Live updates from the Iowa Agriculture Summit in Des Moines

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley delivers a speech during the 2015 Ag Summit that took place in Des Moines on March 7.

Follow live updates from the Iowa Agriculture Summit below. The event is being held at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. Almost a dozen potential Republican candidates for president will speak at the event.

UPDATE 3:05: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Walker wrapped up the day by talking about immigration reform, free trade, and food safety.  

On immigration, Walker said, “None of us would build a house and not put up a fourth wall.”  Walker reiterated the importance of securing America’s borders and enforcing a legal immigration system that works.

While Walker supported wind energy, he called for a variety of energy sources.  He went on to state his support of free trade.

“Trade is particularly important to agriculture,” Walker said.  

Walker said he would not support trade with Cuba unless they show clear changes.  

On the issue of GMO’s, Walker said he was in favor of voluntary labeling, however mandatory labeling was unnecessary.  

“What we should require is the food we grow, sell, and eat is safe,” Walker said.

When asked about the farm bill and food stamps, Walker talked about his implementation of drug tests to access food stamps.  

Instead of denying individuals access to government aid, Walker said, “We’re making it easier to get a job.”

Walker also stressed the need for education, especially in trade degrees. Walker said that two year college degrees, which prepare students for trade specific jobs in areas such as construction or mechanical work, are crucial to bringing back manufacturing jobs.

Walker finished his speech by talking about block grants.

“[Block grants] address unique needs of rural communities,” Walker said. 

UPDATE 2:35 Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania 

Santorum sat on stage with Rastetter, like other potential candidates. He opened reminding Iowans that he traveled to all 99 counties during his last presidential campaign, and touted that he was the first Pennsylvania senator in 100 years to serve on the agriculture committee.

Santorum spoke about healthcare briefly, saying, “All of these things have to be market driven.”

Santorum continued to say he supports the market working and not the federal government intervening into the economy.

Rastetter asked him how the market would help bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Santorum responded by saying he is not “particularly sold on the idea” of climate change and the science behind it.

“On the other hand, we need to be good stewards of our environment,” Santorum said. “I consider myself a conservationist.”

On the issue of labeling GMOs, Santorum told Rastetter there is no scientific reason to label.

Santorum also briefly touched on the issues he discussed in his book at the working, blue-collar middle class, saying the U.S. should identify those who are struggling.

Santorum said the government should develop “policies for the ladder to climb to the top” for those struggling.

UPDATE 2:30: U.S. Rep. David Young of Iowa

Young, the freshman congressman who replaced former Rep. Tom Latham, gave a quick speech mostly focused on regulations and overreach by the federal government.

“Rules and regulations are pouring out at an enormous rate,” Young said.

On the Clean Water Act, Young said it’s harmful to agriculture and that Congress should get rid of it.

Talking more about overreach and government regulations, Young said, “No one knows better about the farm land than the farmer.”

Young said there is not leadership in the White House at the moment and President Obama has overstepped his authority.

“It sets a precedent,” Young said. “We need to keep the executive branch in check.”

UPDATE 2:05: Former New York Gov. George Pataki

Pataki joined Ratstetter on stage, starting the conversation with his family farming background.  

When it comes to farm runoff, Pataki suggested non-point source solutions similar to those he implemented in New York.  For larger farms, Pataki used methane digestion which turns manure into energy. Partaki said small farms could apply for grants to fund conservation programs.

Pataki took a different stance than many of his counterparts on RFS and ethanol, saying, “We should push it, but not make people buy it.”

The next issue Pataki took on was immigration.  He proposed a streamlined process with longer programs for contract workers.  To address the illegal immigrants already in America, Pataki suggested mandatory community service along with legal status.  

Pataki had no opposition to giving the president free trade authority, however he stressed free trade must go both ways.  Pataki referred to Cuba as a “stalinist state,” arguing against trade with them. 

“My advice would be to start all over,” Pataki said in reference to tax reforms.  “It would put lobbyists out of business and believe me, I think that would be a very good thing for America.”

