AFBF President Bob Stallman: Your Democracy, Your Vote, Your Responsibility

AFBF President
Bob Stallman

Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 is a very important day. Not because a Democrat may be reelected as the U.S. President or because a Republican may ascend to the office. Tuesday Nov. 6 is significant because on that day we will all have a say in the future direction of our government as we cast our votes at ballot boxes across America.

Because many brave Americans have fought to ensure this inalienable right, it is all of our responsibility as citizens to uphold it by engaging in the political process. This is crucial to a functioning democracy. George Bernard Shaw best stated this sentiment when he said, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

Road to the White House

At the top of the political rung this election are two qualified candidates seeking the presidency. And while the American Farm Bureau remains bipartisan and does not support one candidate over the other, we are most definitely politically active. We encourage Farm Bureau members to study the issues and assess how each of these two candidates would treat U.S. agriculture and our rural communities.

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney recently took time to answer an AFBF questionnaire on important agricultural issues and how their administrations would work with farmers and ranchers. From the past four years, we know where President Obama has stood on many Farm Bureau priority issues. For example, he has shown his support for AFBF-supported trade agreements, home grown energy sources and passage of the farm bill. But, he has also overseen the Environmental Protection Agency’s power grab on environmental issues impacting farmers.

In his responses, President Obama said a farm bill must be passed this year that maintains a strong crop insurance program and an extended disaster assistance program. He also said he will increase funding for agricultural research and development by more than 20 percent and extend tax incentives for wind energy and other clean energies that would help farm income.

According to Governor Romney’s responses, he supports many of the same tax incentives as Farm Bureau members, like eliminating the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax, as well eliminating the capital gains tax for lower income Americans. He also supports making environmental regulations more rational and cost-effective. On labor issues, he supports allowing kids to work on family farms.

Differing from Farm Bureau, Romney supported his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.), vote on the House disaster bill, an alternative to pushing for congressional agreement on the long-term farm bill that is much needed.

All Politics is Local

Just as important to agriculture and rural America are the ballot initiatives taking place around the country. Often the agriculture industry is far more impacted by local referenda than what happens in Washington.

For example, the North Dakota Farming and Ranching Amendment, also known as Measure 3, sponsored by the North Dakota Farm Bureau, would forever guarantee modern agricultural practices in the state. Specifically, the measure calls for a constitutional amendment that would block any law ‘which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.”

In California, many farmers are fighting Prop 37, a ballot initiative that, if passed, would make California the first state to require labeling of foods produced with biotechnology. According to opponents of Prop 37, like the California Farm Bureau, the measure would raise food costs, hurt small businesses and farmers and create frivolous lawsuits. Further, farmers feel that labeling wrongly implies that biotech foods are unsafe and misleads many consumers.

So, as Tuesday, Nov. 6 approaches, take the opportunity to read up on the candidates and issues that could impact your lives and livelihoods. Once you get past all the campaign rhetoric, you may be surprised at what’s really at the heart of the issues. It’s your democracy—get involved!

Obama & Romney Outline Positions on Farm Issues



Photo by Scout Tufankjian

President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney recently spelled out their positions on agriculture issues for the American Farm Bureau Federation. In a questionnaire, both candidates went into detail about their positions on energy, environmental regulations, farm labor and more.

Every four years, the American Farm Bureau Federation asks the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees to address the issues that concern farmers and ranchers most. This election, energy issues and farm policy are the driving forces in the candidate’s responses.

“Our rural communities, farmers and ranchers can increase our energy independence and boost the transition to a clean energy economy,” Obama responded. “Last year, rural America produced enough renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel to meet roughly 8 percent of our needs, helping us increase our energy independence to its highest level in 20 years…and the new Renewable Fuel Standard helped boost biodiesel production to nearly 1 billion gallons in 2011, supporting 39,000 jobs.”

Romney, too, supports the RFS and other agriculture-derived energies.


