Gaesser runs for Iowa ag secretary
SPENCER — Ray Gaesser was born in Indiana, but he chose to live and farm in Iowa, where he has lived for the past 40 years.
Today, he is committing to his love of the state by running as a Republican candidate for the position of Iowa secretary of agriculture, following the appointment of former state Ag Secretary Bill Northey to a position in the USDA.
Gaesser visited with Clay County-area farm people at the Spencer Area Chamber of Commerce’s Ag Breakfast, held March 20 in Spencer.
Gaesser, 65, hails from the Corning/Lennox area, and announced his candidacy in mid-January. He said he will run on several platforms, including stewardship of land, air and water quality that also grows farm profitability; open doors of trade for farm families; jobs and to feed a growing world population; long-term policies and innovative practices, and ensuring food safety while protecting the rights of farmers.
Along with his wife, Elaine, and their son, Chris, the Gaessers own 650 acres and rent or custom farm 5,400 acres, growing soybeans and corn. They typically grow 3,000 acres of corn for a nearby ethanol plant, while most of their 3,000 acres of soybeans are seed production for the Stine Seed Company.
The Gaessers practice 100 percent no-till, having begun the process in 1991, and plant 50 percent cover crops (working towards 100 percent cover crops) and have installed 15 miles of terraces or waterways on their land.
“We’ve done that all at our own expense,” he said. “We’ve invested heavily in water quality because it’s the right thing to do. We change the world by our actions, not by our opinions.”
He said a man from Brazil he once met said that quote to him.
Gaesser said it was “a happy day” when their son, an agronomist, approached them with a desire to farm with them.
“When Elaine and I started out, we started from scratch,” he said.
Besides his farming experience, Gaesser has taken his responsibility to the agriculture industry seriously by getting involved in volunteerism with state and national soybean associations. He has led the Iowa Soybean Checkoff and the Iowa Soybean Association, and followed those experiences with his chairman and presidential leadership at the national level, with the American Soybean Association. Gaesser has also held several leadership positions in and around those responsibilities as chairman and president.
His leadership there brought his involvement in more than 50 agricultural trade/education missions over 25 years, including trips to Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, Canada, Europe, Japan, Korea, Singapore, South Africa and other countries. He and his family host international leaders at their farm annually.
Gaesser said he has testified and done presentations to the U.S. Department of Justice and Congress on the Farm Bill, and topics including biotechnology, renewable fuels, weed resistance management, seed and technology patents and mergers and acquisitions.
He was a volunteer consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and co-chaired, with Northey, on the Iowa Conservation Infrastructure Initiative as they worked towards achieving the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.
He also chaired the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Outcomes team and was named an Iowa Master Farmer in 2012.
Gaesser was the inaugural recipient of the American Soybean Association’s Distinguished Leadership Award, presented at the ASA awards banquet at the Commodity Classic in Anaheim, California this past February.
He said NAFTA and other world trade options must remain on the front burner.
“Our corn exports to China this past year are half of what they have been simply because of uncertainty,” he said. “They want to feed their people there and they want to know that we’re a reliable source of corn, and if they find we are not, they will find someone else who is.”
“In the same way, we need to make sure we have reliable places to buy our commodities.”
Having made farming his sole source of income all of his life, because of his extensive marketing and policy-making experience, and because he has served in so many leadership capacities and in advocating for American commodities all over the world, Gaesser said he thinks that would help him be able to successfully take on the role of Iowa’s ag secretary.
“I know everyone involved in agriculture policy in Washington, D.C. because I have worked with them,” said Gaesser. “I would run the department as a team because no one person has all the answers.”
“I learned from Bill Northey, and we have the same values and a lot of the same experiences, and because I have served in so many leadership positions with the (Iowa and American) soybean associations, you learn how to listen, how to learn and how to come to a consensus,” he added.
Gaesser and his wife also have a daughter, Jennifer, a high school vocal teacher in Atlantic.