With the national spotlight on the race for the White House, the American Soybean Association (ASA) reached out to President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for each candidate’s points of view on issues critical to soybean farmers. Obama and Romney offered their positions on the farm bill and crop insurance, estate tax, biodiesel, biotechnology, trade, research, regulations and transportation and infrastructure.
Farm Bill & Crop Insurance
In the midst of the worst drought in a generation, soybean farmers need risk-management tools and the certainty that a comprehensive farm bill provides. In addition to being the first bipartisan bill to take concrete steps toward deficit reduction, the bill includes disaster assistance, strengthens crop insurance, provides for conservation programs, market development at home and abroad, investment in renewable fuels like soy biodiesel, nutrition and feeding programs and countless other programs that directly and indirectly help soybean farmers and American agriculture as a whole remain viable and competitive in a growing global marketplace. How would your administration work to ensure that this bill is passed and the integrity of these programs remains intact?
I know that any farm bill passed this year – and there needs to be a farm bill passed this year – needs to have adequate protections and certainty for America’s farmers. That’s why I have called for maintaining a strong crop insurance program and an extended disaster assistance program. Instead of making soybean farmers pay more for crop insurance, as House Republicans have proposed, we will do it by cutting subsidies to crop insurance companies and better targeting conservation program funding. We need a strong farm safety net for all of America’s farmers. 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. My administration has also expanded farm credit to help more than 100,000 farmers struggling during the financial crisis to keep their family farms and provide for their families. 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. I endorsed the bipartisan Senate Farm Bill and intend to do everything I can to get a comprehensive and long-term farm bill sent to my desk. Now, the House needs to do its part and pass this bill. Protecting American farmers is too important to let it slip through our fingers.
I support passage of a strong farm bill that provides the appropriate risk management tools that will work for farmers and ranchers throughout the country. In the near term, my immediate priority should be given to enacting disaster relief for those not traditionally covered by crop insurance as this year’s drought has worsened. My running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, voted for this relief in the House. Unfortunately, the Democrat-controlled Senate went home for August break without enacting them. On the broader question of farm programs, we must be cognizant that our agricultural producers are competing with other nations around the world. Other nations subsidize their farmers, so we must be careful not to unilaterally change our policies in a way that would disadvantage agriculture here in our country. In addition, we want to make sure that we don’t ever find ourselves in a circumstance where we depend on foreign nations for our food the way we do with energy. Ultimately, it is in everyone’s interest is achieve a level playing field on which American farmers can compete.
Soybean farming is a family business. For farmers, a large part of being sustainable means caring for our land in such a way that we can pass down efficient, competitive operations to our children. Unless Congressional action is taken before the end of the year, the estate tax will revert to exemption levels so low and tax rates so high that the continuation of farming businesses from one generation to the next would be jeopardized. Farming is unique in that farms – even very profitable ones – have most, if not all of their assets invested in land and equipment, with very little cash on hand. This makes paying an estate tax assessment on a farm all but impossible without selling off land, equipment or both. How would your administration ensure that farmers can continue to pass on their operations to future generations without undue tax burdens?
I have put forward a balanced plan for deficit reduction that continues tax cuts for the middle-class, while asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their share. First, we must extend the middle class tax cuts for the 98% of Americans making less than $250,000 for another year. In fact, my proposal extends tax cuts for 97% of all small business owners in America. But at the same time, if we are going to reduce the deficit without sacrificing investments in our future like education, clean energy, and manufacturing, we can’t afford to continue tax breaks for the wealthiest. I support the return of the estate tax exemption and rates to 2009 levels. At this level, only 60 small farm and business estates in the entire country would owe any estate tax in 2013. This would protect the family farm from being sold to pay taxes, while ensuring that folks like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates or the Koch Brothers do not avoid the tax on their billion dollar estates.
At the very heart of U.S. agriculture is the family farm. Traveling across the heartland of America and visiting with farm families, I have been continuously impressed with their entrepreneurial spirit and drive to be successful. It is my pledge to rural America that the federal government will not force our farmers and ranchers to sell their operations or part of their operations simply to pay death taxes as their operations pass from one generation to next. For this reason, I fully support eliminating the death tax. Family farms and ranches built on strong rural values and work ethic should not be penalized through the heavy hand of government. Family farms are and need to continue to be the backbone of rural America. For this reason, a Romney Administration will work to ensure that our nation’s farm families face no federal death tax.
