Friday, January 29, 2010

President Obama signals new emphasis on trade

By Sara Wyant

Prior to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech this week, we asked a cross section of farm and rural residents what they would like to hear him say. One theme that came across loud and clear: the need for this administration to get busy creating jobs through an aggressive trade strategy.

“Get busy on trade!” was the advice of Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus. “That means get back to negotiating trade agreements that are USA friendly and work with the administration and Congress to quickly approve the ones waiting out there. Improving global trade will have an immediate impact on our economy.”

President Obama delivered Wednesday night, as part of his State of the Union speech:

“We need to export more of our goods. Because the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we're launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security, he said.

“We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. But realizing those benefits also means enforcing those agreements so our trading partners play by the rules. And that's why we'll continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia.”

For more on the President’s speech:

Farm groups quickly applauded the President’s focus on trade.

“As leaders of an industry dependent on exports for half its sales, we were thrilled to hear that President Obama plans to give trade a more prominent role in his administration’s economic recovery agenda,” said U.S. Wheat Associates Chair Janice Mattson, a wheat grower from Chester, MT., and National Association of Wheat Growers President Karl Scronce, a wheat grower from Klamath Falls,OR in a joint statement.

The American Farm Bureau Federation also welcomed the news:

“Expanded trade opportunities are vital to America’s farmers and ranchers, and we welcome and support the president’s call to export more of our agricultural goods. We appreciated his support for strengthening trade relations with Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama and Colombia. We join President Obama in his stated goal of doubling our exports over the next five years and we look forward to working with the administration on a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman in a statement.

As much as farmers and ranchers are excited about the potential for a new push on trade, the devil is in the details. And for now, there do not appear to be any.

Farm-state senators, like Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, wants action sooner rather than later.

“In his speech, the President said exports are important to job creation, and education is necessary for U.S. workers to compete worldwide,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley. “I agree with those words. Now I’m looking for action. There are two immediate ways to advance these goals. One is for the President to send Congress implementing legislation for the three pending trade agreements that have been ready to go for years. The other is to fund a training program that will help workers get the skills they need for good jobs in the United States.”

So how quickly will the Obama team act? When the New York Times asked the White House for specifics, their editors were told that the Commerce Secretary Gary Locke would provide more details in a speech next week.

For now, all we can say is…..stay tuned.

Agriculture News, Farm Policy, and Rural Policy


Monday, January 11, 2010

Farm Bureau's Stallman Puts Activists on notice: No More Mr. Nice Guy

In a hard-hitting speech, the Texan signals that farmers and ranchers have had enough of those who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule

By Sara Wyant

The farmers and ranchers I know are fiercely independent individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to take care of their families, their animals and their land. But that doesn’t mean they go looking for fights.

In fact, most of them face so many everyday challenges, like bone-chilling weather and tough economic conditions, that they would just like to stay out of the limelight and live in peace.

But there are a growing number of these battle-scarred men and women who have had enough of the attacks from the growing list of critics, environmental groups and even some of their own elected officials. They have had a long couple of years listening to the Michael Pollans of the world, reading incredibly biased coverage in Time magazine and watching pseudo-documentaries like Food Inc.

You can almost hear them say, “Enough Already!” They are mad as hell and they don’t want to take it any more.

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman captured that sentiment in his powerful opening speech during the organization’s 91st annual convention in Seattle this week. Stallman, who was elected as the national organization's 11th president in 2000, delivered the most hard-hitting speech I have ever heard him give, and for many of the 4,500 in the audience, it was his best.

It’s been a long time since we have had farm leaders inspire audiences with messages like Mary Elizabeth Lease used to deliver in the late 1800’s, when she reportedly told farmers to “raise less corn and more hell”

Some farmers still remember when the charismatic Oren Lee Staley fired up members of the National Farmers Organization in the early 1960's to fight food processors for higher prices, telling them: "American farmers have retreated as far as they can. We do not intend to retreat any further."

Clearly, there’s been a void in the number of top leaders, both from the public and private sector, who are willing to use the bully pulpit to stand up for American agriculture in more recent years. Stallman indicated that he is ready to take off the gloves and lead the fight. His audience loved it.

(See: “AFBF President calls on farmers and ranchers to unite, fight extremists”

It’s not that the Farm Bureau is unwilling to engage divergent interests. As Stallman stood before his convention attendees, an estimated 4,500 farmers and ranchers from all across America, he pointed out:

“As I scan this hall, I see farmers who embrace all the tools of modern agriculture. I see people who choose modern organic production…I see folks who plant conventional seed and those who use biotechnology. I see families who raise livestock in sheltered, climate-controlled conditions. I see feedlot operators. But also among our ranks here in Seattle, I see farm and ranch families who produce grass-fed beef, free-range pork and cage-free eggs.”

And AFBF is actively working with several environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, and The Nature Conservancy on Field to Market: The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.

But enough of that “Mr. Nice Guy” stuff.

“A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule,” said Stallman. “The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over.”

Consider yourself warned.

Agriculture News, Farm Policy, and Rural Policy