SALEM, Ohio — The issues surrounding farm policy and food production went almost unmentioned during the three presidential debates. But both candidates do have specific plans for what they say will best serve the American farmer, as well as consumers.
Here is a look at where the candidates stand on key farm issues, as well as other issues facing rural America. The responses are edited from questionnaires issued by American Farm Bureau Federation and United Fresh Produce Association.
Obama: Supports a broad approach to energy independence. Says U.S. biofuel production is “at its highest level in history” and that last year, rural America produced enough renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel to meet 8 percent of our needs, helping to increase energy independence to the highest level in 20 years.
He said the level of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline is increasing, and credited the Renewable Fuel Standard for helping to boost biodiesel production to nearly 1 billion gallons in 2011.
Romney: While also promoting energy independence, he encourages energy partnerships with Canada and Mexico. He said our domestic energy resources can create millions of jobs, while boosting businesses that supply the energy industry, as well as providing a more affordable energy and feedstock for agricultural businesses and manufacturers. He said the nation’s energy resources can be a “long-term competitive advantage” for agriculture.
The increased production of biofuels is an important part of his plan to achieve energy independence. Supports the Renewable Fuel Standard to support “increased market penetration and competition” and eliminating barriers to the electrical grid, fuel system and vehicle fleet.
Obama: Says farmers “are some of the best stewards of our environment” and that the ag economy can grow while also protecting the environment. On the matter of water quality and EPA regulations, he says his administration will not apply standards to waters that have not historically been protected. And all existing exemptions for ag discharges and waters will stay in place. Says there can be teamwork in safeguarding the waters “Americans rely on every day for drinking, swimming, and fishing, and those that support farming and economic growth.”
Romney: Says government oversight is “crucial” to protecting the environment, but statutes and regulations that were designed to protect public health and the environment “have instead” been used by environmentalists as tools to “disrupt” economic activity and the “enjoyment of our nation’s environment altogether.”
He faults the EPA and Obama for “embarking on the most far-reaching regulatory scheme” in American history, adding that “laws should promote a rational approach to regulation” that takes cost into account.
Obama: Like Romney, supports risk management tools to help protect farmers’ investments. Says he has increased the availability of crop insurance and emergency disaster assistance to help more than 590,000 farmers and ranchers after natural disasters and crop loss. As farmers cope with the drought of 2012, he says his administration is expanding access to low-interest loans, encouraging insurance companies to extend payment deadlines and opening new lands for livestock farmers to graze their livestock.
Says there needs to be a farm bill passed this year with “adequate” protection for farmers. Supports an extended disaster assistance program and maintaining a “strong” crop insurance program.
Says instead of making farmers pay more for crop insurance, the government should cut subsidies to crop insurance companies and make better decisions with conservation funding.
Romney: Supports passage of a “strong farm bill” that provides the “appropriate” risk management tools that will work for farmers and ranchers across the country. In the nearterm, plans to enact disaster relief for those not traditionally covered by crop insurance, to help farmers cope with the 2012 drought.
Says on the issue of subsidies, must remember American farmers compete with other countries who also subsidize their farmers, “so we must be careful” not to put our own farmers at a competitive disadvantage.
Additionally, warns against conditions that would cause Americans to become dependent on foreign nations for food, “the way we do with energy.” He said that ultimately, “it is everyone’s interest to achieve a level playing field” for American farmers to compete.
Farm labor and immigrant labor
Obama: Says “we must design a system that provides legal channels for U.S. employers to hire needed foreign workers.” Says the system must protect the wages of U.S. workers and only be used when U.S. workers are unavailable. Supports the AgJOBS Act, which allows farmers to hire workers and provide a “path to citizenship” for those same workers.
Also is setting up a new office on farm worker opportunities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the first of its kind.
Romney: Says he “understands” and “appreciates” the role that foreign temporary workers play in agriculture. Also says the current system for issuing visas to temporary, seasonal workers “is broken.” Says it takes too long for visas to be approved, with nearly half of such visas not processed on time in 2006 and 2007.
Says he will make the system “functional” for both employers and employees, while speeding up the application process. Supports a legal immigration system that provides a “lawful alternative” to workers who would otherwise enter illegally.
Also vows not to propose “heavy-handed” regulations that would limit opportunities for youth to be involved in agriculture.
Obama: Says the tax code has become “increasingly complicated and unfair.” Many tax incentives serve important purposes, but that altogether, the tax expenditures in the law are “inefficient, unfair, duplicative, or even unnecessary.”
Calls for comprehensive tax reform by extending the middle class tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans making less than $250,000 for another year. At the same time, asks the wealthiest to pay “their fair share.” Remains opposed to extension of tax cuts for those with household incomes above $250,000 a year.
On estate taxes, his proposal would return the top tax rate on estates to 45 percent and reinstate the $7 million per-couple estate tax exemption. Also, would return capital gains taxes to the rates they were when Bill Clinton was president, while calling for the permanent elimination of capital gains taxes on key small business investments.
Romney: Calls for tax reform that lowers tax rates, broadens the base, achieves revenue neutrality and maintains the “progressivity” of the tax code.
Says this will help jump-start an economic recovery that will help create 12 million jobs in his first term in office. Regarding the estate and capital gains taxes, he says he will eliminate the estate tax while also maintaining the current 15 percent capital gains rate for wealthier Americans, while totally eliminating capital gains, dividend and interest taxes for those who earn less than $200,000 a year.
He says these lower rates will help farmers keep more of what they earn, while helping the middle-class save tax-free for long-term costs like college tuition and retirement, and to enjoy the “freedom that accompanies financial security.”
Obama: Notes that last year, American farm income reached a record high with a record number of agricultural exports and a record agriculture trade surplus that means more of our products are being sold in markets around the world.
He signed three historic trade agreements with Panama, Columbia and South Korea that will help increase exports by $2.3 billion — supporting nearly 20,000 American jobs. And he is working to expand local and regional food markets, noting that farmers markets expanded 53 percent in number since 2008.
Romney: Says ag trade is “incredibly” important to our economy and job creation. Warns against “ineffective” trade policy that lingers in bureaucracy and does not advance our economic interests.
Says he will work to promote multilateral trade agreements and reverse the course of the Obama Administration, which Romney says has only enacted three trade agreements — all initiated in the Bush Administration.
Says he will work with Congress to gain Trade Promotion Authority in order to complete trade agreements. Will also encourage the World Trade Organization to reassert itself in order to “resolve” and “restrict” non-science based trade restrictions.
Obama: Says major reforms were necessary when he took office, due to the high frequency of foodborne illnesses.
Created the Food Safety Working Group to help look at ways to improve food safety, and passed the “most comprehensive reform of our nation’s food safety laws” in decades, increasing Food and Drug Administration authority.
Continues to develop ways to work with the food industry and increase the traceability of contaminated foods.
Romney: Says American farmers and producers, especially the produce industry, have a long history of taking responsibility for food safety and that preventive practices “are the best tools” to reduce food-borne illnesses, while also being the most cost-effective option.
Says preventive practices are best developed by the growers, handlers, processors and others involved with the supply chain. Says the FDA must “collaborate” with the industry, along with state agencies and colleges, to develop food safety guidelines.