As oil prices rise and dependence on foreign oil continues to present a major issue for national security, the renewable energy industry has provided many innovations and positive developments in American power. Chief among these is the development of biodiesel, more than half of which is made from American soy. Producing a record 1.1 billion gallons in 2011, the biodiesel industry provides a valuable market for soybean farmers while creating a surplus of soybean meal that, in turn, lowers the price of animal feed. Tools like the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Biodiesel Tax Incentive ensure that this industry is allowed to continue to competitively produce clean, renewable American fuel, generate thousands of jobs, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. How would your administration protect the ability of the biodiesel industry to remain viable?
We must invest in a clean energy economy that will lead to new jobs, new businesses, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I recently announced a new goal of cutting oil imports in half by the end of the decade. Developing the next generation of biofuels will help us achieve this goal, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil will help create millions of new jobs that can't be outsourced. We are already making progress. U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history. Last year, rural America produced enough renewable fuels to meet roughly 8% of our needs, helping us increase our energy independence to its highest level in 20 years. And a higher renewable fuel standard is boosting an industry that supports 39,000 jobs and ensuring its continued growth.
I have a plan to achieve North American energy independence by 2020, and biofuels will play a role in enabling us to achieve that goal. I believe that all of our energy resources are and should continue to be a source of long-term competitive advantage for our nation. My policies broadly aim to ensure that all of our energy industries can sustainably become competitive, innovative and efficient. I support biofuels, as well as the RFS and would seek to eliminate the regulatory barriers to a diversification of our fuel system.
Soybean farmers depend on new biotech seed technologies to enhance yield, increase nutrients, conserve valuable resources, lessen their impact on the environment, and overcome challenges from pests, weeds and other challenges well beyond the farmer’s control. Soybean farmers need these tools to tackle the challenges of feeding a global population projected to pass 9 billion by 2050. Currently, U.S. regulatory agency delays in completing timely biotech reviews keep many biotech traits off the market and out of the hands of the farmers that need them. Additionally, a number of our export markets have barriers and processes that impede trade or adoption of new biotech commodities. How would your administration work to ensure a regulatory environment, both domestically and internationally, which encourages responsible innovation while using science-based factors for bringing new traits to market?
Advances in biotechnology have strengthened agriculture, one of the country’s largest industries. Today, an amazing variety of innovative products are being made from soybeans that would have been unimaginable just a generation ago. And the key to building upon America’s agriculture exports of more than $137 billion lies in developing even more innovative products. That is why my administration is working to streamline the regulatory process, reducing costs and reducing the time for review for new inventions, while still ensuring that crops are fully reviewed to ensure health and environmental safety. And we are removing trade barriers so that more of our farmers’ products are being sold around the world. I know we can support the continued advancement of biotechnology, without compromising safety, to preserve America’s place as the world leader in innovation and strengthen U.S. leadership in the 21st century’s high-tech economy.
Today over 90% of our soybeans and cotton and over 85% of our corn planted each year is biotech. The development of agricultural biotechnology has helped farmers reduce input use, preserve our soil and water and enhance yields. With the world’s population expected to grow by 2 billion people over the next 40 years – 80% of this occurring in developing countries – the demand for food will nearly double. All forms of agriculture production – conventional and biotech – need to be embraced and invested in to ensure the U.S. agriculture industry remains at the forefront of supplying this growing world market. My administration will create a regulatory review process for agriculture biotech that focuses on using sound science to make decisions and ensuring that the process is fully transparent.
Soybean farmers have developed valuable trading partners in every corner of the globe. American soy and products like pork and poultry that use soy inputs help to make soy the nation’s largest and most valuable agricultural export. Soybean exports to China last year neared $11 billion, and recent trade developments in Russia have further opened the world’s ninth largest economy to American soy. Trade agreements like those recently struck with Colombia, Panama and South Korea enable American farmers to stay competitive in the global marketplace, and agricultural trade helps to sustain more than one million jobs here at home. How will your administration maintain the progress made by these agreements and broaden our trade horizons through agreements with new trading partners?
