America needs farmers, not agricultural subsidies


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The Hawkeye football team is the state's de facto professional sports team. It makes sense for the players to don "ANF" (America Needs Farmers) patches to show moral support for the state's quintessential vocation.

However, the ANF campaign has ventured troublingly, if quietly, into political territory this year.
The black and gold emblems — also sprouting up on more fan apparel this year — are a throwback to the 1980s, when then-coach Hayden Fry put ANF stickers on the Hawks' helmets. The idea was borne from the early '80s recession, which dragged down U.S. agriculture.

That campaign spanned from 1985 to 1992 and was revived by coach Kirk Ferentz in 2009 with jersey patches. The university is also renaming a section of Kinnick "ANF Plaza," installing an ANF Hall of Fame, and hosting an ANF Day during the game against Northwestern later this month.

"I have always believed in embracing all the good things that Coach Fry built into the program, and ANF was one of his greatest," Ferentz said in a press release earlier this season. "There is so much to be proud of in Iowa and our prominent position in agriculture is one of them … Agriculture is a part of the fabric of who we are as Iowans."

But ANF goes further than Iowa pride. This year, the logos are backed by a partnership between the university and the Iowa Farm Bureau.

The Farm Bureau does wonderful nonprofit work and partners with lots of other public and private organizations. However, in the context of ANF, partnering with the bureau presents a tacit political endorsement by the university.

The Farm Bureau has a powerful political arm that lobbies the Statehouse and pumps thousands into political races across the state. The bureau's political doings caught scrutiny earlier this year when Gov. Terry Branstad — the biggest recipient of the bureau's PAC money last year — pushed for bureau President Craig Lang to be elected to president of the state Board of Regents.

You can also bet the bureau and groups like it will come out hard against any deficit-cutting proposals that include slashing agricultural subsidies, likely to be a high-profile issue in the next couple years. It's easy to imagine Big Ag reappropriating America Needs Farmers as a pro-subsidy mantra.

Sure, the university has lobbyists and pushes for state and federal measures, but those things have to do with the university's operations. Farm subsidies do not.

And support for farm subsidies isn't necessarily bad, and I probably will never write a column criticizing the Farm Bureau for doing it. However, the university should be careful to risk appearing to be too cozy with either side of a heated political issue.

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