversy over the speakers scheduled initially, more farmers and producers were able to speak during the workshop. Lynda Waddington covered a panel including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The Des Moines Register covered a session concerning Monsanto’s dominance in the biotech seed industry:

Monsanto has generated controversy because of its leading role in the biotech revolution in corn, soybean and cotton seeds since the mid-1990s. About 90 percent of the corn and soybean fields in the Midwest now are planted with seeds genetically altered to resist herbicides and pests.

“Biotech seeds have given farmers better yields and improved their lives,” said farmer Pam Johnson of Floyd County.

Monsanto, Pioneer and other seed companies license their traits under the auspices of a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing life forms to be patented.

Iowa State University professor emeritus Neil Harl said that Supreme Court decision radically changed the seed business from a collaborative, collegial enterprise among land grant colleges, farmers and companies.

“Before 1980, seed germplasm was considered something in the public domain,” said Harl. “Seed was developed in the field and everybody shared. Now seeds are developed in the laboratory and are patented and licensed.”

Holder said the high court decision 30 years ago wouldn’t block antitrust action, if it was deemed necessary.

“The antitrust authority is there,” Holder said. “The question is what the patent holders are doing with their patents. If they are using it to preserve monopolies, that is unfair behavior.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey noted that farmers are spending twice as much on seed as they did a decade ago, but also are getting better yields.

“There is tension about the cost of inputs,” Northey said. “But we don’t want to lose the innovation.”

The food blog Cooking Up a Story published this short backgrounder on “Hybrids and the Emergence of Seed Monopolies.”

The night before the DOJ/USDA workshop, Iowa CCI, Food and Water Watch, the National Family Farms Coalition and Food Democracy Now organized a town-hall meeting to raise awareness of excessive levels of concentration in agriculture. Lynda Waddington was there for Iowa Independent.

Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture Francis Thicke has long been concerned about the loss of competition in agricultural markets. He attended the workshop in Ankeny and praised the DOJ and USDA for investigating antitrust issues related to agriculture:

“Antitrust enforcement by the federal government has been ignored for so long that it will take Teddy Roosevelt-style trust busting to bring competitive markets back to agriculture,” said Thicke, who plans to participate in the first of a series of five workshops planned by the two federal departments this Friday in Ankeny. […]

“The effects of excessive market power by a few firms has been studied for years,” said Thicke. “It has been shown that if four or fewer firms control 40% or more of a market, then it no longer functions as a competitive market.” He pointed out that, as of 2007, four firms controlled 85% of the beef packing market, four firms controlled 66% of the pork packing market, four firms controlled 59% of the broiler market, and four firms controlled 55% of the turkey market.

“Clearly we are beyond the point of open competition in our agricultural markets,” Thicke asserted. “When there are so few large firms in a market, controlling firms begin to act in concert whether or not they are directly communicating pricing with each other.”

Speaking of food policy, I heard some good news this week. The Iowa Center on Health Disparities at the University of Northern Iowa has received major grants for two important projects:

The focus of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation grant is to launch an Iowa Food Policy Council, a diverse statewide cooperative to develop and make research, program and policy recommendations for a food system to support healthier Iowans, communities, economies and environments. Over the next year, the Iowa Food Policy Council will conduct a comprehensive statewide assessment of food systems, food access and health indicators.

The focus of the Leopold Center grant is to convene key food security and public health stakeholders from across Iowa who will examine the disparities in food access and health among Iowans. The Food Access and Health Working Group will address programs and policies that increase access to fresh, nutritious and affordable local food for all Iowans, including vulnerable children and their families.

More details on the grants are after the jump. I was hoping Governor Culver would revive the Food Policy Council, but I’m glad another way was found to get this project going.

Continue Reading...

Francis Thicke hires staff for secretary of agriculture campaign

Francis Thicke has hired staff for his Democratic campaign for Iowa secretary of agriculture, Will Merydith reported for the Fairfield Voice blog on Friday.

Rob Hubler, a 40-year veteran of managing political campaigns, started with the campaign about two weeks ago. Rob Hubler was the 2008 candidate for U.S. Congress in Iowa’s fifth district. This week the campaign team is growing with the addition of Keith Dinsmore, a veteran campaign media specialist. Keith has connections with press across Iowa and will be organizing Francis Thicke’s state-wide media work.