UPDATE 1:45: U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa

King, who represents Iowa State and Ames in Congress, gave a quick speech praising the RFS, and telling Iowan’s they have a big opportunity to make the right decision when it comes to picking the next president.

“It’s the holy grail,” King said of the RFS.

King also said more should be done on renewable fuels.

“Lets develop renewable fuels here,” King said. “We can market that to the world.”

On picking the next president, King said, “Lets get this right. We can can get Iowa values in the White House.”

UPDATE 1:05: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina

Graham came out on the offensive, jumping ahead on many questions and answering them before Rastetter could even ask. On the issue of foreign oil and renewable fuels, Graham said he is open to the usage of all mediums.

“If we got it, let’s use it,” Graham said.

To follow up, Graham jumped on the issue of aging infrastructure. Graham, whose state has an interest in shipping, talked at length about the need to deepen ports on the coasts and update infrastructure in waterways such as the Mississippi River. 

Graham continued by saying that if ports and infrastructure are strong, then increased trade relations can commence. 

“Trade is a two way street,” Graham said in reference to the need for imports as well as exports to countries such as China.

Graham denounced the usage of currency manipulation in trade, while stating that the trade of GMOs should not be restricted. Graham made claims that the European embargo of GMOs contributes to starvation in many third world countries in Africa. Graham did say however, that if science can prove that GMOs were harmful, he’d listen.

“[We have to] push for good science, not political agendas,” Graham said.

Graham followed by answering questions about the EPA and their proposed regulations which could have a large effect on farming. Graham stated that if the proposed EPA regulation on farming becomes law, it will make it extremely hard for farms to stay in business.

“There’s no way to get to the EPA,” Graham said, “so we have to bring these people under control.”

On the issue of taxes, Graham said he’s in favor of creating a simpler tax code that rewards people for taking risks in the marketplace, especially entrepreneurs. 

“You should be rewarded when you take risks, not punished,” Graham said.

From there the conversation turned to entitlements, where Graham said reform is necessary. Graham said the government needs to look at the retirement age in order to keep entitlements such as social security and medicare from running dry. Graham added that immigration reform could help alleviate the stress put on the entitlement system.

“If you can walk across your border, you can’t fix it,” Graham said.

Graham said that the government needs to look at more tightly monitoring visas for expiration as well as making it easier to bring legal immigrants into the United States. 

Graham finished his speech by saying that he understands that the Republican party can’t get everything it wants due to the fact that they must work with the opposing Democratic party. However, Graham said that he is willing to work with Democrats to reform the immigration system. 

UPDATE 12:15: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas

Cruz spoke on stage with Rastetter for about 20 minutes, focusing on how the federal government should not be involved in a lot of agriculture issues. He emphasized most things should be determined by the market and not through regulations.

On immigration, Cruz spoke out against illegal immigration, saying their is “no stronger advocate for legal immigration” than him in the Senate.

Cruz added there is bipartisan support in the Senate for securing the border.

Cruz took aim at corporate welfare while discussing subsidies. Cruz has spoken out against the RFS in the past and at the event said he supports bio-fuels but not the RFS mandate.

Rastetter asked Cruz about GMO labeling. Cruz responded with, “I believe in science,” and blasted the left for calling him “anti-science.” 

“We shouldn’t allow anti-science zealotry to shut down [GMO production],” Cruz added.

Towards the end, Cruz talked healthcare, saying, “We need to get government bureaucrats out of the way from you and your doctor.”

“We need to repeal every word of Obamacare,” Cruz added.

Cruz also called for consumers being able to purchase healthcare across state lines, which would give them more purchasing power. He also called for delinking healthcare from employment, so workers could keep their insurance from job-to-job. 

UPDATE 11:50: U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa

Ernst, Iowas newest senator, received a loud applause as she took the stage.

Ernst told stories of growing up in Iowa, emphasizing her parents worked hard and taught her the value of hard work.

