Before September becomes a blur of harvest dust, election mud and campaign slurs, it’s time to catch up on some of the characters who have waltzed through this space.
Starting place. Let’s start with former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, the nine-term Kansas congressman who led the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001.
On Sept. 1, Glickman departs Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government to head of the Motion Picture Association of America, one of the softest, loftiest lobbying seats in Washington, D.C.
Lest anyone think this son of Wichita scrap metal dealer and noted ag-head is Hollywood window dressing on the Potomac, two facts on Glickman.
One, he is a lawyer and expert on copyright, the movie biz’s overriding concern in this age of internet downloads. And two, son Jonathon has a dozen movies to his credit as an up-and-coming West Coast film producer.
Glickman’s well-greased connections in Washington and legal expertise will pay off big.
His reported salary will be a handsome $1.5 million per year, or about 10 times his old USDA paycheck.
Back at the ranch. Meanwhile back on the ranch, Glickman’s old Kansas colleague and fellow House Ag Committee alumnus, Republican Sen. Patrick Roberts, is making news of his own.
Roberts, chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, just announced plans to radically restructure America’s global spy efforts.
The Roberts’ plan was met with kudos and boos alike, just as his last great restructuring of a massive government program, 1996’s Freedom to Farm, was greeted.
Back then, Roberts, chairman of the House Ag Committee, muscled his Farm Bill through a Republican Congress with help from Democrats, notably then-Secretary Glickman.
Two views. F2F was a both a triumph and a disaster. It recast American ag policy toward the global market – setting the stage for today’s global ag trade talks – and only cost a cool $50 billion-plus more than its estimated $42 billion price tag.
It’s too early to tell if the Roberts’ plan will work the same bipolar magic on the national intelligence community.
If the results are as decidedly mixed as F2F, though, his cure could become a disaster.
Out the door. Speaking of mixed results, Dan Amstutz, USDA’s senior ministry advisor for agriculture in Iraq, quietly left that post in late 2003 after just eight months.
The appointment of Amstutz, who co-chaired Iraq’s post-war ag industry with Trevor Flugge, past boss of the Australia Wheat Board, was seen as a sop to global agbiz because of his former ties to Cargill, Goldman Sachs, and other ag masters of the universe.
Despite that pedigree, many U.S. farm groups were unimpressed with Amstutz. They predicted that Australian Flugge and his buds at the Wheat Board would get the best of our man in Baghdad.
They’re right. By recent estimates, the farmers were right.
Under Amstutz, reported Reuters last December, 2003 U.S. wheat exports to Iraq totaled 32,000 metric tons; Australia sold 800,000 metric tons of wheat to Iraq in Sept. 2003 alone.
The U.S. had hopes to send more than 600,000 metric tons of food aid to Iraq last year.
If it’s any consolation, Flugge left his Iraq post in April – about the time Amstutz was back into his old job as a Washington ag consultant.
Cargill’s back. Cargill is back, too. According to the Aug. 23 Miami Herald, Cargill, the company that plans to import Brazilian ethanol into the U.S. through El Salvador, is sparking a new controversy in Brazil.
According to the Herald, Cargill’s “new, $20 million soybean export terminal in Santarem,” which serves the giant soybean farms of Mato Grosso, is fueling a wave of squatters rushing to claim – then destroy – rain forest and cash in the continuing Brazilian soybean bonanza.
Cargill, notes the Herald, says the connection between it and future deforestation “is attributing way too much to the terminal.”
Cargill probably is right. After all, its Aug. 11 announcement to invest $100 million in Russian malt and sweetener plants, its Aug. 16 opening of its sixth soybean processing plant in the Brazilian state of Goias and its Aug. 17 disclosure to shutter a Texas corn sweetener plant hasn’t caused any deforestation in those places.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)