By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent
CLEVELAND (DTN) -- A series of high-ranking Republicans on Wednesday urged farm leaders to be unified in supporting the Republican ticket this fall. But they barely mentioned the name of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, leaving the pitch for him to a Nebraska farmer and agribusiness executive who will chair Trump's farm and rural committee.
Representatives of most of the nation's major farm groups and agribusiness firms attended the Great American Farm Luncheon, a Republican National Convention tradition.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam; House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas; Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, all urged attendees to vote Republican, but they either did not mention Trump's name or only in passing. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and other current and past members of Congress were also present, but they did not speak.
Ted McKinney, the Indiana agriculture director appointed by Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, also spoke. McKinney said Pence "has a sense of our culture. He gets the hard part of agriculture."
If Trump and Pence are elected, McKinney said, "American agriculture will be at the fore. It will not be forgotten." Pence has held a governors' conference on agriculture and convinced the FFA (formerly the Future Farmers of America) to bring its annual convention to Indianapolis for at least nine years.
The Trump pitch was left to Charles Herbster, president and CEO of the Conklin Company and Herbster Angus Farms in Falls City, Nebraska.
"We need to be passionate about this next election," said Herbster, who was a candidate for governor of Nebraska in 2013, but dropped out due to his wife's illness. His biography says he has a mission "to bring God back into the corporate boardroom."
Herbster said he is putting together a farm, ranch and rural group for Trump with the assistance of Sam Clovis, a professor at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, who became associated with the Trump campaign in 2015 after leaving the presidential campaign of Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped out. Herbster told DTN after the event that a farm and rural advisory board will be announced in about two weeks.
Herbster, who said his speech was written by Clovis, said he "knows" that Trump understands that food security is national security. Trump also will immediately address elimination of the "death tax," the term preferred by Republicans for the estate tax. Trump also understands "we have to revitalize rural America," and will bring "common sense" to land management in the western states.
Herbster also maintained that Trump is a supporter of free trade. Herbster said, "believes in trade just as much as anyone in the room," but believes the United States needs better-negotiated trade agreements because "we keep coming up on the short end of the stick" and this "is not good for manufacturing."
Herbster, who has previously told the media he has known Trump for 10 years, said he has visited New York three times in the last five weeks on campaign business. Herbster added, "Hillary Clinton is not an option for president."
Herbster told the attendees, "Donald Trump may have been your tenth pick" in the primaries, but the possibility that Clinton would make appointments to the Supreme Court should motivate them to support Trump now.
CropLife America President and CEO Jay Vroom was the master of ceremonies but noted that National Council of Farmer Co-operatives President and CEO Charles Conner, a former Agriculture deputy secretary, was his co-chair.
Vroom established the second theme of the event by telling the attendees that they must "stop talking to ourselves" and "dedicate ourselves to communicating" with the broader society.
Throughout the event, there were references to the difficulty convincing urban consumers and college students of the value of commercial-scale agriculture. David Daniels, director of the Ohio Agriculture Department, an appointee of Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, noted that he has to communicate with "people who live in a loft" and "have never been on a farm" and have a nostalgia for old-style farming.
Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Adam Sharp said Ohio has 14 million acres of farm land and 11 million people, which means farmers need to raise crops and animals in close proximity to urbanites. That proximity makes it particularly difficult to raise pigs on a commercial scale, Sharp noted.
Putnam, who is often mentioned as a candidate for governor, made the most impassioned speech in favor of voting Republican. Putnam said farmers' biggest threat today is not the weather but the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Internal Revenue Service and the Labor Department.
"Hillary Clinton won't fix them," Putnam said. "The biggest obstacle to [agriculture] is our federal government."
The people attending the luncheon need "to support people up and down the ballot," Putnam said. The farm states will be battleground states, Putnam said, adding "even my state to a degree." (Polls show Clinton as much as nine points ahead of Trump in Florida.)
Putnam did not mention Trump, but said, "It doesn't matter who your pick was in the primary."
Of Pence, Putnam said, "Pence is our people."
Putnam also expressed frustration with the larger political atmosphere for agriculture. Putnam said he fears that Norman Borlaug, the plant breeder who developed the Green Revolution that increased agricultural productivity in India, would not be able to carry out his research at land grant colleges if he were alive today. Leftists, Putnam said, have forged "an unholy alliance" with people who usually support agriculture, including conservationists. Putnam urged the attendees not to allow opponents of large-scale agriculture to "pick the industry apart one commodity at a time" -- a statement that could be a reference to cane sugar farmers in his own state who advertise that their products are not genetically modified.
In order to feed a growing world population, Putnam said, agriculture "can't be Old MacDonald's farm."
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