“In the next few weeks I will be traveling to a number of Democratic Party county conventions to speak to audiences about my campaign platform. I also have upcoming appearances at Grinnell College and Iowa State University. I do have one out-of-state event planned for next month, to speak at a national organic farming policy conference in Washington, D.C.”

“We have a local event planned for Fairfield on Saturday, March 27: Blues musician Bill Lupkin will be performing at Morning Star Studio as a fundraiser for our campaign.”

Thicke also recently opened a campaign office on the main square in Fairfield (Jefferson County, southeast Iowa).

I hope Thicke’s campaign will attract a large volunteer contingent. Iowa has plenty of Democratic activists who aren’t wild about Governor Chet Culver and don’t live in a battleground state legislative district. Republican Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey will be heavily favored in this race and will raise more money than Thicke. However, Thicke has outstanding qualifications, and his vision for agriculture deserves our wholehearted support. We don’t often hear Iowa candidates speak out against excessive concentration of agricultural markets or advocate stronger regulations for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). I recommend reading the four-part interview Blog for Iowa did with Thicke last year (part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4). Francis and Susan Thicke operate a successful organic dairy farm and won the 2009 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture.

We’ll need all Democratic hands on deck in the Fairfield area this year, since Iowa House district 90 and Iowa Senate district 45 are likely to be competitive races. State Representative Curt Hanson narrowly won last summer’s special election in House district 90, while State Senator Becky Schmitz is in her first term representing Senate district 45.

UPDATE: Forgot to add this ActBlue link for those who want to donate to Thicke’s campaign.

Continue Reading...

Year in review: Bleeding Heartland on food and parenting in 2009

This blog will always be primarily about politics, but I enjoy writing about other subjects from time to time. In fact, one of my new year’s resolutions for Bleeding Heartland is to write more about food and parenting in 2010.

After the jump I’ve compiled links to posts on those topics in 2009. Some of the diaries were political, others are personal. The link I’m most proud of combined the two: My case against Hanna Rosin’s case against breastfeeding.

Any thoughts or suggestions for future topics to cover are welcome in this thread.

Continue Reading...

Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

Continue Reading...

Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

Continue Reading...

Thicke warns of excessive concentration in agriculture

The Justice Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture have been accepting public comments in advance of a series of workshops on “competition and regulatory issues in the agriculture industry.” The first workshop is scheduled for March 12 in Ankeny.

Francis Thicke, a dairy farmer and Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture, submitted this comment to the DOJ’s Antitrust Division. Excerpt:

Economists tell us that when four firms control 40% or more of a market, that market loses its competitive nature. Currently, four firms control 83.5% of the beef packer market; four firms control 66% of the pork packer market; four firms control 58.5% of the broiler market. The turkey, flour milling, seed, and other agricultural markets are similarly concentrated.

The anticompetitive effects of market concentration is further compounded by the fact that some of the top four firms in each market category are also among the top four in other markets. For example, Tyson is number one in beef packing, number two in pork packing, and number two in broilers. This kind of horizontal integration encourages firms that dominate in several markets to manipulate prices in order to increase their market share. For example, when beef and broiler prices are profitable, a firm with dominant market share in beef, broilers, and pork can take measures to prolong the unprofitability of the pork market in order to force out firms that deal only in pork-while maintaining its own firm’s overall profitability through the beef and broiler market sectors.

A good current example of the farm-level effects of market concentration is the milk market. Recently, dairy farmers have been experiencing record losses due to low farm-gate milk prices. At the same time, the largest dairy processor, Dean Foods-that is purported to control 40% of U.S. dairy processing-has posted record profits over the past two quarters. Clearly, Dean Foods has found a modus operandi that enables it to isolate itself from the market forces bearing on dairy farmers.

I am glad to see Thicke raise this issue, which affects the well-being of so many family farmers. I do not recall Iowa’s current Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey or his predecessor Patty Judge sounding the alarm about excessive concentration in the agriculture industry. Someone please correct me if I am wrong.

Last month the Farmer to Farmer Campaign on Genetic Engineering released a report on consolidation in the seed industry, which has left farmers with “fewer choices and significantly higher prices in seed.” You can read more about that report at La Vida Locavore and Iowa Independent.

