Ag Policy Blog

Ag Presence at Political Party Conventions

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent

Farm and agribusiness groups are planning their traditional celebrations at the Republican and Democratic conventions this month, but they will have competition at each convention from Plate of the Union, a coalition of groups close to the Environmental Working Group, which is planning events to highlight a radically different vision of the future of American agriculture.

“The Great American Farm Luncheon is a tradition at the RNC [Republican National Convention] honoring the farmers, ranchers, processors, suppliers and distributors that produce and deliver the most abundant, affordable and safest food supply for consumers around the world,” reads the invitation issued by the GOP Farm Committee. The event, billed as a celebration of American agriculture and a discussion, will be held 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 20, at the Silver Grille in the Higbee Building, 200 W. Prospect St., 10th floor, Cleveland.

The invitation committee’s members include representatives from AgriBank, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Seed Trade Association, BIO, Bunge, Cargill, CoBank, CropLife America, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Feld Entertainment, FMC, Growth Energy, Land O’Lakes, Monsanto, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, PepsiCo, Syngenta, The Russell Group, United Fresh Produce Association, and the U.S. Beet Sugar Association.

Guests will include members and senior staff of U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees, governors and state agriculture commissioners, delegates and Republican Party officials, according to the invitation.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said last week that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump should signal his interest in rural America by attending, Politico reported.

“There have been 17 plus 3 candidates who have been running for president. To my knowledge, not one has recognized the value of rural and small-town America, farmers, ranchers, growers and agriculture,” Roberts told Politico. “I think that is a big voting bloc that they are overlooking. Most of them tend to be conservative and Republican, different shades of that. And we contribute so much to this country. But I haven’t heard anybody talk about farmers, or rural small-town America.”

Roberts said Trump had been invited, adding, “We will see if he comes.”

Many, but not all, of the same groups are backing the Leaders of American Agriculture cocktail reception at the Democratic convention at 9 p.m. Tuesday July 26, at the Union League Club, 140 S. Broad St., Philadelphia.

Agribank, CoBank, FMC, Growth Energy, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and PepsiCo are listed as platinum sponsors, the Renewable Fuels Association as a silver sponsor and a long list of farm groups, agribusiness companies and lobbying firms including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union as bronze sponsors.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Pennsylvania Agriculture Commissioner Russell Redding are listed as the honored guests at the reception.

Meanwhile, Plate of the Union, a collaboration of Food Policy Action, Food Policy Action Education Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and HEAL (Health, Environment, Agriculture and Labor) Food Alliance will have sponsored an event at each convention the day before the traditional farm groups hold theirs.

Plate of the Union’s event at the Republican convention will be held 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 19, at Mabel’s, 2050 E. Fourth St., Cleveland.

The Plate of the Union event at the Democratic convention will be held in conjunction with Philly Feast, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, July 25, at Old City, Third and Arch streets, Philadelphia.

Tom Colicchio, the “Top Chef” judge and food advocate, will preside over each event.

Plate of the Union’s goal is “getting candidates running for president to talk about what they will do to fix our broken food system,” said Claire Benjamin DiMattina, executive director of Food Policy Action, whose board of directors is chaired by Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group. Fixing the system will require examining the entire food supply system rather than just looking at issues one by one, DiMattina said.

Speakers at both events will include Ricardo Salvador of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who presented a radical vision for changing American agriculture at the Aspen Ideas Festival last month. At the festival, Nivanna Khanna, director of HEAL, also talked about issues of pay and working conditions for both farm and restaurant workers.

Plate of the Union is also sponsoring a food truck tour to battleground states and has hired field directors in North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. It will also have a presence at the annual Farm Aid concert on September 17 in Bristow, Va., DiMattina said.

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