An Open Letter to My Son

I have been in and around politics for the better part of two decades but a father for less than two years.   In that short time there has not been a day gone by when I have not felt as though I have failed my son as a parent – that I have done enough to alleviate the crushing debt being heaped upon his generation and those yet to be born.

 
In a broad sense, what both parties are doing regarding our fiscal situation is both immoral and unconscionable.  I know the political game well and have seen it from the inside for a very long time.  As such, I know as much as anyone in the business about strategy, messaging and how to navigate political and policy minefields.  I expect I’ll take some heat from my friends for this posting but that won’t bother me in the least.  What we are doing is wrong and we must stop going down the path on which we are traveling.

 
As it now stands, the voters are equally to blame for the fiscal landscape.  While we talk a good game about the “need to rein in spending” our actions often tell a different story.  Over the past year or so we have witnessed a renewed focus tackling the national debt but when it comes to the difficult work of dealing with entitlement reform there appears to be no room for courage – political or otherwise.  Why should we expect our elected officials to show backbone in presenting innovative and out-of-the-box solutions when we, the electorate, have an “anyone but me” attitude?

 
Until the electorate, candidates and policymakers get serious about dealing with entitlements; Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense and interest on the national debt we are only nibbling around the edges.  Although there are always areas where discretionary spending can be reduced, it means nothing if we as a country don’t grow up and tackle the crumbling foundations upon which our fiscal imbalance has been built.

To my young son, I am truly sorry what we are doing to you and your generation.  You don’t owe us a thing.  We, on the other hand, owe you a responsible approach to a seemingly impossible situation.  However, there are no unbeatable odds.

 
The daunting challenge before us is not about individual agendas or political gamesmanship.  My generation needs to do more than talk a good game.  We have to stand up, make the difficult decisions and stop mortgaging our children and grandchildren’s future.

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American Farm Bureau Federation Questionnaire for Presidential Candidates

President Obama:

Energy

Agriculture is an energy-intensive industry and volatile prices significantly affect the cost of growing crops. What policies will you support to meet our energy needs and strengthen energy security? What role do you see for agricultural-based biofuels in the nation’s energy supply?

Our rural communities, farmers, and ranchers can increase our energy independence and boost the transition to a clean energy economy. U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history. 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. We are increasing the level of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline, and the new Renewable Fuel Standard helped boost biodiesel production to nearly 1 billion gallons in 2011, supporting 39,000 jobs.

Environmental

In the context of regulating water quality, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has increasingly encroached on states’ authority, from nutrient loadings in Florida to total maximum daily loads in the Chesapeake Bay to overall regulatory reach through proposing “guidance” that essentially gives EPA regulatory control over all waters. Do you support reaffirming the primary role of states in regulating both non-navigable waters and non-point source runoff?

Farmers are some of the best stewards of our environment, which is why my administration is working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers on more than 30 million acres of land to help conserve our lands and protect our waters. I have seen how we can bolster growth of our nation’s agricultural economy while protecting our environment. Now there is a lot of misinformation out there about changes to clean water standards. We are not going to be applying standards to waters that have not been historically protected. And all existing exemptions for agricultural discharges and waters are going to stay in place. I believe that we can work together to safeguard the waters Americans rely on every day for drinking, swimming, and fishing, and those that support farming and economic growth.

Governor Romney:

Energy

Agriculture is an energy-intensive industry and volatile prices significantly affect the cost of growing crops. What policies will you support to meet our energy needs and strengthen energy security? What role do you see for agricultural-based biofuels in the nation’s energy supply?

An affordable, reliable supply of energy is crucial to America’s economic future. 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. Taking full advantage of our energy resources will create millions of jobs, but this revolution in U.S. energy production will not just expand economic opportunity within the energy industry. Upstream businesses that supply the industry will experience a surge in demand, and perhaps the greatest benefit will occur downstream as agricultural businesses and manufacturers gain access to a more affordable and reliable supply of energy and feedstock. America’s energy resources can be a long-term competitive advantage for American agriculture and their development is key to the success of the industry.

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. I also support eliminating regulatory barriers to a diversification of the electrical grid, fuel system, and vehicle fleet. My policies broadly aim to ensure that all of our energy industries can sustainably become competitive, innovative and efficient.