Blog for Iowa recently published a lengthy interview with Thicke that is worth reading. Here are the links to part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

Continue Reading...

Thicke to announce bid for Secretary of Agriculture

After a few months of exploring the possibility, Francis Thicke is ready to announce his candidacy for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2010. He’s scheduled press conferences in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Ottumwa on September 9.

Thicke’s campaign website outlines his “new vision for Iowa agriculture,” which involves more local food production, on-farm energy production, and “animal production systems that are profitable, environmentally sound, and socially responsible.”

You can see from his bio how qualified he is for the position as an organic dairy farmer, educator and public servant.

There’s also a blog on the campaign website; recent posts include this endorsement from Denise O’Brien, founder of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network and Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2006.

Thicke will be an underdog against incumbent Bill Northey, who after considering a bid for governor announced this summer that he’ll run for re-election instead. Industrial agriculture interests generously funded Northey’s 2006 campaign and will fight hard against Thicke. If you can afford to contribute to Thicke’s campaign, his ActBlue page is here.

This is one of those rare cases when a down-ticket candidate might help Democrats higher up the ballot. Thicke’s candidacy is likely to become a focal point for Democratic activists who are (to put it mildly) not satisfied with Governor Chet Culver or Democratic legislative leaders on environmental issues. Some of these people would not volunteer for Culver’s campaign or their local statehouse incumbent, but they will be happy to help GOTV for Thicke.

In case anyone’s wondering, the name is pronounced “Tic-kee.”

Ecology as a Model for Livestock Production

(Francis Thicke is exploring a bid for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Recently I was asked to write this column for the Leopold Letter, the newsletter of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.


Twelve thousand years ago, in the wake of a glacier, the land that would become Northern Iowa was a geologic wasteland.  Glacial materials conveyed from the north had obliterated the biological diversity of the previous era.   But then nature’s ecological processes began anew, creating-over twelve millennia-a prairie ecosystem with its fertile, productive soils.

How did that happen?  Gradually, plants, animals and microorganisms colonized the desolate landscape, creating an increasingly diverse and complex ecosystem.  The ecosystem’s plants and animals generated organic materials which soil microorganisms used to develop fertile soils from raw geologic materials.  

It has been estimated that fifty million bison once roamed the prairies and plains of North America.  Bison herds roving the prairie landscape are a useful model we can use to design animal production systems that are resilient, energy-efficient, and biologically diverse. (continues after the jump)

Continue Reading...

Northey passes on governor's race

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has been saying for months that he was leaning toward running for re-election rather than for governor in 2010. On Saturday he made it official.

I announced to the crowd at Bill’s BBQ Bash that I will run for re-election as Iowa Secy of Ag in 2010.

I’ve long felt that Northey would be a long-shot for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, having gone on record supporting a gas tax increase. Even if Northey won the GOP nomination, I think that with no base of support in eastern Iowa population centers, he would have been quite an underdog against Governor Chet Culver.

I’m curious to see whether Northey continues to employ the high-profile campaign staffers he hired in May, or whether they will jump to a different Republican gubernatorial contender.

Northey will be heavily favored against Francis Thicke, the most likely Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture. Thicke is highly qualified and articulate, however, and has the potential to energize parts of the Democratic base who are dissatisfied with Culver and our statehouse leaders.

Now that Northey has ruled out running for governor, he will be able to focus more on his current job. I wonder whether anything will come of his working group on farmland protection. Northey announced plans to create it last August during his keynote address to the annual meeting of 1000 Friends of Iowa. However, the working group has only met once, in December 2008.

Iowa has been losing prime farmland at an alarming rate in the last few decades. Northey could do a real service for our country’s food security if he would identify and advocate for some farmland protection strategies that have been successful in other states.

UPDATE: Northey is searching for ways to save money at the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, which was allocated about 15 percent less in the 2010 budget than in the fiscal year that just ended.

Continue Reading...

