Agriculture Needs Representation… Who Will Fill the Bill?
Breaking news yesterday was a bit shocking as Congressman Tom Latham, my uncle and former sales manager for Latham Seeds, announced that he won’t seek reelection to Congress in 2014.
“My service to Iowa has never been motivated by titles, accolades or a drive to secure a place for my name in history or on a building,” Congressman Latham wrote in an email to constituents. “I have always been motivated by a responsibility and commitment to the people of Iowa, who elected me to faithfully work for an America that provides greater freedom and more opportunity for our children and grandchildren. But responsible leaders – regardless of what level they serve – must always take time to reflect on when it is time to step away from the task that they love. This is a discussion that I have every year with my family. They are my life.”
After 39 years of frequent travel and many long hours at the office, I can see how anyone would want to retire and enjoy “free time.” During the first 20 years of Tom and Kathy’s marriage, Tom worked tirelessly to make a name for Latham® brand soybeans and to build a dealer network. Since 1994, he has worked tirelessly to represent Iowans in our nation’s Capitol.
Tom has accomplished much in Congress, including securing funds for the national facility for USDA Animal Health in Ames. He has been one of our country’s strongest advocates for ethanol and was awarded the 2012 “Fueling Growth Award” from a group representing America’s ethanol producers, who acknowledged his work for consistent and predictable federal policy that has helped create jobs in America. He fought to preserve the tradition of protecting family farms from their own government by introducing the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act. And as much as he has fought to make investments in rural America, he never lost sight of the fact that budgets must balance.
Indeed, Tom is a rarity in Congress. There aren’t folks serving in Congress or working in Washington, D.C., today who understand farming or life in rural America. The fact that population is shrinking in rural America means that, for first time in our country’s history, the influence of agriculture is waning. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, while addressing a group of farm leaders last winter during a Farm Journal Forum, said rural America is becoming less relevant.
Lack of passion and commitment to agriculture is a major problem for all of us who live and/or work in rural America. Ag literacy is one of our top challenges at the federal level. Because Tom was raised on what is now an Iowa Century Farm in Franklin County and had agribusiness experience, he was often asked questions by fellow Congressman and staffers as they considered agricultural bills and policy changes. There are only a handful of congressmen who share Tom’s background, experience, passion and commitment to agriculture.
As a result, things nobody would have imagined happening 40 years ago are happening now. The EPA is cutting the ethanol mandate. Activists are going against sound science, demanding GMO labeling and trying to force seed companies out of states like Hawaii. It’s difficult to pass a Farm Bill of any kind these days.
Unfortunately, we don’t have enough government leaders who understand modern U.S. agriculture and its contributions to feeding the world. Tom Latham understands the importance of this noble mission. He has been a beacon of light for agriculture, and his light will be missed. So as happy as I am for Uncle Tom and his immediate family, I’m sad for agriculture.