Environmental

In the context of regulating water quality, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has increasingly encroached on states’ authority, from nutrient loadings in Florida to total maximum daily loads in the Chesapeake Bay to overall regulatory reach through proposing “guidance” that essentially gives EPA regulatory control over all waters. Do you support reaffirming the primary role of states in regulating both non-navigable waters and non-point source runoff?

Government oversight is of course crucial to the protection of our environment. But statutes and regulations that were designed to protect public health and the environment have instead been seized on by environmentalists as tools to disrupt economic activity and the enjoyment of our nation’s environment altogether. President Obama’s Administration has embraced this approach, his EPA embarking on the most far-reaching regulatory scheme in American history.

Modernizing America’s complex environmental statutes, regulations, and permitting processes is crucial to ensuring that the nation can develop its resources safely and efficiently. Laws should promote a rational approach to regulation that takes cost into account. Regulations should be carefully crafted to support rather than impede development. Repetitive reviews and strategic lawsuits should not be allowed to endlessly delay progress or force the government into imposing rules behind closed doors that it would not approve in public. Energy development, economic growth, and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand if the government focuses on transparency and fairness instead of seeking to pick winners and repay political favors.

This questionairre can be accessed in its entirety at http://www.fb.org/index.php?action=legislative.2012presidentialQuestionnaire

National Corn Growers Association: 2012 Presidential Candidates on the Issues

 Farm Bill and Safety Net

President Obama: Any Farm Bill passed this year – and there needs to be a Farm Bill this year – must provide certainty and adequate protections for America’s farmers. I called on Congress to pass a five-year bill that strengthens the farm safety net, including natural disaster relief and a strong crop insurance program. We need to boost economic growth and create jobs in rural America by increasing access to credit for rural small businesses, investing in rural broadband, water and sewer infrastructure, and make it easier for rural communities to access health care.

The next Farm Bill needs to support farmers’ access to crop insurance and extend disaster assistance programs so that farmers have a strong and resilient safety net. In the past three years, I have increased the availability of crop insurance and emergency disaster assistance to help nearly 600,000 farmers and ranchers keep their farms in business after natural disasters and crop loss. My administration has 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. I created a White House Rural Council to bolster federal assistance to rural America and expand economic opportunities. 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. At the same time, our agriculture programs are contributing to our government-wide efforts to cut the deficit by cutting subsidies to crop insurance companies and better targeting conservation funding.

My opponent and House Republicans have a different vision for rural America. The Romney- Ryan budget would continue handing taxpayer money to wealthy farmers, while increasing the cost farmers pay for the insurance that protects them against natural disasters and gutting conservation and rural development programs.

I intend to do everything I can to get a comprehensive and long-term farm bill sent to my desk. But right now, House Republicans are not doing their part. House Republicans rushed out of Washington declaring their work was finished, without allowing a vote on this year’s Farm Bill. The House needs to do its part and pass this bill. Protecting American farmers is too important to let it slip through our fingers.

Governor Romney: 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.  When considering 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 to achieve a level playing field on which American farmers can compete.

This questionairre can be accessed in its entirety at http://www.ncga.com/uploads/useruploads/campaign-12-obama-romney-issues.pdf

American Soybean Association Presidential Candidate Questionnaire

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?

President Obama: 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.

Governor Romney: 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.

The entire questionnaire can be accessed by visiting http://www.soygrowers.com/newsroom/releases/documents/Compiled%20Presidential%20Questionnaire%20Answers.pdf

Senate Battle Remains Close; Democrats Set for Small House Gains (via Roll Call)

It looks increasingly possible that control of Congress will be split for another two years.

With one week to go before Election Day, Republicans are primed to retain a majority in the House, even as their margin will almost surely be cut. Senate control remains too close to call, although momentum has been on the Democrats’ side at least since the national conventions two months ago.

All of these races must be viewed in the context of a presidential contest that’s been a pure tossup for the past month. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s sustained bump in the polls since his first debate with President Barack Obama on Oct. 3 breathed new life into Republicans’ Senate prospects and dashed any long-shot Democratic hopes of netting the 25 seats needed to retake the House this cycle.

