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At the Table - A conversation with Governor Branstad

August 30, 2011
By Aaron Putze
Editor’s note: Welcome to a conversation about food and farming and a celebration of all things Iowa! Welcome to “At the Table,” a twice-monthly column authored by Aaron Putze, director of external relations for the Iowa Soybean Association and coordinator of the Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP). Launched in April, the Iowa FFP is a purpose-driven initiative with the mission of inspiring positive and enduring relationships between farmers and consumers through personal engagement and advocacy. It also conducts activities benefiting Iowa’s food relief organizations and the people they serve.

“At the Table” will include timely discussions with notable Iowans about their interests, passions and how farming positively influences their lives.

To suggest an Iowan to be featured in a future “At the Table” column, contact Putze at

 A conversation with…

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad

Bio-flash: Gov. Terry Branstad is the youngest and also the longest-serving Iowa governor. He was first elected in 1983 as the state’s 39th governor and served 16 years, re-elected in 2010 as Iowa’s 42nd governor, raised on a farm near Leland (Winnebago County) and also served six years as president of Des Moines University.

Aaron Putze: What do you remember most from your first term as governor?

 Gov. Terry Branstad: Without question, the farm crisis of the 1980s. Land prices fell by nearly 60 percent and 38 Iowa banks closed. Many farmers suffered as did the businesses they depended on. We worked diligently to assist Iowans during those difficult times by establishing the Iowa Rural Concern Hotline and arranging farmer-lender mediation to do whatever could be done to alleviate the crisis and keep farmers on the land.

 Putze: How did the experience affect you?

 Branstad: It strengthened my resolve to serve Iowans and taught me the depth and integrity of the human spirit. It also reinforced the need to find new uses and markets for all agricultural commodities through better relations and research. As governor, I’ll promote the development of Iowa-based ag research facilities and travel abroad to increase exports for Iowa commodities.

 Putze: What makes Iowa’s economy run?

 Branstad: Agriculture. It’s the strongest part. Obviously, we’re home to very successful banking and finance industries. But they also depend on the success of farmers. Agriculture is what sustains us both physically and economically. It will also play a big role in helping Iowa add 200,000 jobs. The recent groundbreaking at a new turkey hatchery near Osceola is a good example of how closely jobs and agriculture are connected.

 Putze: How has farming changed?

Branstad: It’s modern and efficient, certainly much more than when I was helping on the family farm. I see it up close today because I have a brother who farms. Today’s farms also use practices that are better for the environment. At one time, the plow was extremely popular so we wouldn’t leave any crop residue on the soil’s surface. Today, many farmers no-till or use minimum tillage and filter strips to reduce soil loss and improve air and water quality.

Putze: So farmers are going green.

Branstad: Sure. They’re very interested in sustainability and prove it by what they do and don’t do. They have to be because the land provides for their families and it’s their legacy. Farmers are producing grain to feed people and livestock and they’re doing it sustainably. That’s a powerful combination.

Putze: How does ag’s sustainability also impact our state’s economy?

Branstad: Biotechnology allows us to achieve more productivity per acre and there’s job growth in that sector. Renewable energy is also putting people to work. I’m an investor in a renewable fuels facility near Forest City because I believe in the technology and what it means to our economy and environment.

Putze: What’s special about Iowa’s farms?

Branstad: The great thing about agriculture in Iowa is its diversity. Fruit, vegetable and wine production are strong as is the growth in farms that serve niche markets. We have small farms and larger farms. Iowa’s proven to be a place for all farms, and there’s no reason we can’t celebrate all farms. We’re going to need them to grow our economy and the food people need. While our farms may differ in what they grow or the livestock they raise, they’re all commercial because they sell what they produce to people who want and need it.

Putze: As you travel the nation and globe, what impression do people have of Iowa?

Branstad: Well, it’s a good reputation. People look at Iowa as being a nice place to live and visit. Iowans are recognized as being hospitable, welcoming and ready to help others. We see that willingness to help during times of adversity and during times of prosperity. Iowans are also known as problem solvers. If you give an Iowan a challenge, they’ll find a way to accomplish it.

Putze: If you could enjoy only one food item when visiting the Iowa State Fair, what would it be?

Branstad: Just one?

Putze: Just one.

Branstad: A pork chop on a stick. That’s always been my choice. I’m trying to cut down on sweets but if I could have another choice, it would be an ice cream cone.

Putze: How about your menu item of choice in the Capitol cafeteria?

Branstad: I go there and pick out my own food. I eat a lot of fish. The salmon and walleye are good. So are the steaks and pork chops. All are good sources of lean protein.

Putze: As governor, what’s the catalyst for rejuvenating Iowa’s economy and quality of life?

Branstad: Igniting the entrepreneurial spirit. People aren’t afraid to take chances. Government too often gets in the way. I believe we can do anything when we put our minds to it. I want to empower Iowans because they’ve proven they will find a way if we in government provide the tools and freedom to do so. This certainly holds true for farming. We must maintain the right balance of rules and regulations so we don’t crush the entrepreneurial spirit that has built our farms, communities and state.

Putze: How do we do that?

Branstad: We reduce the tax and regulatory burdens that affect farms and small businesses. I want to make sure things are done right, but we have to get away from this gotcha’ attitude so we can work together to provide the safest food and the cleanest environment while growing jobs and economic opportunity.

AARON Putze serves as director of external relations and coordinator of the Iowa Food & Family Project-

( for the Iowa Soybean Association and can be reached at Follow the Iowa Food & Family Project at Funded in part by the soybean checkoff.


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