It’s a widely held belief that if you want to get ahead in farm group politics, you can’t be political. Well, not overtly political, anyway. Quietly, sure; loud and you’re outta’ here.
For example, according to OpenSecrets.org, the best tracker of campaign cash in American politics, the nation’s largest, richest farm group, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), contributed a stunningly puny $6,932 to all federal candidates in the 2020 general election.
The year before, however, AFBF, spent a staggering $3,282,414 for its 18 lobbyists to plant, cultivate, and harvest its politically-conservative/subsidy-liberal ag policies on Capitol Hill.
It’s similar in the agricultural academy; Land Grant University officials rarely, if ever, comment on state or national politics. The overriding public view is that university farm and ranch experts should focus on efficiency and profits, not politics and politicians.
But that’s an impossibly fine line to walk. Land Grant Universities, after all, were born through politics, the Morrill Act in 1862, and continue to receive large portions of their funding via the increasingly partisan, federal and state political process. As such, most Land Grant administrators are as adept at realpolitik as they are in political science and animal science.
Still, pity the ag professor who possesses the poor judgment — not to mention nerve — to go public about the use or misuse of public money at the Big U. Just ask Mark Rasmussen, the just-retired director at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.