While a solid number of GOP Members of Congress are probably not coming back, Republicans have been on offense in a number of races from New England to California. Democrats are poised to gain only a handful of seats — probably somewhere in the single-digit range.

The Senate landscape has been far more fluid, with states such as Pennsylvania emerging onto the competitive playing field in the past month. The opportunities are certainly there for Republicans to win, which is why few are counting them out just yet. But given the GOP’s own potential loss of seats and candidate missteps in eminently winnable states such as Missouri, Democrats are more optimistic than ever that a narrow majority is theirs for another two years.

In the House, the decennial redistricting process benefited Republicans, who were able to tweak a number of GOP-held seats to be less competitive. Along with having plenty of their own incumbents to defend, that’s part of the reason Democrats have always had a steep uphill slog to take back the Speaker’s gavel.

The overall political environment, the largest single contributing factor to the House landscape, has remained as starkly neutral as the presidential election is bitterly close. Unlike 2006, 2008 and 2010, no partisan wave ever formed. That has been to Republicans’ significant advantage, as Democrats have tried to position themselves to find a path to 218 seats.

Senate races are less influenced by national atmospherics than the House, but this cycle the majority will be won or lost in a cross-section of presidential battleground states and states where the incumbent must overperform the top of the ticket. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is hoping to hold off Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in a state that Romney should win handily, while Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) may have to win around 20 percent of the Democratic vote against Elizabeth Warren (D) in a strong Obama state.

The final week of campaigning in these hard-fought elections kicked off with a bang, at least on the East Coast, as Hurricane Sandy made landfall Monday night. The damage caused by the great storm was expected to be of historic proportions, and its presence affected campaign plans up and down the coast.

Romney and Obama canceled several events in battleground states where they had hoped to make personal appearances in the campaign’s final days. In Virginia, Senate candidates Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R) canceled events Monday. Kaine’s campaign manager emailed supporters Sunday night with emergency preparedness tips and a request to remove their lawn signs to avoid the possibility that they become projectiles. Brown also asked his supporters to take down their lawn signs and reminded them in an email of Bay Staters’ “proud tradition of resilience.”

But it’s House Democrats who will need resilience in the face of a different kind of powerful storm.

The GOP wave in 2010 gave Republicans control of not just the House of Representatives, but also a number of state legislatures. That left Republicans controlling the redraw of far more House seats than Democrats and allowed them to cement recent gains. One recent study from New York University estimated that Republicans will be poised to keep long-term control of 11 more seats now than the party would have under the old lines.

A number of retirements in unfavorable districts also bedeviled Democrats this cycle, undermining their ability to chart a path back to control. And well-timed and well-positioned GOP independent expenditure spending — though matched for much of the cycle by outside Democratic spending — has also added to the party’s woes.

“It was always kind of far-fetched to think that Democrats would win back the House in just one cycle,” Democratic pollster Dave Beattie said.

Early on this cycle, it was also a less-than-even proposition that Democrats could retain control of the Senate, but a lot went right for them over the past year, and the party is now well-positioned to keep control. Still, the Senate majority is riding on a long list of close races that, given the uncertainty in the presidential race, makes any predictions tenuous.

Two Senate seats likely to flip party control are no longer viewed as competitive. Former Maine Gov. Angus King (I) is likely to win a three-way contest for the seat of retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), and both parties expect he will caucus with Democrats. Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) is expected to defeat former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) for the seat of retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D).

That leaves Democrats’ 53-47 majority in tact. To close that gap, Republicans must defeat Tester in Montana and pick up the open Democratic seat in North Dakota, where Heidi Heitkamp (D) is taking on Rep. Rick Berg (R). Romney will win both states with ease, yet both races are tossups with a week to go.

Should Romney win the White House and assuming the GOP wins both of those seats, Republicans would need to win just one more Democratic seat for a 50-50 Senate — as long as the party doesn’t lose any other seats. The GOP’s most likely possibilities for offense include the open seats in Virginia and Wisconsin, where Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) is taking on former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R). Ohio would be next, where state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) is challenging Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in the most targeted presidential state in the country.

