With the hourlong State of the Union, there was a lot to take in. Based on the president’s message and Republican response, the issue that will frame the political debate about agriculture will be the budget and spending cuts. How Congress and the president will grow initiatives and cut spending will be an interesting story to watch unfold.
While agriculture was not plainly mentioned in the discussion, without a doubt many of the policies laid out will have an impact at the farm gate.
In his speech, Obama made the comment that “we will argue about everything,” and that was probably one of the few points on which the Congress was in full agreement. As Obama laid out his plans for the next year, he said there will be challenging choices.
With the task to eliminate earmarks and spending cuts, it will challenge many Farm Bill programs moving forward. While agriculture programs have been cut in the past few years, more can be expected.
Obama said small businesses will be a part of getting America back to work. Farms and agribusinesses should be part of that discussion. According to the USDA’s national agriculture statistics service (NASS), 96 percent of farms are family-owned businesses. And history shows that an expansion in agriculture has a trickle-down effect to create more jobs, income and advancement.
One interesting point will be how the renewable energy, clean energy debate continues. Renewable energy could be an opportunity for farmers. Many of the products that will be needed, first and second generation, will come from farms.
Twice in the speech, Obama mentioned farmers. First, in the discussion for the desire to move products to market he noted the need for infrastructure. The second point was exports. There are several free-trade agreements are on the table. Obama indicated a willingness to evaluate several agreements. Free-trade agreements have historically benefited agriculture.
In a point of humor, Obama talked about how salmon is regulated, noting two different agencies regulate it based on if it is in saltwater or freshwater. His point was to show a need to restructure government. As the reorganization happens, farmers will have to see what the proposals mean as far as regulating farm operation and what the USDA look like in the restructuring.
Other points of discussion included the health care law, reform for entitlement programs, tax reform, immigration reform and education.
As many of the national agriculture organizations plan their annual “day on the hill” fly-in and spring legislative meetings, it will be interesting to see how the agriculture debate will continue.
-- Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, Special Sections Editor