At State Fair, Iowans Wish Candidates Had Stayed in Washington

Photograph by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Drought stricken corn on the McIntosh farm in Missouri Valley, Iowa, on August 13, 2012.

Struck by the worst drought in more than a half-century and the focus of swing-state campaigning, Iowa is getting plenty of attention from politicians. President Barack Obama concludes a three-day trip in the state tomorrow. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the newly-named Republican vice-presidential candidate, stopped by the Iowa State Fair earlier this week.

Some residents, however, would prefer the politicians tend to their chores in Washington, such as passing a new farm bill, rather than barnstorming about the state with their hands out for votes.

“Come on, let’s get it done,” said Craig Hill, the president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation said in an interview at the fair in Des Moines. “There’s a lot of frustration.”

A program in the current farm bill to aid livestock producers expired last year. The U.S. Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have approved bills to replace the current law, both of which which contain livestock-relief provisions. House Republican leaders have not set a vote on their legislation.

“They’re not thinking about farmers. They’re thinking about politics,” said Ed Lapke, 70, who raises corn and soybeans near Dunlap, Iowa, about 100 miles west of Des Moines, and whose granddaughter had just won recognition for raising the best Charolais breeding heifer at the fair.

The House on Aug. 2 approved a $383 million stopgap measure to reinstate the livestock aid, while the Senate took no action. The current agriculture law, passed in 2008, expires in September.

“We have a lot of finger-pointing in Washington, there isn’t a lot of problem-solving,” said Terry Branstad, the Republican governor of the state. Some federal actions, such as opening acreage for grazing on lands set aside for conservation, have been helpful, he said. Still, more could be done, such as enacting livestock assistance, he said.

Iowa, the leading U.S. producer of corn, soybeans, pork and ethanol, narrowly favored George W. Bush in 2004 and jump-started Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 before picking him over John McCain that November.

Obama leads Romney 45.3 percent to 44.3 percent in an average of four state polls since May compiled by the website Real Clear Politics.

One in six Iowa jobs is tied to agriculture, according to a 2009 study by Iowa State University economist Dan Otto. Punishing heat is withering the farms that have helped Iowa weather the worst of the recession. This year, 51 percent of the state’s corn crop was in poor or worse condition as of Aug. 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said this week.

At this point in the growing season, little can be done to improve the crop, Hill said. “Rain right now doesn’t matter” for corn, he said.

The drought is decreasing income for farmers, said Andy Long, 32, who raises corn, soybeans and cattle outside Ottumwa, Iowa, about 70 miles southeast of Des Moines.

“The hay we usually bale isn’t there, and the farmers we bale it for don’t want to pay for it, so they’re selling their cattle,” Long said. Still, he isn’t looking for, or expecting, much aid: Making ends meet and raising a family leave little time for thinking about politics, anyway, said Long.

“There’s so much to do,” he said. “I’ve kind of lost interest in it.”

Margaret Talev contributed to this post

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