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iowa ag secretary forum
RUNNING: The May 17 forum sponsored by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association featured all six candidates for Iowa secretary of agriculture from both parties.

Comparing the candidates for Iowa ag secretary

Five Republicans and one Democrat are on the ballot in June 5 primary election.

In most states, the position of secretary of agriculture or director of agriculture is appointed by the governor. In Iowa, it’s an elected office, and there’s a bumper crop of candidates on the ballot in the primary election to be held June 5.

There’s only one Democrat in the field: Tim Gannon, a former associate administrator of the Risk Management Agency at USDA.

Five Republicans are running in the primary for the chance to face Gannon in the fall election.

They are:
• Ray Gaesser, former chairman and president of the American Soybean Association
• Chad Ingels, former chair of the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission
• Craig Lang, former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation
• Mike Naig, current Iowa secretary of agriculture
• Dan Zumbach, Iowa state senator

Why so many candidates?
Iowa has a history of not voting out incumbent secretaries of agriculture. When the position comes open, it draws multiple candidates. The state ag secretary position opened up earlier this year when Bill Northey, first elected in 2006, decided to accept a position at USDA in Washington, D.C.

When Northey was finally named USDA undersecretary of agriculture in March, the deputy Iowa secretary of agriculture, Mike Naig, was appointed by the governor to fill the rest of Northey’s term in Iowa.

Several ag candidate forums have been held in various locations around Iowa in recent months. One was May 17 at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City. Sponsored by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, the bipartisan forum focused on questions about renewable fuels and other ag policy issues. Grant Menke, policy director of IRFA, moderated the candidates’ presentations and discussion. Check out the YouTube video online.

Trade, water quality debated
At the various ag candidate forums the past few months, candidates were asked questions ranging from their views on U.S. trade policy to Iowa’s water quality efforts to the recruiting of younger farmers to replace the many farmers who are nearing retirement. Renewable fuels policy, especially E15 and the need for an increased volume of higher blends of ethanol to be offered for sale to motorists, was also discussed, as were livestock regulations.

One issue is how to get the long-debated state sales tax in place to provide more cost-share funding for conservation efforts. To meet goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, there’s a need to boost the amount of cover crop acreage by millions of acres and how to best target the limited amount of conservation money available.

The candidates pointed out that the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and its partners have spent considerable effort the past five years demonstrating conservation practices. Now, the need is to focus on implementing practices on a larger scale in larger watersheds.

More info on candidates available
Ray Gaesser
, 65, is a full-time farmer in the Corning area in southern Iowa. He served a term as president of the Iowa Soybean Association before becoming president of the American Soybean Association. He took part in dozens of trade missions to other countries. Visit

Chad Ingels, 41, raises crops and hogs near Randalia in northeast Iowa. He worked for 16 years for Iowa State University on various water quality projects. Having served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, he’s very familiar with water quality policy and related issues. Visit

Craig Lang, 67, is widely known as the former president of Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. A lifetime dairy farmer from Brooklyn in Poweshiek County, he also served on the Iowa Board of Regents and Iowa Department of Economic Development board. Visit

Mike Naig, 40, is the youngest of the candidates. He grew up on a farm at Cylinder in northwest Iowa, graduated from Buena Vista College and worked in Washington, D.C., for a trade association before returning to Iowa. He served as Iowa deputy secretary of agriculture under Northey for more than four years. Visit

Dan Zumbach, 57, is a Delaware County farmer and an Iowa state senator. His six years in the Iowa Legislature and experience running for office and dealing with the public is important, he says. He’s always had a passion for agriculture and survived the challenges of farming, including starting out farming in the difficult financial times of the 1980s. Visit

Tim Gannon, 41, is a former USDA associate administrator who returned to Iowa to farm with his father near Mingo. If elected Iowa ag secretary, he says he will focus on trade and export promotion, and identifying new markets for Iowa ag products while protecting soil and water and encouraging economic development in rural Iowa. Visit

Candidates signal support for biofuels
IRFA on May 29 released the results of its survey of 2018 candidates running for governor of Iowa and for Iowa secretary of agriculture. All candidates who returned surveys show strong support for Iowa biofuels and policies that impact their growth. 

“Given the tremendous impact Iowa biofuels have on the state’s economy, and the continuing economic challenges confronting rural Iowa, it is of the utmost importance that the next Iowa governor and Iowa secretary of agriculture share a vision for the state that involves a robust biofuels sector,” says IRFA’s Grant Menke.

Iowa’s renewable fuels industry accounts for $5 billion of the state’s gross domestic product, generates $2.4 billion in income for Iowa households and supports more than 46,000 jobs throughout all sectors of the Iowa economy. “We were encouraged that every survey returned indicated strong support for Iowa biofuels,” Menke says. “It is our hope voters will take the candidates’ views on this important issue under consideration on primary day, Tuesday, June 5.” 

To view the IRFA survey results, click here.

Iowa Farm Bureau also has a website listing the candidates’ answers to questions on critical issues for farmers and all Iowans.


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