Dec 4, 2008
Elections Spur Outpourings of Hope for Progress

Within hours after Sen. Barack Obama became president-elect of the United States, agricultural organizations began issuing statements of congratulations. Those with histories of being warmer to Republicans were warmly noncommittal to the Democratic winner, while those with histories of warmth to Democrats expressed their optimism.

National Farmers Union (NFU) is usually “in” when the Democrats are “in,” and felt strongly that would be the case this time.

“We congratulate President-elect Obama and look forward to working with a president who wants to work with us,” said NFU President Tom Buis. “Obama clearly stated throughout the campaign his willingness to work with rural America on the issues important to those in the countryside.”

Both Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden have a 100 percent favorable voting record, as tabulated by NFU, but plenty of senators share that distinction. The rating was based on four votes related to passage of the last Farm Bill, and about 80 of the 100 senators, in both parties, voted in favor and then favored overriding President Bush’s veto.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), which historically finds itself comfortable with Republican government, congratulated Obama and the congressional-elect members of the 111th Congress.

“This was a decisive and historic election,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said.

“Farmers and ranchers, like all Americans, have a list of issues that they expect the administration and Congress will address. The issues include the economy, energy, immigration, trade, implementation of the Farm Bill and many others. We know there are many points of view on these issues, but we also know that our elected leaders have one thing in common: Each person elected to office ran for office to improve this country and will work on these issues to make America better and to improve our country for all Americans.

“We look forward to working with the new administration and Congress to create those opportunities that will improve agriculture and rural America.”

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin, said: “Food Marketing Institute congratulates President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden on their historic victory. America’s record participation in this election signals our need to welcome new opportunities and forums for addressing and resolving issues.

“We look forward to working closely with the White House, the new administration and Congress on issues of importance to the American people such as ensuring this nation continues to provide the safest food supply in the world, making prescription drugs more affordable and accessible and reducing runaway credit card fees.”

Many of the congratulatory messages were embedded with assessments of what work needs to be done.

American Farmland Trust (AFT) said it this way:

“President-elect Obama voted in favor of the 2008 Farm Bill, and his campaign platform supported farmland preservation, regional food systems and renewable energy. American Farmland Trust is looking forward to helping our new president implement the crucial policies that provide support for American agriculture and farmland conservation.”

Since the Farm Bill passed last June, its implementation has been on hold. In a message to Congress in September, in a revision to his earlier budget proposal, President Bush recommended against funding many of the provisions of the Farm Bill and the Specialty Crops Initiative, and Congress neither approved nor disapproved.

Rather than pass the 2009 appropriations bill for agriculture and other government agencies, Congress passed a continuing resolution. While they may pass a budget if a lame-duck session is held after election day, according to AFT, they are required by law to determine spending levels by March 2009.

Until then, all programs with mandatory funding in the 2008 budget will receive level funding until the new budget is passed. Programs with “mandatory funding” in the 2008 Farm Bill continue to receive funds at the same 2008 rates, while items with “discretionary funding” such as the Conservation Loan Program, supported by AFT, have no funding until the new appropriations bill is passed.

“Obama is inheriting a daunting set of domestic and global challenges,” AFT President Jon Scholl said. “With the recent fluctuation in global food and fuel prices, a shaken economy and growing domestic and world hunger, our farmers are under enormous pressure to produce food and fuel while minimizing their impact on the environment. With the right policy tools and funding in hand, farmers and farmland can play a huge role toward solving our nation’s greatest economic, environmental, nutrition and energy problems.”

AFT strongly supported the Farm Bill and sees the first few months of 2009 as critical, with competing demands for money putting funding of the bill into question.

“The significant future reforms set up by our hard-fought victories of last year could be lost without a vigilant and sustained effort in the weeks ahead,” AFT said on its Web site.

“We congratulate President-elect Obama and commend him for his support of the 2008 Farm Bill and continued endorsement of production agriculture,” said Jay Vroom, CEO and president of CropLife America, which represents the pest management and fertilizer industry.

“United Fresh looks forward to working with the next Congress and a new administration as we focus on key issues that impact our industry including food safety, nutrition, federal agricultural policy, transportation, immigration and economic policy,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at United Fresh.

“In both the House and Senate, most members who have traditionally supported produce industry efforts seem to have fared well in their re-election bids, further strengthening our efforts in the respective chambers. Agriculture in general is relatively non-partisan, and fruit and vegetable issues specifically have very little to do with party preferences.

“While rural members of Congress from produce-growing regions are certainly our friends, the most liberal members of Congress also strongly support increased fruit and vegetable consumption to meet the dire health needs of their constituents.”

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