Thursday, November 06, 2008

Agriculture, Australia and Obama

The US election is now done and dusted but the real hard yards for Australian agriculture are about to start. The US farm policies of the Republican and Democrat parties are different, very different.

McCain was considered to be very, very pro free market. He detested subsidies and mandates.
His disdain for farm and ethanol subsidies was well known.

Even so, the Obama campaign's 13-page document, 'Rural Leadership for Rural America', has been widely read in the US farm belt - traditional Republican territory.

Obama supports making sure that "(US) farm programs are strong and are targeted to support family farmers". This might extend to a better deal for US farm workers, currently usually poorly paid, rather than, or as part of a better deal for farm owners. And would an improved environmental focus on farms necessarily be a bad thing anyway? Surely a US type Landcare program might be a good, not bad development.

An Obama Administration would cap farm payments at $250,000, apparently, through regulations, since Congress has failed on that issues on several tries. "Every President since Ronald Regan has had the authority to close this loophole without additional action by Congress but has failed to act," according to Obama's campaign statement.

The Obama camp has close ties to the National Farmers Union, led by president Tom Buis, who is now one of the most influential agricultural lobbyists in Washington, DC. His name is often mentioned for the short list from which Obama will select the new US Agriculture Secretary. One of McCain's top advisers, former US Department of Agriculture deputy secretary Jim Moseley, points out that the Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could advance extreme environmental agendas with no fear of a White House veto. Moseley worries that unchecked environmental regulations could put the brakes on some US-based rural investment.

Those investors might wait out the first Obama term, but not a second, before they move offshore, Moseley told US journal Feedstuffs. This is somewhat different to the actual investment already occurring in alternative energy systems in the US and planned. Recent US reports show that alternative energy investment has surged, even without the T Boone Pickens enormous wind farm planned for the western US.

With regard to flex fuel standards, Obama believes "all new vehicles sold in the US should be flexible-fuel vehicles" - according to his campaign statement.

Farm Progress, a Rural Press/Fairfax Media subsidiary in the United States, recently posed a series of agricultural policy questions to the Obama and McCain camps late in the long campaign.

Here is an extract from Obama's responses about farming, fertiliser and fuel for American farmers.
Q: In trade agreements, are there ways to level the playing field in regard to individual countries' regulations, such as employee wages and conditions and chemical use?
• Obama: "For too long, Washington has put the interests of free trade ahead of broader concerns about our economy and American workers.
"I will break from the failed trade policies of the last eight years. "As president, I will ensure that our trade agreements include strong, enforceable labour and environmental provisions in the core of the agreements."
Q: What would be your policy concerning greenhouse gases? How would it affect farmers? Would you pursue approving the Kyoto Treaty?
• Obama: "As a result of climate change… I support implementation of an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80pc below 1990 levels by 2050.
"This market mechanism has worked before and will give all American consumers and businesses the incentives to use their ingenuity to develop economically effective solutions to climate change.
"This will transform the economy, especially in rural America, which is poised to produce more renewable energy than ever before, creating millions of new jobs across the country.
"I will also develop domestic incentives that reward forest owners, farmers and ranchers when they plant trees, restore grasslands or undertake farming practices that capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, creating new opportunities for rural America to help solve the climate crises."
Q: If you're elected president, the most recent US Farm Bill won't expire in your term. Would you do anything in the next four years to address any problems you see with the current legislation?
• Obama: "It's important to implement the 2008 Farm Bill in keeping with the intent of Congress."
Q: What are your views on the food vs. fuel debate?
• Obama: "Corn-based ethanol has been an important transitional technology in helping make America more energy independent.
"However, it has limitations, and that's why I am committed to accelerating the transition to advanced biofuels.
"I support an array of policies to speed the transition away from corn and toward low-carbon, sustainable alternatives that do not rely on food crops.
"There are many flavours of ethanol - different feed stocks, different production approaches, different carbon footprints.
"In contrast, there is only one flavor of oil - expensive, polluting and largely imported.
"As president, I will work to phase in at least 2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol into the national fuel supply by 2013."
Q: What steps might you take as president to stabilise fertiliser prices, which have doubled and tripled?
• Obama: "A major key to stabilising fertiliser prices is addressing the skyrocketing costs of natural gas.
"Through my policies for continued domestic production combined with investments in efficiency, we will take some of the pressure off the resource and increase supply, bringing costs down."

There are some mixed messages, but it does sound as if diversfying rural America into incorporating environmental, energy related and new technology jobs [eg cellulosic ethanol] is part of the policy..........and that sounds promising. Democrats are somewhat protectionist, but don't we have a free trade deal with the US? That was supposed to be a useful piece of legislation. BUT....getting the Doha trade talks restarted, well, might be a different story, except that one of the winners would be LDCs, including African food producers. That might resonate with the new President elect.

US Farm Progress group, and Feedstuffs, divisions of Fairfax Media
partially sourced: and

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