Ray Gaesser’s father died when he was 15, leaving him to care for his mother and six younger brothers and sisters on the family farm in Indiana.
Fifty years later, Gaesser is running as a Republican candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture on a platform of innovation and conservation he developed over his many years in the industry.
Gaesser has been in Iowa for 40 years and owns and farms 1,650 acres outside of Corning, half is planted in corn for the nearby ethanol plant, and the other half is soybeans for the Stine Seed Company.
Throughout his long farming career, Gaesser has embraced and promoted the newest farming technologies and practices, focusing on sustainability while maintaining profitability.
Since 1991, Gaesser has used the no-till practice on 100 percent of his farm, and since 2010, at least 50 percent contains cover crops with a goal of eventually having a cover crop on every acre.
Gaesser is chairman of the American Soybean Association, and is a former president of both the ASA and the Iowa Soybean Association. He was also recently awarded the ASA’s first ever Distinguished Leadership Award.
He has led the charge for innovation and the advancement of agricultural practices. Some practices, he said, are already in place, such as no-till farming and cover crops, but other technologies are coming on line all the time and Gaesser said he feels that in order for Iowa to remain competitive, the state’s agriculture community needs to embrace these new technologies.
“The other innovations I’m talking about is the new seed technology we have and the new equipment technology that we use on our farm along with the seed technology,” he said. “Our equipment places whatever we want to apply out there, whether it’s our seeds or our fertilizer, within an inch of where it’s supposed to be. Ten years ago, we didn’t have that technology, so we were guessing and if we got within 3 feet we felt like we were pretty close. Now, we’re getting within an inch, so that saves a lot of product. Not only seed, but fertilizer, because you’re not over applying.”
Part of his platform is to encourage better stewardship of the land, water and air, and he believes that with the new technology and innovative practices, Iowa can not only become more competitive in the international market, but also protect and preserve farms for future generations.
“It’s about responsible and profitable agriculture,” he said. “That’s what I believe in. That’s what I try to practice on our farm and that’s what I try to promote.”
He has taken his expertise in farming and agriculture around the world to places like Argentina, Belgium, China and South Africa, to name a few. China is of particular interest to him because of the potential harm a trade war with the country could have on Iowa farmers.
“There is a lot of concern about the tariffs that could be implemented,” Gaesser said. “At the same time, we know that we’re still in negotiations between the United States and China, in particular, but other countries, too. We all hope that something good will become of that. Our concern as farmers and agriculture, not only in Iowa, but everywhere in the U.S. is that agriculture will be the first to be retaliated against. That’s a real concern, and as large a market as they are, it could hugely impact the price we get for our soybeans and our corn and pigs and chickens and cattle and everything else that we grow here in Iowa.”
Gaesser has spent his entire life on a farm. He’s been through the ups and downs of farming and knows firsthand the struggle to make it through the low times. He said what happens to Iowa agriculture happens to him and his family.
He understands agriculture because of his personal experience, but also through his volunteer work and experiences on the local, national and international level, and he feels he is uniquely qualified to fulfill the obligations of Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture.
“Our future is agriculture,” he said. “In order for us to grow, I believe that we need to continue to care for the land and care for our water and be able to pass those farms on to the next generation in better condition than when we got them. At the same time, I think we need to be innovative and stay up on top of the latest technology because that is what keeps us competitive in the world. It is a global market, and we need to be aware of that, and we need to be able to sell Iowa agriculture everywhere in the world.”