Dave Murphy is working to strengthen rural economies

The Des Moines Register profiled Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now in Monday’s edition. The article mentioned the incredible success of the petition signed by more than 94,000 Americans. Two of the “sustainable dozen” candidates whom Food Democracy Now recommended for U.S. Department of Agriculture posts now work for the department. Drake Law Professor Neil Hamilton, also on the sustainable dozen list, is an “informal adviser” to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

You should read the whole Des Moines Register article. The most important passage is about how Murphy makes the case for changing agriculture policies:

[Murphy] pointed to a survey from the Organic Trade Association that showed that the U.S. sales of organic food grew nearly 16 percent between 2007 and 2008 to reach $22.9 billion. Organic foods now account for about 3.5 percent of all U.S. food sales.

For Murphy, sustainable farming is about more than the food.

He sees it as returning to a model of production that is better for the environment and one in which farmers can start without taking on deep debt to finance heavy equipment.

He said the agricultural policies today are stacked against farmers of small- to mid-sized farms in favor of larger operations. […]

Murphy stressed that he isn’t against large farm operations. He said sustainable practices can help farms of all sizes.

But Murphy does believe that the playing field ought to be leveled, for the benefit not just for smaller farms but for rural areas in general.

“That’s the best way to improve rural economies,” he said. “The more farmers there are on the land, the better it is for rural economies.”

Health and environmental concerns sparked my interest in buying local food produced sustainably, but Murphy is wise to connect the dots between agriculture policies and the economic future of rural areas. For more along those lines, read the feature on Murphy and Food Democracy Now from the Washington Post in March.

Speaking of Iowans who are incredibly committed to helping small and medium-sized farms thrive, Woodbury County’s rural economic development director Rob Marqusee has pledged to “eat only food grown within 100 miles of the Woodbury County Courthouse for the entire month of June 09 (and no meat will be allowed in the diet).” Keep an eye on Marqusee’s Woodbury Organics site next month, because he’ll be blogging about his food challenge.

Those interested in Murphy’s work should go read more on the Food Democracy Now site. Click here for past Bleeding Heartland posts that referenced Food Democracy Now’s work. Jill Richardson wrote more here about Murphy’s activist roots and the role he played during the Iowa caucus campaign.

If organic farmer Francis Thicke decides to run for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2010, expanding local food networks will be a major theme of his campaign.

Continue Reading...

Northey hires "high-profile staffers"

Over at The Iowa Republican, Craig Robinson reports that Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey

has recently employed Tim Moran and Marcus Branstad to work on his behalf. […]

Both Moran and Branstad were sought after during the Iowa caucuses. Branstad worked briefly for Sen. Bill Frist before joining Mitt Romney’s Iowa staff. After the caucuses, Branstad worked on Congressman Tom Latham’s re-election campaign. Moran cut his teeth on the 2002 Vander Plaats campaign and also worked on Romney’s Iowa campaign. He then went to work for Congressman Steve King’s campaign before joining King’s congressional staff. […]

In Moran, Northey has a political operative who has spent most of his political career working western Iowa. Having worked for both Vander Plaats and King makes Moran a valuable asset to any campaign, but especially to a statewide gubernatorial campaign. It would be difficult to find a better person to organize western Iowa for a campaign.

Branstad, the youngest son of former Governor Terry Branstad, has spent most of his time organizing north central Iowa for Mitt Romney and Congressman Tom Latham. Marcus is a talented organizer with a great last name, and even if his last name was Smith, he would still be one of the best organizers in central Iowa.

Robinson speculates that “Either Secretary Northey is about to run the most extensive and expensive Secretary of Agriculture re-election campaign in Iowa’s history, or he is exploring a run for governor.”

Although I think Northey would be an underdog in both a Republican gubernatorial primary and a general election matchup with Chet Culver, hiring quality staff makes sense. He’s got enough money in the bank to pay their salaries. He now knows no other candidate for governor can hire Moran and Branstad. They can work on building up Northey’s name recognition and support around the state. If Culver’s poll numbers continue to slip this year, Northey can jump in to the governor’s race without having to spend time searching for key staffers.

If Culver bounces back up in the polls like he did last year after a shaky few months, Northey can always run for re-election as secretary of agriculture, which is the direction he claims to be leaning.

UPDATE: Dave Price of WHO-TV reports that Jeff Lamberti, a businessman and former state senator from Ankeny, is thinking about running for governor and will decide by this fall at the latest. Lamberti retired from the state senate in order to run against Congressman Leonard Boswell in 2006.  

Continue Reading...

Organic farmer plans to run for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture (updated)

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.

Continue Reading...
Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4