Ernst also told the story of a farmer in her hometown that was seriously injured, but neighbors came to his support and harvested all of his crops.

Ernst then went into some policy issues, saying over regulation is one of the topics she hears most when traveling throughout Iowa.

“We don’t need that type of [federal] oversight,” Ernst said. “A farm in Maryland is different than a farm in Iowa.”

Ernst said a once size fits all approach to regulations does not work.

She added that a spot on the agriculture committee with Sen. Grassley allows her to fight against overburdensome regulations.

“It’s a great way to fight,” Ernst said.

Ernst ended telling those in the crowd she loves to visit with them, encouraging them to call her office and staff, and to visit with her in Washington and while she is in Iowa.

UPDATE 11:40 : Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Perry began with an anecdote about his childhood talking about how he raised animals for 4-H in his youth. From there the conversation turned to food and energy security for both the United States and the world. Perry said that one of the keys to this is trade. Perry said he’s in favor of removing barriers to trade, adding that America needs someone who can get a good deal when it comes to international agreements.

“I think we got a bad deal,” Perry said in reference to recent negations with Cuba.

Perry added that not only did the American people get what he called a bad deal, but the Cuban people did, too. 

Regardless, Perry insisted that international trade crucial, especially trade with China.

“[They] practice communism at night and capitalism in the daytime,” Perry said in reference to China. 

On the RFS issue, Perry said that the RFS is not a federal issue, but is rather a state issue. This push for state instead of federal legislation and regulation, on all issues, was a continuing theme in Perry’s discussion with Rastetter.

Perry skirted the issue of GMOs, saying he understands what it’s like to produce agricultural products. As per the actual issue of labeling of GMOs, he didn’t answer directly, but said more should be done to educate the public that GMOs are safe. 

Perry concluded his conversation by saying that there is a need for the Keystone XL Pipeline in order to reduce energy costs and help fuel economic growth. 

UPDATE 11:20: Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Patty Judge

Judge had one message share with the audience: support the RFS.

Judge said that the arguments against ethanol are simply not true. She said a loss of the RFS will result in farm income, job losses, higher prices at the pump and will be a boost to big oil. 

“The nay-sayers don’t realize just how much corn Iowa can raise,” Judge said.

UPDATE 11:00: Iowa State President Steven Leath 

ISU President Leath spoke briefly, giving several shout outs to Iowa State.

Leath said that ISU is “spearheading” bio-based products for the next generation. Leath also mentioned the Iowa State Extension and Outreach program.

UPDATE 10:50: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

Bush took the stage ready to tackle questions on GMOs, trade, healthcare, and the EPA.

Bush began by saying that the United States needs to take advantage of trade abilities, adding that they should do so with Cuba when Cuba is free.

“We should ultimately trade with Cuba when they’re free,” Bush said.

Bush attacked the problem of illegal immigration, saying that legal immigration should be easier than illegal immigration. Bush said that the United States immigration system should take heed from the Canadian system. Bush called for immigration that helps spur economic growth, citing a need for programs such as a guest worker program which would allow for workers who are needed for temporary agricultural jobs. 

When questioned about the RFS, Bush said that the EPA needs to be more clear on their guidelines in regards to the RFS so that the American public can make long term investments. Bush continued that eventually the market should decide the fate of the RFS. 

While on the topic of the EPA as well as other federal agencies, Bush said he had a solution in order to bring about reform.

“First thing you need to do is change presidents,” Bush said to his first big applause, adding, “there’s no reason the federal government should be the end-all be-all of regulation.” 

Bush ended the interview with Rastetter by saying that the educational system should be challenged in order to provide better education. He added that broadband should be brought to all communities, and Bush said that healthcare is an issue that needs to be heavily reformed. Bush called for a return to market driven healthcare and the dismemberment of Obamacare. 

UPDATE 10:20: U.S. Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa

Blum’s speech started lightheartedly. 

“After spending all week in Washington, D.C., it’s great to be back in America,” Blum said. 

