The great thing about the Iowa Caucus appearing so early in the major stages of the presidential campaign is that presidential hopefuls will pay attention to issues facing agriculture.
Unfortunately, not all agricultural sectors can come to an agreement on some issues. One of those is the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
In Iowa, much of its agribusiness focuses around three major industries: Corn, pork and eggs. Since corn growers can benefit from higher prices as a result of the RFS, that industry supports the RFS. But since the pig and egg industries rely on corn as a key feed ingredient, the RFS isn’t seen as much as a good thing.
While the caucus’ winner on the Republican side, Ted Cruz, is skeptical of the RFS, it is apparent the corn and ethanol lobbies have still had a strong influence on the candidates’ stances.
Where the candidates stand on the Renewable Fuel Standard
Tom Buis, co-chair of Growth Energy, a group that represents the producers and supporters of ethanol, said during a February 2 conference call that not too much should be read into a Cruz victory in Iowa.
“The fact is over 80 percent of the votes cast yesterday in Iowa were cast for candidates who are in favor of the RFS. Some in favor of the status quo, some in favor of it through 2022 and even some who want to expand it,” said Buis.
Only Cruz and Rand Paul are seen as anti-RFS candidates in the entire field of both Republicans and Democrats, and Buis said Cruz has made significant moves toward embracing the RFS, as he is now pushing to eliminate the blend wall.
According to America’s Renewable Future, a coalition of pro-RFS companies, organizations and individuals, many candidates who once had no position on the RFS, including Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, and Bernie Sanders are now supporters. Others, like Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Martin O’Malley, who once opposed it, are now for it. The same group pointed out candidates Mike Huckabee, Hillary Clinton and Rick Santorum were supporters of the RFS before the campaign in Iowa began and the three remain so.
That signals a strong influence by the pro-RFS lobby, which also means those in animal agriculture production who don’t want to see a rise in corn demand and prices, have work to do.
Paul, Huckabee, Santorum and O’Malley have since dropped out of the race.
How much does the RFS issue impact voters?
Paul Tewes, a political strategist participating in the call with Buis, said he feels that ethanol production and the RFS are more important to voters in the 2016 election than it was four years ago.
“I’ve never seen ethanol more talked about,” said Tewes. “This is the year where ethanol was put on the map, where candidates had to talk about it, and most of the candidates had moved either completely for it, or the few that didn’t moved toward it.”
Despite the number of pig and poultry farmers in Iowa that need lower corn prices to help their livelihoods, Tewes believes that the push for the RFS is strong enough in Iowa that it could be a deciding factor in what is often a swing state during the general election. Tewes even speculated that if Cruz gets the Republican nomination, the eventual Democratic candidate will get Iowa’s electoral votes.
The campaign trail continues
After Iowa, most candidates will move on to New Hampshire for its February 9 primary. And while the RFS is not expected to be talked about much there, it could be discussed further later in February in South Carolina, where poultry and pork industries have a stronger presence.
Then during the first week of March, primary and caucus events are scheduled in more poultry-heavy states like Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. None of these events have the notoriety of the ones in Iowa and New Hampshire, but the outcomes will be well worth watching.
Other votes approaching
While a presidential candidate’s stance on the RFS might be enough to sway some voters, it is important to remember that the presidency isn’t the only office to be decided on in November. Too often, people put too much emphasis on the presidential election and not as much on their U.S. senators and representatives. All 435 seats in the U.S. House and 34 of 100 Senate seats will be up for election in 2016.
Those people, too, will have a major impact on the future of the RFS, and subsequently the poultry, pig and feed industries.
It would behoove us all to learn more about those people wishing to serve not only you, but your friends and colleagues in the animal agriculture industry, and the consumers of the foods they produce.