McCain’s, Obama’s support for the American farmer: Sincere or not?

Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama are exhibiting their support for the American farmer. In July, both candidates spoke to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Council of Presidents. Since then, focus has turned to two major issues – energy and trade – and how these issues will affect agriculture.

McCain supports trade agreements that will open markets to U.S. agriculture and lower trade barriers, decrease trade-distorting subsidies and stabilize an affordable food supply for all. He says he would form America's farm policies in favor of small farmers and rural communities. McCain wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be more involved by conducting research designed to increase the production of drought-resistant, high-yield crops. He also promises to support conservation programs that encourage environmental stewardship on America’s farmlands.

Obama wants to break down trade and investment barriers to maintain American farmers' competitive presence around the world. He would promote programs that help producers develop global marketing networks. He also wants to make sure all trade agreements contain strong and enforceable labor, environmental and safety standards. And, he wants to involve the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be able to issue and enforce recalls of contaminated food. He hopes to improve food-safety efforts by doing so. Obama has pledged to support conservation projects and industries that produce new value-added agricultural products.

Both McCain and Obama have laid out extensive agricultural plans, but Brad Lubben, a public policy specialist in the department of agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says neither of the candidates have a strong agricultural background.

“The key will be whom the candidates choose to advise them on the issues,” he said.

Agricultural organizations such as the Nebraska Farmers Union Political Action Committee (NFUPAC) have endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate. According to NFUPAC President Gale Lush of Wilcox, the endorsement was based on the candidates’ voting record and their positions on economic issues that impact family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. Other key issues that determined their support include farm programs, renewable energy, rural development, market competition, fair trade and rural health care.

Other agricultural organizations, such as the California Farm Bureau and AgriPac, Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) political action committee, have endorsed McCain. AgriPac’s endorsement was based on the candidates’ qualifications and how their policies would benefit the state and nation’s agriculture industries as a whole. AgriPac Chairman Andrew Hagenow acknowledged that McCain doesn’t agree with MFB on all its organizational policies, but “feels that he possesses the necessary leadership to steer the country on a path toward continued success, growth and prosperity in the agricultural sector.”

McCain’s opposition to ethanol subsidies may hurt his chance to win this election. States such as Iowa and Nebraska have historically sided with the Republican candidate, but these states are huge supporters of ethanol. There’s a probable chance that Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas will still vote Republican as many cattle ranchers in these states are heavily affected by the rise in corn prices, despite its near-50 percent decrease since June.

Not everyone believes that the candidates’ agriculture policy will be in the farmers’ favor. Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs (CRA), believes that regardless of the candidates’ position on agricultural issues, policies in Washington won’t change.

“Historically, policies have supported mega-farms that drive family farms out of business and fail to invest in creating a genuine opportunity for rural people and a future for their communities,” he said.

John Crabtree, media relations officer for the CRA doesn’t think that either candidate has shown sincere concern for rural America. He believes it’s more than just picking a side.

“It’s one thing to say you oppose or support the farm bill, but neither candidate has bothered to address the various issues within the Farm Bill that affect rural communities,” he said.

“Neither party has demonstrated a real commitment to ensuring that rural people – who contribute so much to the nation’s prosperity – share in it,” Hassebrook added. “Neither party seems to understand that America will never be as strong as it can be until all of America has the opportunity to share in building wealth, assets and prosperity.”

Do you feel that the candidates’ efforts toward improving and helping the American farmer are sincere? Or do you think they’re just trying to win votes? Let me know what you think.

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