Think about how much U.S. agriculture has changed in the last 25 years, then try to fathom how much it may change in the next 25 years. Now, think about the challenge of feeding nine billion people in the future – that’s why a forum to discuss agriculture is important and necessary.

That’s how Bruce Rastetter, an influential Iowa agri-businessman and organizer of the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit, welcomed the 1,000-plus people and dozens of media representatives who attended the inaugural event last Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. Twenty-five percent of the world’s Grade A farmland is in Iowa, says Rastetter, which is why Iowa has a responsibility to increase efficiency and help feed the world. The question is whether or not government will be an asset or a liability in that endeavor.

Nine potential presidential candidates, including Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker (listed in the order they appeared) were on hand to answer variations of the same questions in individual, 20-minutes interviews with Rastetter.

Topics included the renewable fuel standard (RFS), the Trans-Pacific trade agreement, EPA’s position on Waters of the U.S., trade with Cuba, food safety and genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). In the essence of space, this article will review the candidates’ positions on RFS.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Christie believes the executive branch needs to execute on the RFS. “The law requires the president to establish RFS and he should,” said Christie. He would support RFS, but he feels there should be one package that includes all kinds of energy, including wind and solar.

Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas
“American must feed itself, fuel itself and fight for itself,” says Huckabee. “The degree to which we outsource those things is the key to our freedom. We’d better make decisions that are better for every consumer at the end level and have a broad energy portfolio so we’re never again held hostage.”

He says we need to make sure America is not an importer but an exporter of energy, and RFS is just one component of energy independence and security.  He added, “The worst thing we do with any government program is that we give it eternal life. No government program should be given unquenchable life.” In other words, once a program is up and running, and the use of renewable fuel is a standard practice, then it might be time to end the support system.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush
“EPA should have a much more certain playing field,” says Bush when asked about RFS. “Ultimately, whether it’s ethanol or any fuel – the markets are going to have to decide this. As we move forward, there should be certainty for people to invest. We need to find the most cost-effective energy and let the market decide.”

He wasn’t going to “rubber-stamp” approval of the RFS, but he does feel the industry needs clarity going forward.

When asked about wind energy, he says, “Wind – I love it for Iowa – it’s not so good for Florida.” Although, he points out, a Florida-based company is the largest wind energy company in the country. It’s created an industry, he says, but the credits should be phased out over a certain period of time.

“If you believe in markets working, we need to get to that point for all of our energy sources,” he says.

Governor Bush spent quite a bit of time in Iowa last weekend. He was 26 when his dad ran for president. He says, “I came [to Iowa] in 1979 and went to 50 counties or more. I remember eating really well and meeting a lot of nice people.” 

Former Governor of Texas, Rick Perry
Perry supports the RFS but doesn’t think politicians in Washington, D.C. should be making these decisions. He says, “I don’t think you pull the RFS out and discriminate against the RFS and leave all the other policies in place.” On the other hand, he says, “I think they need to be put on the table and prove if they’re in the best interest of this country. I philosophically disagree with the government putting programs into place that impact education, health care and food.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz
Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz is the junior United States Senator from Texas. Elected in 2012 as a Republican, he is the first Latino to serve the office of U.S. Senator from Texas. Cruz is opposed to ethanol subsidies, though he “support biofuels and ethanol. I also don’t think Washington should be picking winners and losers. I feel it should be a free market and the market should decide. People are pretty fed up with politicians who tell one group one thing and tell another group another thing,” he says.

When Rastetter countered with the fact that the oil companies won’t use ethanol in a blend unless it’s required, Cruz responded that access to markets “was a far bigger problem 10 years ago than it is now. Market access is a fair concern, but there are remedies in the anti-trust laws if ethanol is being blocked.

He mentions that Texas and Iowa are one and two in the country in terms of wind energy and there is a wind tax credit. But once again, he says, “I don’t think the federal government should dictate that [tax credit]. I have been an outspoken opponent to corporate welfare. I think we need to be fiscally responsible and I have every bit of faith that businesses will continue to do well without going to Washington on bended knee and asking for favors.”

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham
Graham was witty and at ease with the audience at the Iowa Ag Summit. In discussing energy, he jokingly says, “What would Putin be without gas? – I’m going to give you a minute to think about that.”

Graham believes the ethanol mandate is a good idea because “you have to make sure you can continue to invest because you have certainty,” he says. He feels this country needs a flatter, simpler tax, and we need a tax policy that will reward risk.

He also feels the retirement age must be adjusted, or the whole economy will suffer. He quips, “Strom Thurmond had three kids after the age of 67. If you’re not willing to do that, then we need social security reform. Eight trillion dollars has been promised in benefits, and if we don’t reform that promise, the United States is going to be grease.”

Former Governor of New York, George Pataki
Pataki doesn’t think the federal government should force anyone to buy anything, whether it’s renewable fuel or Obamacare. When a gasoline station signs a contract with a supplier, they are sometimes denied the option to add other fuels.

“The solution is not mandating people to buy something – it’s giving them choice,” says Pataki. “Ethanol is a good thing for America and the world and we should push it, but not by forcing people to buy it.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum
Santorum was the first Pennsylvania senator in more than100 years to serve on the Senate Ag Committee. He also won the Iowa caucus in 2012.

"When you have a vertically integrated oil industry, it's important that other types of competitive products are allowed into that stream," Santorum said. "And that's what the (RFS) is meant to do."

Lower energy prices will allow manufacturers to spend more on human capital.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Walker is a straight shooter when it comes to welfare and other controversial topics, which is why a lot of people in his home state don’t like him. He took a strong pro stance on RFS, saying he believes in a free and open market but it’s an access issue. As a result, he’s willing to support RFS so going forward, “farmers know that when they’re making the decision about growing crops, they have a clear direction. We need to directly address those market access issues.”

Lots of Choices
The views of these nine people were diverse, with clear differences of opinion. Look for follow-up articles on the potential candidates’ views on Cuba, GMOs and other issues.