Republican candidates are also making waves in Pennsylvania, where self-funding businessman Tom Smith (R) has closed in on Sen. Bob Casey (D), and in Connecticut, where former WWE CEO Linda McMahon (R) is competing against Rep. Christopher Murphy (D). Both states that were hardly on the radar at the beginning of the year have attracted an influx of outside spending in the past month.

“In many ways the battle for the Senate reflects what we’re also seeing in the presidential race — a lot of very close battles but a continued trend in the Republicans’ direction as more voters focus on the Democrats’ failed economic leadership,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said.

The most glaring missed opportunity for Republicans will likely turn out to be Missouri, where the race took a stunning turn in the direction of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) after GOP Rep. Todd Akin’s comment about “legitimate rape.” Yet the undoing of the party’s quest for a majority may end up being Democrats’ surprising number of offensive opportunities.

The number of seats the GOP must win for a majority increases with every Republican seat lost. Beyond Maine, Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) could defeat appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) in a stubbornly close race, Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) could capitalize on state Treasurer Richard Mourdock’s (R) remark about rape and pregnancy in a recent debate, and while the race is close, Warren’s prospects for victory have never looked better.

Democrats are even hoping for a win in Arizona, where former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) is taking on Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in a state that Romney will carry.

“Democrats are cautiously optimistic we will keep the majority,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter said. “We have recruited stronger candidates and forced Republicans to spend millions playing defense in five of the 10 Republican-held seats on the map.”

This story can be accessed by visiting http://www.rollcall.com/news/Senate-Battle-Remains-Close-Democrats-Set-for-Small-House-Gains-218553-1.html?ET=rollcall:e14585:63338a:&st=email&pos=epol

Op-Ed: Rural Votes Matter

Linda (L.J.) Johnson, American Farm Bureau Federation

The red and blue highlighted U.S. map we see so frequently as election time nears can be disheartening for rural voters. They may rightly begin to wonder if rural votes make a difference in any race where metropolitan areas exist. The answer is “yes.”

For example, President George W. Bush won the rural vote in 2004 by 19 points. In 2008, President Barack Obama performed unusually well in rural areas, losing there to Sen. John McCain by just 8 points. That means 9 million rural voters cast their ballots for our current president.

During this election cycle both presidential candidates have frequently been seen in states that have large rural regions. Both are well aware that rural country roads are an important part of the road map that leads to the White House.

A recent poll for the Center for Rural Strategies showed 54 percent of rural voters favored candidate Mitt Romney. Obama knows he needs to win as many votes as he can in rural areas in 2012 to keep the margins tight again. Swing states that were polled are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The Senate is another battleground where rural votes matter. Control of the Senate may well be determined by rural voters in Indiana, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, North Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin. All of these states are in the toss-up column according to most political pundits.

In 2010, two-thirds of the nation’s most competitive House races were in rural America. Current polling shows that between 24 and 26 House seats are in the toss-up category and about 30 races are leaning to one party or the other. Do you live in one of the states that will determine control of the House? They are Arizona, California (3 seats), Colorado, Connecticut, Florida (2 seats), Illinois (2 seats), Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New York (4 seats), Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah.

Eleven states have gubernatorial races this year. The rural vote is expected to make a big difference in three that are in the toss-up column: Montana, New Hampshire and Washington.

Do rural votes really make a difference? Just ask Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who faced a tough recall election earlier this year. While he lost the city vote, he won his recall election because of rural and other non-urban voters. Just ask former Reps. Betsy Markey of Colorado, Debbie Halvorson of Illinois, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, John Boccierri of Ohio and Steve Kagen of Wisconsin if rural votes matter. They all lost their House seats in 2010.

Is the red and blue map disheartening? Maybe. It is a fact that Democrats normally pick up a big vote in the cities. And Republicans usually pick up a big vote in the suburbs. But the rest of story is that the rural vote provides candidates from both parties the winning edge when the polls close.

So remember, every vote from rural America is important. Cast your vote for the candidates you want to represent you. It is your patriotic duty and in the end, you just might be the deciding vote.

