Des Moines, IA (written by Jennifer Jacobs/Des Moines Regiser) --
Mitt Romney in Iowa on Tuesday will tell farmers that he favors policies that allow them to farm without overregulation, access world markets, pass down a farm to children without losing over half its value to taxes, and keep their energy costs as affordable as possible.
The GOP presidential candidate, appearing at a farm in Van Meter at noon, will spell out what he calls his vision for making the agriculture economy grow and prosper, campaign aides told The Des Moines Register.
It's part of a stepped-up effort to win over voters in rural Iowa communities who turned to Democrat Barack Obama four years ago in the face of Republican John McCain's perceived disdain of ag issues.
As combines grind through rural Iowa harvesting this fall's corn and soybeans, Romney will release a policy paper on rural issues and speak at a campaign rally at the farm of Margaret and James Koch, pronounced "cook." It will be Romney's first trip to Iowa since a pivotal debate performance last week. Seventy-two percent of American viewers later said he did a better job than President Barack Obama, according to a Gallup Poll.
And he's fresh off a rise in the polls: He's 4 points ahead of Obama with likely voters nationwide, according to a Pew Research Center survey taken Oct. 4-7.
Two Iowa agribusiness experts who are registered Republicans, after reading an embargoed copy of the white paper, said Romney's proposals would be popular with rural Iowa residents. But an Iowa economist who's a registered Democrat, Neil Harl, expressed doubt that Romney's ideas would bring about any big boost to the Iowa economy.
Craig Hill, a Warren County farmer who is also president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, said he was pleased Obama signed three trade agreements and supported the crop insurance program, "but we haven't seen enough assurance that we'll be able to operate our farms without a heavy burden of regulation and taxation under the Obama administration."
Hill said he was speaking as a farmer and not for the Farm Bureau, which won't endorse in the presidential race.
Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said Obama has been in hot pursuit of the rural vote in Iowa, but Romney is talking about what rural Iowans talk about at coffee shops, Farm Bureau county dinners and crop fairs.
"It would appear to me he's hitting the right notes," Shaw said. "But Obama's reaching out to the same folks."
Shaw said hundreds if not thousands of Republican-leaning rural Iowans chose Obama four years ago because "McCain would say, 'I hate ethanol and I will vote against any farm bill,' and then he'd walk off the stage."
This cycle, "I think those people are in play," said Shaw, whose organization also won't endorse a candidate. "Obama knows he can't blindly count on them, and Romney knows he's going to bring some of them home."
Where Mitt Romney stands
Romney: He wants to prevent the cost of regulatory burdens from rising further.
He would review new or pending agriculture regulations and get rid of those that are duplicative, ineffective or not economically justifiable, the policy paper says. Major new regulations would need congressional approval.
Reaction: Hill said there's nothing agribusiness owners fear more than overregulation.
"We know we need a little bit of regulation, but it can be like a poison," said Hill, a hog farmer who also has 1,750 acres of corn and beans.
Harl, an Iowa State University economist emeritus, countered, "There are some of us who believe regulations are absolutely essential."
Citing the Peregrine Financial Group embezzlement and other scandals, Harl added: "The problems have been more severe where there was a lack of regulations than where we had too much."
Romney: He thinks opening new markets for American goods should be top priority, the policy paper says. He would quickly conclude trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and ask Congress for the authority to pursue new agreements around the world.
Obama "dragged his feet for three years before allowing Congress to even vote on agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea -- all three of which were negotiated and signed during the previous administration," the campaign document says. "The president has stalled ongoing negotiations, initiated no new ones."
Reaction: Iowans not involved in agriculture don't realize how important trade is to the state, Hill said.
"The policies of the United States need to be very conducive to free trade," he said.
Shaw agreed, saying, "You cannot overemphasize how excited farmers are to be farming for a market instead of a government program."
Harl said Iowa has reached a new peak in export activity of agricultural products. Trade depends primarily on supply and demand and the financial ability of countries to buy more food, he said.
Romney: Most farm income is taxed under the individual income tax system, and Romney wants to cut federal income tax rates by 20 percent across the board, the policy paper says.
He wants to maintain low capital gains rates. And he would create a savings plan that would allow the middle class to invest and save tax free, whether it's for retirement, education or the seed money for a small business, Oren Cass, Romney's domestic policy director, said in a phone interview from his office in Boston.
Obama's plan to raise income tax rates for individuals making $200,000 or more a year would increase the taxes that many farms pay, and he would raise the estate tax and the capital gains tax, Cass said.
Reaction: Hill, the Warren County farmer, said tax policy has huge implications for rural Iowa. He especially likes Romney's proposal to eliminate the estate tax.
"For farm families to think of borrowing more than half what the farm is worth to keep it in the family -- the estate tax is a huge problem for agriculture," Hill said.
The law currently says the value of the estate up to $5.12 million is exempt from the estate tax, but the rest is taxed at 35 percent. On Jan. 1, the exemption becomes $1 million, with a 55 percent tax rate.
Harl predicted Congress would act to prevent such a steep taxation.
As for Romney's proposed 20 percent across-the-board income tax cut, Harl said: "For a country that is hurting for revenue and facing this cliff in January, additional cuts I think are just totally unrealistic."
Romney: Sensitive to how rural electricity and gas prices affect agribusiness, Romney wants to move aggressively to increase domestic energy production.
And he would facilitate "private-sector-led development of new technologies by focusing government investment on research across the full spectrum of energy-related technologies, and not on picking winners and losers," the policy paper says.
Obama would continue to offer enormous subsidies and play venture capitalist "even though we've seen that hasn't worked very well," Cass said.
Reaction: Harl pointed out that Romney doesn't say which version of the farm bill he supports -- the one with deep cuts in conservation and food stamps, or another version. Nor does he mention wind energy tax credits.
Hill said that although farmers are not nearly as dependent on subsidies as they once were, many farmers would like to see the wind energy tax credit stay in place, at least for a limited period of time.
"We're at odds with that," Hill said, referring to Romney's position. "But in general, when you look at his plan, it's more beneficial to American agriculture and Iowa agriculture."