Ray Gaesser farms about 5,500 acres in the Corning area.

KNOXVILLE — Like many farmers, Ray Gaesser makes challenging choices, such as whether to plant cover crops or how to pass the farm along to his son. But his national experience developing farm policy and trade deals sets him apart from the field in a crowded Republican primary for state ag secretary, he said recently.

Gaesser’s efforts beyond the 5,500 acres he farms between Corning and Lenox have given him connections that would benefit Iowa if he is elected, he said. These began with an Adams County rural development effort and led to leadership roles with the Iowa Soybean Checkoff, the Iowa Soybean Association and the American Soybean Association. Being a spokesperson for soybean growers kept him involved in trade missions and provided insights about their impact on farmers, he said during an April 26 visit to Knoxville.

“It’s those relationships that you build when you do those kind of volunteer things, when farmers go on trade missions and you talk with the ministers of agriculture, the big companies and the small companies that buy your products and you create a relationship,” Gaesser said. “Then they come to your farm and visit you and see that you actually are who you say you are.”

Gaesser was a voice for soybean growers in the development of the current Farm Bill. His role gave him access to key congressional leaders and staffs, he said.

“It’s being able to call those people when you have a question,” he said. “That really gives me a value that my competitors don’t have.”

Gaesser said it’s important to ensure the next Farm Bill provides adequate crop insurance for farmers in times of need. He said that his federal contacts are confident that crop insurance will be part of the new bill.

Land stewardship and its impact on water quality are important to Gaesser’s family, he said.

“Our society wants agriculture to care for the land and care for the water,” he said. “We live that on our farm.”

Gaesser said he has built terraces and waterways for 40 years, has practiced no-till farming for 30 years and has planted cover crops on half of his land since 2010.

“We did it on our own dime,” he said. “We didn’t get cost-share to help with that. We did it because it was the right thing to do.”

Gaesser said a highlight of his career came nine years ago, when his son, Chris, said he wanted to farm with his parents. They set up an agreement through which Chris takes on 5 percent of the operation every year. They’ll be 50-50 partners next year, but Gaesser is in no rush to get out.

“I still like to farm!” he said.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at

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