“I have a vision for an America that is an energy superpower, rapidly increasing our own production and partnering with our allies, Canada and Mexico, to achieve energy independence on this continent by 2020,” said Romney. “The increased production of biofuels plays an important part in my plan to achieve energy independence. In order to support increased market penetration and competition among energy sources, I am in favor of maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

On farm policy, Obama said he understands the need for a strong farm safety net. “That’s why I increased the availability of crop insurance and emergency disaster assistance to help over 590,000 farmers and ranchers keep their farms in business after natural disasters and crop loss,” he said. “My administration expanded farm credit to help more than 100,000 farmers struggling during the financial crisis…and as farmers continue to go through hard times because of this drought, we are expanding access to low-interest loans, encouraging insurance companies to extend payment deadlines and opening new lands for livestock farmers to graze their herds.”

Romney said he supports passage of a strong farm bill “that provides the appropriate risk management tools that will work for farmers and ranchers throughout the country.” He also pointed out that his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), voted for drought relief – a bill which the Senate never took up.

When asked why farmers should vote for them, Obama said he is committed to strengthening rural America through growing products that the world wants to buy and restoring middle class values of hard work and play. He further said, “I am the only candidate that is committed to strengthening the farm safety net, strengthening rural economic growth and supporting rural investments in clean energy.”

Romney said if he were elected, he would give farmers relief from hefty environmental regulations, as well as “a commonsense energy policy that develops our resources right here at home; a renewed focus on opening new markets; and a pro-growth tax policy that encourages investment and recognizes that death should not be a taxable event.”

To view the full questionnaires and responses, click here.

Va. agricultural exports reached record high in 2011



A view of the Port of Norfolk
By USDA



Gov. Bob McDonnell announced on March 13 that the commonwealth exported a record $2.35 billion in agricultural products in 2011, an increase of more than 6 percent from 2010 and more than 2 percent from 2009.
McDonnell spoke during the opening lunch at the Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade.
“Agriculture and forestry are vitally important to economic growth in Virginia,” he said. “With more than one-quarter of farm cash receipts attributable to export sales, continuing to grow Virginia’s agribusiness exports is a priority for my administration. … Exports are key factors in keeping our economy moving forward, and they support jobs, from our farms to our outstanding air, land and sea ports.”
Virginia’s strong position in the global marketplace is due in part to its diversified portfolio of products and export markets. Top export products in 2011 included soybeans; poultry; wheat; pork; lumber and wood products; corn; animal feed; leaf tobacco; fats and oils; cotton; marine and aquaculture products; fresh vegetables; raw peanuts; hides and skins; processed foods and beverages, including wine.

Virginia’s top three ag export markets in 2011 were Morocco, with exports totaling more than $360 million in 2011; China, which saw its exports from Virginia grow to $304 million; and Canada, with exports of $220 million.

Todd P. Haymore, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture, said in a Op/Ed piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch for every $1 of agricultural products exported, another $1.40 is generated by in-state activities, such as processing, packaging and shipping. Importantly, exports generated nearly 30 percent of annual farm cash receipts last year.

“Virginians have no doubt as to the superiority of our agricultural and forestry products. Now, with the help of an aggressive global marketing strategy implemented by McDonnell, more countries around the world are discovering what Virginia has to offer,” Haymore said.
 
There is concern, on the national level, about the Obama administration’s approach to a major Asian-Pacific free trade deal currently in the advanced stages of negotiations. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) aims to ease American exporters’ access to major Asian-Pacific markets, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan.

However, the administration is considering carving out tobacco leaf and tobacco products from the agreement, a move that would shut out Virginia tobacco farmers from countries that account for 40 percent of global trade and 75 percent of Virginia’s agricultural exports.

Virginia farming and business communities have joined the Farm Bureau and Commissioner Lohr in urging the Obama administration to negotiate a trade agreement that benefits all of Virginia’s farmers. This is something we are monitoring and will continue to keep you posted.