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No candidate to bet the farm on (Editorial)
(Nov. 8, 2016) Here we are, finally, at election day but had you noticed?
In not one of the presidential debates — nor for that matter, in the vice presidential debate either — has agriculture been mentioned.
Nor has the mainstream press, as far as we can ascertain, managed to put aside its daily search for Page 1 headlines long enough to ask, “What are your thoughts on the nation’s current farm policy?”
We find it somewhat astonishing. Consider if you will the 1960 presidential election.
Columnists at Farm Policy Facts in Washington, D. C. recalled the first televised presidential debate between Sen. John Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon.
Agriculture and farm policy made the cut for discussion, and it was not just a passing reference. It was the third question asked by one of the journalists on the panel.
Farm Policy Facts noted that the economic backdrop was that over the last decade, roughly 3 million people had been driven off the farm with net farm income dropping by 35 percent. The farm economy was hurting and there was angst in rural America.
Sen. Kennedy had already included a reference to the present plight of farmers in his opening remarks, but responded by saying,
“If the agricultural economy collapses, then the economy of the rest of the United States sooner or later will collapse.”
Vice President Nixon, in his response, also articulated the importance of supporting farmers. And, just days ahead of the debate, Nixon had already made a trip to South Dakota to deliver this message:
“[We] must change the prevailing outlook in our country toward the marvelous efficiency of our agriculture. I say this because it represents one of America’s greatest strengths…. Indeed, we in America should be profoundly grateful to all who ranch and farm. You of the agricultural community contributed magnificently to victory in World Wars I and II. For many years you have helped keep the people of our country the best-fed and best-clothed people on earth.”
We have heard absolutely nothing akin to that from this year’s candidates. How come? What has happened over the past half-century?
Today’s farm economics are just as bleak, the columnists at Farm Policy Facts noted.
Over the last three years, there has been a 56-percent decline in net farm income, commodity prices have collapsed, global demand is down, the average age of the farmer creeps upward, and our farmers and ranchers are having to compete with foreign countries who renege on their commitments to free trade.
So what’s the difference? The case can be made that it’s the nation’s commitment, in the farm bills, to what is known as the farm safety net.
Candidates no longer find it necessary to court the agricultural community of the nation.
Visits to farm country for farm reasons are rare and topics concerning rural America barely get a mention either among the candidates or in the press.
How come? Well, consider this. There is no food crisis. There are no food lines. The grocery stores are all stocked.
Farm Policy Facts argues, forcefully, that it is the nation’s investment in farm policy that enables this phenomenon.
Despite a difficult time in farm country right now, consumers are largely insulated from it, FPF says, and the situation would be worse for our agricultural producers without the risk management tools contained in the Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill works. And, American agriculture works because there is a safety net in place to help producers continue to grow food and fiber when natural disasters strike, when prices collapse, and when they’re competing with bad actors on the world stage.
There does not appear to be any party-line debate about this. Apublic opinion poll earlier this year demonstrated a strong backing for farm policy with 92 percent of voters supporting federal spending to help farms and farmers.
These same voters gave farmers high marks with an 86 percent approval rating. Additionally, 81 percent of those polled said, “a strong and thriving American farm industry is critical to American national security.”
So, as the nation heads to the polls, we can take some comfort that ag policy, in the teenage years of the 21st century, has won sufficient bipartisan approval to escape the rigors of the 2016 presidential campaign.
That’s worthy of a deep breath.