A confused state of the state

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Governors’ state of the state addresses are generally snoozeworthy, with a lot of fluff wrapped around little substance.

This year, the five governors’ speeches I’ve read seemed to be crafted by the same speechwriter, right down to the introductory salute to troops in Iraq.

The only glimmer of entertainment came when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger began his state of the state address by saying, “I’ve changed my mind. I want to go back to acting,” reported Stateline.org, a online, nonpartisan news publication.

Then again, state of the state addresses are not entertainment, they are “never let them see you sweat” politics.

Breakthrough for Taft. Ohio Gov. Bob Taft has generally ignored agriculture in his annual address, but not this year.

In the text of his 2004 speech, which emphasized his economic goals, Taft finally acknowledged the Buckeye State’s economy “wasn’t built by manufacturing alone.”

“Agriculture represents the best traditions of our past and is a key to our future,” Taft said.

Taft mentioned Ohio’s ag exports – popcorn to Africa, hogs to Mexico, hardwood to China and ice cream to South Korea – and recognized the state’s more than 1,000 food product companies.

Ethanol merited a couple sentences and then off he zoomed into small business issues.

Peace offering. Some insiders say the hit-and-run farm message is a peace offering by the governor (who previously never said the word “agriculture” in a state of the state speech, according to Gannett News Service Columbus Bureau chief Jim Siegel).

Taft felt the sting of a mobilized farm vote that helped defeat the $500 million Issue I bond issue last fall.

The governor also reached out to agriculture last week, speaking at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Ag Day at the Capital.

Taft repeated his support for building an ethanol plant in Ohio and touted farmland preservation.

What I want to hear. What I really want to hear from a governor, from a legislator, from any public official, is good long-term news.

Tell me how farmers can battle input prices that continue to increase at a time when the prices farmers receive for what they produce are, at best, flat.

Tell me how we can make technology affordable. Tell me how we can find more money for conservation protection practices. Tell me how we can shift from government support to the market. Tell me how we’re going to attract new markets, or develop new uses, for our products.

Look to Wisconsin. I’d like to hear more about keeping Ohio agriculture competitive. In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle included that state’s dairy industry in a 46-page Grow Wisconsin economic plan.

“Every cow,” the governor’s report declares, “adds $13,737 to the economy.”

Doyle’s ag cabinet is coordinating a team approach to dairy modernization, specialty cheese production, and adoption of low-input, low-cost grazing methods – whatever works to make your dairy farm profitable, the team will help you make it happen.

Doyle is also pushing an investment tax credit for farmers who invest in new facilities and equipment.

The measure provides credits of up to $50,000 for the expenses of dairy modernization. Backers of the plan estimate that if just 10 percent of the state’s dairy producers modernize their operations, it would generate an additional $500 million in annual gross farm receipts for the state.

And Doyle also wants Wisconsin to lead the nation in organic food production. The state ag department is encouraging transition to organic production, construction of processing and marketing capacities and ways to expand national organic market opportunities.

Now that’s a state of the state address I’d like to hear.

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