I believe that America can compete and win in the global marketplace. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside of our borders – and I want to see them buying products with three proud words “Made In America” stamped on them. That’s why I set the ambitious goal of doubling our exports by 2015, a goal that we are on track to meet. The United States currently has a trade surplus in agriculture of more than $42 billion. This is something to be proud of, and is an area that we need to continue to expand. That is why I signed free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, marking the biggest step forward in U.S. trade liberalization in a decade and supporting tens of thousands of jobs. At the same time, it is absolutely essential that American workers compete on a fair playing field – that’s why I didn’t sign those trade deals until I was satisfied that our workers were protected. In 2011, American farm income reached the highest point since 1974, with a record number of agricultural exports and a record agriculture trade surplus. Our Trans-Pacific Partnership will open up new markets that total 40% of global trade to more U.S. goods. I’ll work to ensure that the Export-Import bank provides a level playing field for American exporters by making sure the most favorable financing is available to buy American products. And I’ll continue my efforts to stand up for American workers and businesses in the global marketplace.
The current Administration has not made expanding agricultural trade and exports a high priority. Yet, the production from 1 out of 3 acres in the U.S. is exported each year. A Romney Administration will make the pursuit of new bilateral and regional trade agreements a high priority. I will appoint a Secretary of Agriculture and a U.S. Trade Representative who understand the importance of agricultural trade and will vigorously pursue trade expansion. At the same time, my administration will vigorously enforce existing U.S. trade laws and ensure that our trade partners are held accountable when they do not follow them.
Every day, soybean farmers reap the benefits of the hard work by dedicated men and women at our land-grant universities and federal entities who are advancing the industry through scientific and economic research. This research has helped to create countless innovations, each of which enable soybean farmers to remain viable, compete in the marketplace and do more with less. In a budget-conscious atmosphere, it may be easy to reduce investments in research, but how would your administration protect and enhance commitments to agricultural research that drives the soybean industry and all of agriculture forward?
I strongly support investments in research and development that help spur America innovation and proposed a goal that, as a country, we invest more than 3% of our GDP in public and private research and development. Through the Recovery Act, we enacted the largest research and development increase in our nation’s history. In fact, the Recovery Act also made the largest single investment in clean energy in American history, including over $800 million toward research the development of new biofuels and support biorefinery technology. And I am making agricultural research a priority because investing in programs like the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and the Agricultural Research Service will make Americans better off in the long run. While making tough choices, we will continue to prioritize investments in research to ensure that our country remains a global leader and that Americans can remain innovators, working to better their lives and the lives around them.
One of the principal reasons that the U.S. agriculture sector is so successful is because our nation’s farmers and ranchers have always supported the need for investing in the future through a priority focus on research, teaching, and extension. U.S. agriculture is ideally positioned to grow and prosper in the future, but this will only occur if we continue to support and invest in our agricultural research system. A Romney Administration will focus on high-priority agriculture research – the so-called seed corn for the future – in order to build upon past success and ensure future prosperity.
Soybean farmers respect the rules and are committed to upholding their responsibilities under the law. Farmers also realize that some rules and regulations are put in place to conserve resources, ensure safety and protect the environment. Unfortunately, onerous or needless regulation can impede responsible production, overlap, duplicate one another, and create reams of paperwork for farmers. Rather than protect, conserve and enhance, overregulation serves only to hinder farmers’ ability to remain productive. Soybean farmers are committed to a good-faith effort with government to ensure that all regulations are followed, but how would your administration work to see regulations implemented that are strong, practical and science-based, without being redundant or duplicative?
