Bill Northey and Francis ThickeThe corn farmer vs. the cow-hugger: Bill Northey and Francis Thicke.Republican Bill Northey was reelected Iowa secretary of agriculture, defeating organic farmer Francis Thicke 63 to 37 percent, despite being roundly criticized for his handling of the Wright County Farms 500 million salmonella-tainted egg fiasco.

As I wrote here in September, if Thicke (pronounced “TICK-ee”) managed to unseat Northey, it would have been a huge win not only for sustainable agriculture in Iowa, but for the nation as we begin gearing up for the next Farm Bill. “The triumph of a reform candidate like Francis Thicke would demonstrate to Washington that a change in agricultural policy would in fact be welcome in much of the farm belt,” Michael Pollan, food-system journalist and UC Berkeley professor, told me by email.

Well, with a margin that wide, it’s safe to say that the opposite message has been sent. Agricultural reform may have been collateral damage from a different kind of cultural war, however: Iowa voters turned out in droves to remove three state Supreme Court judges who had ruled that same-sex marriage was legal. But while they also elected a Republican governor, they mysteriously voted in three Democratic congressmen in contested districts and approved an environmentalist-backed constitutional amendment.

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The ag-sec race seems to have been about preserving the status quo. Incumbent Northey is a fourth-generation corn and soybean farmer whose reelection campaign was endorsed by the Iowa Farm Bureau (his grandfather was its president) and also, at the last minute, a Democratic Party power broker and former Monsanto lawyer. Thicke, meanwhile, was endorsed by such sustainable agriculture bigwigs as Pollan, Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, along with Robert Kennedy, Jr. — which may have ended up hurting him in the eyes of Iowa voters.

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Wrote the Iowa Independent late last night, after results were in:

In the end, however, it may have been such national support, along with its calls for significant change within agriculture, that served as a local detriment for Thicke among large and small farmers in the state who have found at least current compromise with larger agribusiness and now depend on those relationships to maintain the family income and property.

It’s a bummer that those large and small farmers couldn’t see that the future Thicke was proposing, in which farmers get financial support for embracing renewable energies and rebuilding topsoil instead of for growing ever more resource-depleting corn and soy, might hold more promise for them — and us — in the long term.

For a bittersweet taste of what might have been, watch this Thicke campaign video, “Francis Thicke vs. Big Ag“; and below that, for a cold blast of reality, find a video of Northey waxing ludicrous about how awesome his state’s egg industry is (filmed before the salmonella outbreak — when a bit of actual watchdogging would have come in handy.)

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