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Whether they stick with them or not, it's important to know candidates' positions

With the election a little more than a month away, candidates for both major parties are scrambling to appease those constituencies that will do them the most good in the voting booth. That is precisely why — at the national level anyway — you as farmers are being virtually ignored.

As U.S. farmers become fewer and fewer, it simply isn’t practical for a candidate for national office to spend valuable time and resources courting your vote. With less than 2 percent of the American population now making a living from farming, there are thousands of interest groups with larger memberships ahead of you in line. Of course, the other groups don’t provide the nation’s food and fiber, but that’s mostly an overlooked point during the election cycle.

So the best you can do is to know the candidates’ stand on agriculture, although it’s certainly no guarantee their position on an issue will translate into policy if and when they take office. This isn’t a cynical notion, but one of reality. A candidate can have the best of intentions out on the campaign trail, but once entrenched in power, positions can change rapidly.

The following positions — taken from each candidate’s Web site — perhaps should be marked with a “subject to change” warning, but take them for what they are: Mostly vague platitudes that are most creative in how they avoid specifics.

Republican nominee John McCain says he will open foreign markets, expanding access for U.S. agricultural producers and “working tirelessly” to insure that farmers receive fair prices for their products. He says he has a strategy for achieving fair trade from other countries, and that he’ll insure that U.S. trade policies are in accord with bilateral and WTO trade agreements. At the same time, he will demand the same from our trading partners.

McCain will address the food crisis through reducing trade barriers and improving world markets, and he believes the Doha Round negotiations provide the opportunity for accomplishing this. He supports a “risk management” program for U.S. farmers and will fight for reasonable reforms to crop insurance and counter-cyclical and direct payments. He will focus farm policy on those “with clear need,” vetoing any bill containing special-interest favors and corporate welfare. He opposes providing billions to subsidize “large commercial farms” — those with an average income of $200,000 and an average net worth of $2 million. He will cap subsidies to farmers whose adjusted gross income exceeds $250,000.

McCain will direct the USDA to carry out a comprehensive research approach to help develop more drought-resistant, higher-yielding crops and increase production per acre. He supports fully funding Food and Nutrition Programs and carrying out a “robust” Emergency Food Assistance Program at a time when high food prices are hurting the neediest among us. He is opposed to federal policies that divert over 25 percent of corn out of the food supply and into subsidized ethanol production.

Democratic nominee Barack Obama says he will fight for farm programs that provide family farmers with stability and predictability, implementing a $250,000 payment limitation so that family farmers are helped and not large corporate agribusiness. He will close the loopholes that allow mega farms to get around the limits by sub-dividing their operations into multiple paper corporations.

Obama says he will prevent anti-competitive behavior against family farms. “When meatpackers own livestock they can manipulate prices and discriminate against independent farmers,” he says. Obama will strengthen anti-monopoly laws and strengthen producer protections to ensure independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.

Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency will strictly regulate pollution from large CAFOs, with fines for those that violate tough standards. He also supports meaningful local control and immediate implementation of the Country of Origin Labeling law so that American producers can distinguish their products from imported ones.

Obama says he will help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and reform crop insurance so that it will not penalize organic farmers. He also will promote “regional food systems.”

To encourage young people to become farmers, Obama says he will establish a new program to identify and train the next generation of farmers. He will also provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm. He will also increase incentives for farmers and private landowners to conduct sustainable agriculture and protect wetlands, grasslands and forests.

So there they are in a nutshell — exercise your precious right to vote.


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