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Markets now prepare for Obama administration

I'm sure most of you were as sick of listening to political commercials and rhetoric as I was. Now we move forward to make decisions based upon a new administration in Washington and a new political environment in most of your own states.

Unfortunately, ag policy has not been high on the list of topics that President-elect Obama has been discussing. He seems to speak in favor of the United States family farm, but has been relatively quiet on biofuels.

With the current negative state of the general economy, it's hard for me to imagine that he will be supportive of the import tax on ethanol, or that he will be supportive of continuing the blender tax credit. On the later, farmers might win and/or there might be a compromise to lower the blenders tax.

But this is an administration that's going to look for tax revenue anywhere they can.

While I write this, nothing has been set in stone, but speculation over the next secretary of agriculture appears to focus on a few names. At the top of the list is Tom Vilsack, a 57-year-old Iowa Democrat. Vilsack has served two terms as Iowa governor and after first supporting Hillary Clinton, shifted over and was a strong backer of Obama.

He has been committed to the ethanol industry (you'd have to be in the state of Iowa) and this will likely come under question in the Obama administration. He also has taken the position that tariffs on Brazilian ethanol should be eliminated in order to increase demand for E85 gasoline.

He was an early candidate for the presidency, but dropped out. At this stage, it would appear to me as though he is a front-runner in the group.

Collin Peterson's name also keeps popping up. He is chairman of the House Agricultural Committee and was instrumental in getting the farm bill passed this year. He has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1981, representing an area in northwest Minnesota.

He is a socially conservative Democrat in congress, anti-abortion and against stem cell research, and he has voted against most gun control measures. He also usually votes against free trade agreements and was against the 1996 farm bill.

The fact that Peterson is the chair of the House Agricultural Committee may preclude moving him to secretary of agriculture, as Obama may prefer a Peterson ally to take the post instead.

Tom Buis is a dark horse candidate and president of the Denver-based farm advocacy group, the National Farmers Union. Buis has been an agriculture policy advisor to several top Democrats, including former senate major leader Tom Daschle who was a major Obama supporter.

The NFU is also strongly against free trade negotiations such as CFTA and NFTA, claiming that the policies force American farmers to compete against foreign food products countries without the safety or quality rating regulations in place in the United States.

One on the list, that I consider to be unlikely, is Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandelin, a 37-year-old conservative Democrat from South Dakota. Also a long shot is former Democratic representative Charles Stenholm from Texas. Stenholm is 70 years old and is known as being one of the most conservative Democrats in congress (even voting for Bill Clinton's impeachment) and was rumored to be a candidate for secretary of agriculture under president Bush.

Other than impact on ethanol, it is unlikely that we are going to see many substantial changes in agriculture policy over the first year of the Obama administration. We will likely be overlooked on many issues because the economy and world wars are much higher on the level of importance. These are certainly interesting times.

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