“This editorial board sees Thicke as being head and shoulders above the competition, and we want him as our next secretary of Agriculture.” So said the Iowa State Daily editorial board in its endorsement of my candidacy for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Here is their full endorsement statement: Last week the Daily’s Editorial Board ran [...]
Many of us in rural Iowa grew up saying “Smell that money!” as we passed family farms with sows and pigs after a big rain. Agriculture was more diversified then, and many farms had pasture-farrowed pig operations – “mortgage burners,” they were called – that could always be counted on for cash flow twice a year.
That’s not money you’re smelling now when you drive past row after row of barns jammed with pigs and chickens – at least it’s not money in the pockets of family farmers.
Secretary of Agriculture Candidate Francis Thicke responded by saying “Bill Northey is wrong and Terry Branstad is selling Iowan’s short,” and that “It is clear they don’t want you to have a say in what goes on in your community.”
Chapter 28 – Energy Policy
A scientist friend of mine recently said to me privately, “corn ethanol is not part of an energy policy, it is part of a corn policy.” He also pointed out that corn ethanol is not really a renewable fuel because both corn production and ethanol production are highly dependent upon nonrenewable fossil fuels. He makes some good points. It could also be argued that the crops most heavily subsidized by federal farm programs provide the least resilience on the landscape and are the least resource-conserving. For example, the most heavily subsidized crops in Iowa are the annual crops corn and soybeans which, as we saw above, create the most vulnerability for soil erosion and nutrient loss to water resources.
Francis Thicke points out that it was the over-exuberance of ethanol advocates like Northey that encouraged the ethanol industry to overbuild, which contributed to the industry’s financial distress when the ethanol market contracted. Thicke says, “Economists had warned that the ethanol industry was being over-built, but we did not hear that caution from Mr. Northey.”
Chapter 23 – Biochar
Biochar has many potential uses. It can be burned as a fuel, and it has many potential commercial and industrial uses. But, probably the most important potential use for biochar is as a soil amendment. When added to soils, biochar increases the water-holding and nutrient-holding capacity of soils, thereby reducing the need for irrigation and fertilizers.
Chapter 21 – Toward Sustainable Energy Self-Sufficiency for Agriculture
A three-pronged approach for moving agriculture toward sustainable energy self-sufficiency is 1) convert to farming systems with lower energy requirements, 2) develop systems to produce renewable energy on farms that can be used to power farms and 3) convert to more resilient cropping systems – like perennial crops – for biofuels production.
Chapter 19 – Biofuels: Cars vs. Agriculture
Clearly, the way out of being held hostage by high oil prices is to become a lot less dependent on oil. While there may be many strategies agriculture can pursue to reduce dependency on oil and other fossil fuels, they generally fall under two major categories: 1) become more energy-efficient in order to reduce energy needs, and 2) replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.
Chapter 18 – Energy Use in Agriculture
Agriculture today is highly dependent on fossil-fuel energy. Even a causal observation of today’s industrial agriculture leads to the inescapable conclusion that our system of agriculture would not be possible without cheap fossil fuels.
This week I am touring Iowa to announce my comprehensive energy policy for agriculture that shifts new public incentives to wind and biofuel systems that:
- Produce energy to power agriculture,
- Are farmer-scale and farmer-owned, and put profits in farmers’ pockets, and
- Are truly sustainable and renewable.