‘The trouble with Iowa’

Leading into the Feb. 1 precinct caucuses that begin the presidential nomination process, Harper’s says in a cover story that “it seems to defy reason” that Iowa, a farm state with a population of 3 million, “should play such an out-sized role. But Iowa is not over. In fact, it may be more relevant than ever. Grasping the corn as [billionaire Donald] Trump suggested, leads us not just to the tensions of immigration but to all the central issues of the campaign — to health care and obesity, to our nation’s worst environmental problems, to poverty and income inequality, and to the entrenchment of a corporate oligarchy.” The story was produced in partnership with FERN.

Author Richard Manning delves into the lawsuit by the Des Moines Water Works against drainage districts: “Environmentalists nationwide view the case as a bellwether” that may “produce the legal precedent they need to solve a plague of continental scale.” Farm fields and feedlots are major sources of nitrate pollution in river water, says Harper’s. Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa is a leading conservative voice against environmental regulation, and Iowa is the leading ethanol state, boosted by the federal requirement to mix renewable fuels into the gasoline supply. “Now about 40 percent of America’s corn goes to gas tanks, the ultimate proof of the assertion that industrial agriculture is not about food.”

In a Q-and-A with FERN, Manning says,”There is very little doubt that industrial ag has a near-total grip on Iowa, and yet everywhere I went I was surprised at the vibrant and determined counter-current in alternative ag.” There is rising interest among Iowans in locally grown produce, he says, and Sen. Ted Cruz’s support for a phase-out of the Renewable Fuels Standard is “a big deal in Iowa … I think it speaks volumes about the fundamental schism in the Republican Party, that the pro-business, country-club Republicans no longer have any sway whatever with the Tea Party, populist, evangelical wing of the party. This corn-based indicator in Iowa portends much more significant seismic shifts inthe party during the next few months.”