Farmers want to work their land; they don't want to spend days upon days on paperwork. With smart, sustainable policies, we can continue to grow our agricultural economy today and protect our environment for ourselves and our children. That’s why my administration has worked with farmers to identify and reduce regulatory burdens. For example, in return for voluntarily making habitat improvements on their lands, landowners now have certainty that they will be able to continue managing their lands without taking additional conservation action. This helps reduce the burden on landowners while ensuring the protection of surrounding lands and species. Even more broadly, I have always been committed to looking at existing rules on the books, and streamline, fix and eliminate those that aren’t working. Last year, I issued an Executive Order calling for a government-wide review of regulations to reduce costs, eliminate unnecessary burdens, and get rid of unnecessary paperwork requirements that waste time and money. In response, dozens of government agencies produced final plans, including more than 500 proposals for reducing regulatory burdens. These changes are already improving conditions for consumers and businesses. Over the next five years, more than $10 billion in savings are anticipated from just a small fraction of the initiatives now underway. Now there is a lot of misinformation out there about changes environmental standards. Let me be clear that all existing regulatory exemptions for agricultural discharges and waters are going to stay in place in the future. I know that farmers are ultimately the best stewards of our lands and I am committed to working together to find innovative solutions that ensure farmers are competitive in the global market.
Reversing the massive overregulation that President Obama has pursued will take time, but rest assured that beginning on day one of the Romney Administration we will initiate a review of all Obama-era regulations that have burdened farmers and ranchers while weakening job creation and the rural economy. From an EPA that has saddled U.S. agriculture with costly air and water quality rules, to a Department of Labor that put forth regulations that sought to disqualify young farmers and ranchers from working on their own families’ farms, it is high time that we restore commonsense to federal rulemaking. A Romney Administration will appoint strong leaders to handle regulatory agencies. These leaders will be chosen because they understand the private sector and their faith in the American people – not the Washington bureaucracy. I know that when considering regulations we should ask: do they help or do they hurt jobs? My administration will understand what all of rural America understands: the real cost of complying with new rules isn’t just the taxes paid and the money spent; it is also the businesses that are never started, the ideas that are never pursued, and the dreams that are never defended. We are committed to freeing farmers and ranchers from these burdensome regulations and fostering job creation and growth in rural America.
Transportation and Infrastructure
Many industries depend on our nation’s transportation infrastructure to thrive, and the soybean industry is no exception. We use trucks to move soybeans from the farm to the elevator, trains to carry those soybeans from the elevator to the terminal and barges to ship those soybeans to ports where they then supply our global trading partners. We need investment in each of these transportation systems to ensure that they remain modern and efficient. Currently, our waterways infrastructure, including our locks and dams, is in dangerous need of rehabilitation, and a failure along this critical trade artery would be a catastrophe for soybean farmers who depend on it to receive inputs and move their product to market. How would your administration propose to finance the investments needed to modernize our Nation’s transportation infrastructure?
I know that America’s transportation infrastructure is in need of attention. And upgrading it is a necessary step in creating an economy built to last. American’s need to know that they can rely on our network of ground, air, and water infrastructure to get themselves and their products from point A to point B. It’s that simple. That’s why earlier this summer, I signed a transportation bill that will put thousands of construction workers to work and supports our commitment to restoring America's infrastructure. It provides states and communities with two years of steady funding to build needed roads, bridges, and transit systems. This is on top of my administration’s efforts to improve safety across all forms of transportation and to make progress on transportation alternatives as we have done during the last three years. I am making these historic upgrades while eliminating duplicative and outdated programs and saving taxpayers' hard-earned money. Last month, we freed up nearly half a billion dollars in unspent transportation funding that accumulated over the last decade and we are giving it right back to the states, so that they can spend it on the infrastructure projects they need most. My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work. We’re not going to let politics stand between good jobs and repairing our roads and bridges.
A major part of the great success that American agriculture has experienced is because of the dynamic transportation system that has been developed over the last 100 years. This transportation system of barges, railroads, and trucks – supported by our nation’s major rivers and the Great Lakes – has and will continue to provide a significant opportunity for U.S. agriculture to feed a growing U.S. and world population. The net result has been the creation of millions of U.S. jobs and spurred economic growth here and around the world. And yet for future competitiveness of U.S. agriculture to remain intact, continued investment is needed to update our rural transportation system – locks, dams and ports – so that we may remain the world’s leader in agricultural exports. A Romney Administration will support much needed investment in critical infrastructure to help keep our U.S. agriculture transportation system the most efficient in the world.