Thursday, January 03, 2008

Does the election matter to farmers?...

What does the ag community have at stake this year? My appraisal is simple: pretty much the same as any other sector - which is a lot. Our nation is at war, spending is out of control, the economy shaky (at least the financial sector), health costs remain a major problem for too many, and our place among nations hasn't been this vague in decades.

These issues impact all Americans, so singling out farmers to focus on what they have to gain or lose overlooks how integrated our economy is. No farmer is an island - to misquote Donne. Further singling our farm issues to decide your vote sells it way too cheaply this year.

Almost alone in the US economy, grain farmers are in the midst of a boom of historic proportions, propelled not by farm policy, but energy policy. And that policy is signed and delivered. While the results in November will have some impact on farm policy (think of John McCain's historical disaffection with farm programs, for example) the more interesting reflection is how the primaries might alter farm bill negotiations between the House and Senate, and of course, the White House.

If candidates of "change" emerge by February 5 - Obama, Edwards, arguably Huckabee - will negotiators be more or less likely to work for a successful conclusion? If the administration senses a political sea change coming, will it be more hard-line or less on payment limits and costs?

I'm not sure the narrow focus of farm bill players will extend to that range. They already have shown a marked propensity for getting all they can as fast as they can, and the future be damned - especially the future budget. However, if the victors are NOT Clinton and Romney/Guiliani, I think House members especially will get concerned about business as usual as a viable career plan. If favorites can be overtaken in the presidential race, hasn't the power of incumbency been weakened?

In that case, I think reform will get a more serious look during the conference. I also think the Bush administration will have much to gain and little to lose with a reform stance (payment limits, cost containment, WTO compliance, etc.)

Regardless, as the markets carry us far past a $25 DCP (lessee now, 200 bpa corn x $4.50...) farmers have less to lose they may think. Besides, if we demand a "safety net", we'd be better off with candidates who will work to protect us from the real hazards.

And that approach puts us squarely in the ranks of most other Americans. This election counts, but not because of farm policy.

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