Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is there 'a farmer in all of us'? Recent episodes suggest agriculture is off the radar in D.C.

David Rogers, who has been covering the politics of agriculture for many years, sees "a real disconnect in American politics over farm policy," exemplified by Chrysler Corp.'s Super Bowl ad for Dodge Ram trucks ("For the farmer in all of us") appearing a few weeks after Congress's failure to pass a Farm Bill and days before a State of the Union speech in which President Obama made no mention of agriculture.

Writing for Politico, Rogers says Obama, after "talking a good game on the Farm Bill . . . when Iowa was in play in the presidential election," washed his hands of it at year's end, allowing Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell "to pen a nine-month extension that infuriated many dairy farmers and left the two Ag committees out in the cold. . . . More than past administrations, this White House has taken a remarkably hands-off approach to farm issues."

House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., sees that as political calculation, but he "feels the same frustration with his own party leadership," Rogers writes, noting that Speaker John Boehner "blocked him from bringing the farm bill to the House floor." The problem was a battle between Lucas and tea-party Republicans who wanted bigger cuts in food stamps.

The larger problem is that fewer than 1 percent of Americans, about 2.3 million, farm, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "has estimated that about three-quarters of the U.S. production comes from a subset of about 200,000 to 300,000 farmers," Rogers reports. "The decline of regional newspapers — which were the heart of the old farm press — contributes to this isolation. Major publications largely ignored the farm bill debate last year, while many of the most experienced ag reporters have migrated to more niche, subscriber-funded newsletters."

The narrowing of farm interests could be risky, an unnamed "Republican aide who tracks farm issues" told Rogers: “No one is thinking about the promotion of agriculture in a big and bold way. There are numerous newsletters, coalitions, websites but they’re all serving the same audience. They’re essentially all singing to the choir, but no one is bringing any new folks to the church service.” (Read more)

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