Linda (L.J.) Johnson is director of policy implementation programs at the American Farm Bureau Federation.  This op-ed originally appeared on www.Agri-Pulse.com

Eric Cantor Confirms Farm Bill Vote in Lame-duck (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., committed to holding a vote on the 2012 Farm Bill following the Nov. 6 election during a campaign stop today in Boise, Idaho for Rep. Paul Labrador, R-Idaho.

According to a report from the Idaho Statesman, Cantor said “I’m committed to bring the issue to the floor and then to see a way forward so we can get the votes to pass (a bill).”

He said he delayed bring the farm bill to floor before the October recess because “we don’t have the votes on the floor.”

Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, issued a statement in response to Cantor’s remarks that she is “very pleased to hear that Majority Leader Cantor is now committed to bring the Farm Bill to the floor immediately after the election.”

“America’s farmers, ranchers, small businesses and 16 million Americans employed in agriculture desperately need the certainty and disaster relief the Farm Bill provides,” she said.

Stabenow added that the Senate “passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that reforms farm programs and cuts $23 billion in spending.”

“I hope our colleagues in the House of Representatives will follow that lead with a bipartisan approach to this legislation,” she said. “It is critical that we are able to finalize the Farm Bill before the beginning of next year when farm programs begin to expire, which would impact milk and food prices for families.”

This story may be accessed by visiting www.agri-pulse.com.

 

Guest Commentary: Fair and Fear-free Trade

Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President

As farmers and ranchers, we face plenty of challenges: from nature, from prices and markets, from foreign competitors, and some from policy. Fear of potential retaliation from our trading partners should not be one of those challenges. Recent efforts by members of the agriculture community to cave to our trading partners have needlessly hurt American tomato farmers.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had it right when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” American farmers shouldn’t have to live in fear of our trading partners; instead, we should be protected to exercise the rights granted us by the trade agreements our government has negotiated and signed.

NFU is a strong supporter of free and fair trade according to the trading rules our government has negotiated. That support includes the right of our fellow farmers and ranchers to exercise their legal rights under our laws without fear of retaliation from trading partners.

The recent situation of the “changed circumstances review” being conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce on whether to terminate a sixteen-year-old suspension agreement on fresh tomatoes from Mexico is a case in point. U.S. law has long provided the right of domestic producers (whether agricultural or industrial) to seek the termination of existing orders or suspension agreements if an order or agreement is not wanted. 

Domestic tomato producers, led by producers from Florida and including producers from across the country, filed an anti-dumping petition in 1996 regarding tomato imports from Mexico.  The U.S. International Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce made preliminary determinations that found that the dumping of Mexican tomatoes into the U.S. market caused injury to our domestic industry. As a result, Mexican producers sought a suspension agreement instead of continuing the investigation, which they were granted. Fast forward 16 years to today. Our domestic tomato industry no longer views the suspension agreement as a viable solution to their problems. U.S. tomato farmers and processors have initiated a legal process to terminate the suspension agreement, which is entirely within the domestic industry’s right to do.

Certain Mexican producers have said that removal of the suspension agreement would result in a tripling of tomato prices. That would confirm the fact that something very unusual is taking place: dumping. Tomato prices wouldn’t much change unless there is massive influx of underpriced tomatoes entering our domestic market. This is a clear sign that the suspension agreement isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do – protect our domestic tomato producers – and ought to be ended.

Mexican officials have threatened to retaliate against U.S. trade if the suspension agreement is lifted. The officials refer to the notable trucking dispute, which resulted in retaliation against U.S exports, that retaliation was authorized after Mexico had pursued dispute settlement proceedings, obtained a dispute panel finding against the United States, and then failure by the United States to comply. The current situation is nothing like the trucking dispute because there has not been a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or World Trade Organization (WTO) panel determination against the United States – if anything, the Mexicans were found to be at fault 16 years ago. The Mexican claim is either a threat to violate their obligations to the United States under NAFTA and the WTO or bluster. 

Strangely enough, many farm and agriculture groups in the United States have written to federal government and trade negotiators to urge them to side with Mexico on this issue out of fear of these outlandish retaliatory threats. This is not a sustainable position and is unfair to our domestic tomato producers. American farmers deserve fair and fear-free trade.

