As a general rule, farmers do not like to be the center of attention. In fact, getting producers to take center stage and talk about themselves and their operations can be a real challenge. While many are getting better at telling their stories, for the most part, it is not something that comes naturally. But, suddenly, Indiana farmers find themselves in the national political spotlight as the race for the U.S. Senate seat from Indiana takes on added importance.
The Labor Day holiday is the unofficial beginning the political season, when candidates turn up the rhetoric and campaign ads hit the airwaves. The Indiana Senate seat currently held by Joe Donnelly is one of the key races nationally that may hold the key to which party controls the Senate in 2019. Both parties have framed this race as a referendum on the President. Democrats are hoping to take back control of both the House and Senate to thwart the President’s policies and set up a strong race for the White House in 2020. Republicans hope to take back the seat they lost 4 years ago and consolidate the strong support for the President that Indiana showed 2 years ago.
Indiana farmers are a key part of that support and, as a result, find themselves at the center of an intense pollical storm. The decision farmers will have to make at the ballot box this fall is not going to be easy. Indiana Farm Bureau President Randy Kron said there are a number of conflicting issues at stake and feels most have not yet made up their minds. IFB has decided not to take a position on the Senate race. Last election farmers were strong supporters of President Trump because of his promise to put a muzzle on the EPA, get tough on trade, support ethanol, and reduce regulations. Yet, all has not gone as well as many had hoped.
The trade war has caused massive market disruptions and lower prices, The EPA has not yet approved year-round sales of E-15, and WOTUS is still with us and in force. The question being asked by political pollsters daily is: will farmers still support the President?
Making this question a bit more difficult is that Senator Joe Donnelly has been a strong and outspoken advocate for agriculture. Sitting on the ag committee, he has been very involved in writing the new Farm Bill, supporting conservation, sponsoring ethanol legislation, and fighting against WOTUS. He has also been very engaged with the farm community, attending meetings and speaking at events. He has enjoyed a very high approval rating in the farm community. Will that be enough this fall?
Challenger Mike Braun has tied his campaign very close to the President. He maintains that a vote for him is a vote of support for Mr. Trump. While he has only spoken sparingly about agricultural issues, sending a Republican back to Washington from Indiana may have a significant impact on several key farm policy questions. Chuck Connor, with the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, told a Ceres Solutions field day event last week that the outcome of the mid-term elections will determine the direction and outcome of our trade war with China. “If the Democrats take control of the Congress, the President’s ability to conduct trade negotiations will be severely limited,” stated the former top USDA official under the Bush administration.
So, will farmers vote their pocketbooks or political practicality? Randy Kron feels most will not make up their minds until after harvest. In any case, both sides will be focusing on the farm community for support, and the national spotlight will shine brightly on Indiana agriculture asking the question: what will they do? The outcome may have large and long-term consequences for U.S. farm policy.
By Gary Truitt