Blum’s speech focused on raising wages for Iowa’s working families, and rolling back EPA authority so that farmers have the ability to farm more effectively.

Blum finished by urging potential candidates at the even to “listen to we the people.”

UPDATE 10:15: U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Sen. Grassley gave a speech following Huckabee’s conversation with Rastetter.

Grassley spoke at length about overreach from the EPA, also calling it a federal “power grab,” especially EPA regulation of waters.

Grassley also spoke in support of the RFS and gave a nod to President George W. Bush for supporting the RFS.

“There is nothing negative about ethanol,” Grassley said. “It’s good, good good.”

Grassley spoke briefly on what American should do to become more energy independent.

“We need to lean ourselves from foreign oil and approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” Grassley said.

Grassley ended his quick speech talking about how everyone needs to act constitutionally, likely a quick shot at President Obama.

UPDATE: 10:00: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

Huckabee was the second potential candidate to sit on stage with Rastetter. 

Huckabee touted some work he has done when he was governor of Arkansas.

“As Governor, we focused on rural accessibility of health care and education,” Huckabee said.

Rastetter asked Huckabee about GMO labeling. Huckabee said country of origin labeling would make more sense that requiring labeling from the United States.

“The science on GMO has been consistence that it’s safe,” Huckabee said.

Rastetter also asked about immigration, an issue that has split some Republicans, Huckabee said he questions some immigrants who come just to get free food, education and other services America offers.

“We are not asking why people are coming,” Huckabee said. 

On Cuba, Huckabee was reluctant to lift the trade embargo until Cuba gives its people some liberty and releases some of the political prisoners.

“They kick their people in the groin,” Huckabee said of Cuban leaders.

When asked about free trade, Huckabee said, “if it’s not fair trade, it’s not free trade.”

Huckabee received a huge applause as he walked off stage just after 10 a.m.

UPDATE: 9:45: Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds

Reynolds, who took the stage alone, applauded the forum, noting that it was an effective way to talk about Iowa needs in front of a national audience. Reynolds’ speech leaned heavily on small town values and how those values correlate with international trade.

Reynolds followed up by citing a trade mission in South Korea where Iowa partnered with the CJ Group in order to bring over 300 jobs to the Fort Dodge area. 

Reynolds continued, citing industry leaders as saying that Iowa is a hotbed of bioscience development.

Wrapping up, Reynolds said that Iowa’s focus on STEM education as well as progress seen in water quality due to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy are signs that Iowa is heading, and leading the rest of the nation, in the right direction. 

UPDATE: 9:30: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Gov. Christie was the first speaker to sit next to Rastetter on stage. 

Christie said he has some issues with possibly opening up trade with Cuba, a proposal the Obama administration laid out earlier this year.

Rastetter asked Christie about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Christie said he would support the RFS if he was president and said President Obama should implement the standard right now.

“A competent president would do that,” Christie said. “We don’t have a national energy policy.”

On programs that address environmental conservation, Christie said states should determine rules and regulations, not the federal government.

“Programs should be voluntary, but not optional,” Christie said.

Christie said the EPA is a “federal power grab,” and once again said most laws should be determined by states.

On the issue of GMO’s, Christie was blunt with his answer on if labeling should be required.

“No,” Christie said. “I don’t see a problem with food safety in this country.”

UPDATE: 9:05: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad

Gov. Branstad took the stage to a generally warm audience, except for those protesting factory farms. Branstad’s speech focused on agriculture, renewable energy, and broadband internet connectivity for every acre of Iowa. 

“Agriculture is not a partisan issue,” Branstad said to a round of applause.

Branstad said that the EPA and the Obama administration is to blame for recent plummets in commodity prices, most notably in the price of corn.

“[Corn prices] are below the cost of production,” Branstad said.

Branstad ended his speech by citing the benefits and recent advances in both cellulosic and corn ethanol and also noting Iowa’s advances in wind and solar production.