NFU supports the rights of farmers to protect their interests consistent with U.S. law and this tomato case is no different.  We support the efforts of domestic tomato producers to have their rights respected and urge the Obama administration to continue to stand strong on behalf of U.S. tomato farmers.

Roger Johnson is the 14th President of the National Farmers Union. Prior to his post at NFU, Johnson held the position of Agriculture Commissioner in North Dakota for 12 years and his family farms in Turtle Lake, N.D.

Guest Commentary: Everyone Has a Stake in the Ongoing Training of Farm Owners and Operators

Brad Finstad, Center for Rural Policy and Development

There has been a lot of conversation this political season regarding job creation.  In Minnesota, much of the discussion is around the “skills shortage” – the notion that good jobs go unfilled because there aren’t enough people with the training needed to fill the positions.

A recent study conducted by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) is worth reading with the skills shortage in mind.  It’s not that Minnesota farmers are lacking in expertise.  Rather, they are challenged by an industry – agriculture – that is becoming increasingly complex.  Old skills need to be enhanced and new skills developed.

Yet, the study found critical gaps in the education programs available to farmers.  Approximately eight of ten Minnesota farmers are not participating in education programs because of time constraints or schedule conflicts, according to the research.  And nearly a third—30.5 percent—are simply unaware of the availability of college or university programs.

MnSCU, the University of Minnesota Extension Services and businesses that partner with farmers need to close the gap and make sure farmers are ready to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Minnesota farmers and communities throughout the state depend on a state-of-the-art ag economy.  One-third of Greater Minnesota’s economy is tied to agriculture, and more than 340,000 jobs are tied directly and indirectly to farming.  Technology, global market competition and government laws and regulations are affecting agriculture in ways that are every bit as profound as what is occurring in other industries.  It’s critical to the success of Minnesota farmers and to the state’s economy that farmers continue to learn and have access to the latest best practices.

Some other key findings of the study include:

• The most popular providers of education are suppliers (for example, credit, seed or equipment vendors) and the University of Minnesota Extension Service.  MnSCU was identified by only 12 percent of the respondents as the expected source of education.

• Owners and operators of farms generating less than $100,000 in annual sales often are most interested in learning more about tax and estate planning strategies to preserve their assets.  As sales increase, farmers are more interested in learning new marketing strategies and better understanding of commodity markets.
 
• Only 10 percent of farmers were interested in learning more about food safety, even as the issue grows in importance for consumers and regulators.

• The cost of current programs is not a huge barrier.  Only 16 percent said the cost of programs was keeping them from participating.

• Farmers are active learners.  They prefer hands-on training, demonstrations and one-on-one training over other techniques.  And, while 72 percent use the Internet (and 62 percent have access to high-speed connections), printed materials are preferred over information provided online.

At the Center for Rural Policy and Development, we are dedicated to benefiting Minnesota by providing its policy makers with an unbiased evaluation of issues from a rural perspective.  These findings underscore the need for action by the state’s higher education systems, and three recommendations rise to the top of the list:

First, we recommend that MnSCU and the U of M Extension Service use the study’s findings to assess their programs and make sure they are meeting farmers’ needs.

Second, it’s clear that farmers have great confidence in their suppliers, and Minnesota is fortunate to have so many ag-related businesses that are outstanding in their fields.  We recommend that our state’s education community work with these suppliers to create new programs and to make sure that farmers are receiving education that is objective and state of the art.

Third, everyone in Minnesota has a stake in the ongoing training of farm owners and operators.  We need aggressive outreach to farmers to make certain they are aware of the programs being offered, that the right programs are available and that they are available in the right places at the right times.

The Center for Rural Policy and Development is committed to working with Minnesota’s colleges and ag-businesses to promote new approaches to farm education. In a time of drastic change in all industries, Minnesotans need to continue their strong commitment to agriculture in order to see farmers succeed in the 21st century.

Minnesota can’t afford a skills gap on the farm any more than in our state’s other great industries. 

Brad Finstad is president and CEO of the Center for Rural Policy and Development, a non-partisan, not-for-profit policy research organization dedicated to benefiting Minnesota by providing policy makers with an unbiased evaluation of issues from a rural perspective. To fulfill this mission, we work with academic and non-academic researchers from throughout the state to design and conduct our research projects.