"In many states, the position carries significant authority," Jacobson writes. "In 40 states, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, agriculture departments oversee the animal industry; in about half of states, they oversee food safety and meat inspection. In 48 states, they determine what qualifies as 'organic,' while in 43 states they regulate pesticides."
"Interviews with political experts in these states suggest that the shift stemmed, in part, from rising Republican success at the ballot box," Jacobson writes. "Many of the states that elect their agriculture commissioners are solidly red. Over the past decade, growing Republican strength further down the ballot—combined with attrition among long-serving, conservative Democratic incumbents—has helped the GOP win lower state offices and increased opportunities for the types of rural Republicans who can seriously contest the position of agriculture commissioner."
"The GOP has also focused more attention on agriculture offices, partnering with the Republican Agriculture Commissioners Committee and Ag America, a group that works to elect qualified Republican candidates to the position," Jacobson writes. What's more, Democratic electoral and bench strength in these states is concentrated in cities and suburbs, where it’s hard to become a credible candidate for agriculture commissioner. Besides, rural voters feel they have more at stake in voting for agriculture commissioner than urban voters do."