9/15/2012 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney might be preparing for the first of three debates on Oct. 3, but debate season got off to an early start Wednesday evening with an agriculture forum.
The forum, sponsored by the Farm Foundation and National Association of State Departments of Agriculture in Des Moines, Iowa, was moderated by Mike Pearson, host of Iowa Public Television’s Market to Market.
Former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge represented President Obama. U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska spoke on behalf of Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
The debate focused on four key areas — the 2012 Farm Bill, drought, tax policy and trade.
Both sides agreed that a Farm Bill that does right for farmers and rural America makes good sense and that the House bill needs to be passed so both sides can get to conference and hammer out an agreement that will give farmers a clearer plan for the next five years.
Both sides expressed concern that there are those trying to use the Farm Bill debate as “political football.”
“President Obama is fighting for a bipartican Farm Bill that recognizes a diversified agriculture,” Judge said. “Romney supported the Ryan budget plan that will balance the budget on the backs of farmers.”
In contrast, Johanns argued that “it was President Obama that proposed $30 billion in cuts” and zeroed out eight USDA programs for renewable energy, not Congress nor, in particular, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
The debaters said there is an overall understanding among all involved with the Farm Bill that there will be cuts or, as both sides said, “doing more with less.”
Judge said Romney has not provided enough details on his farm policy or what he would do regarding Farm Bill programming. The former lieutenant governor said she learned more details from Johanns than she has ever heard from Romney.
Johanns countered that Obama does not understand agriculture and that the success of farmers has been “in spite of” the president. As an example, he pointed to estate taxes. The president supports plans that includes a 45 percent tax rate after a $1 million exemption, Johanns said.
Regulations have been a large part of the discussion during this presidential administration, and Johanns said the most difficult part of preparing for the debate was “refining his list” of regulatory issues that his farmers have brought to his office.
Johanns said he believes that if Romney is elected he would say, “Let’s take a time out from these regulations, we are way overdoing. Let’s do the right cost analysis to make sure this is the right approach.”
Johanns warned that there is “a pile of regulation they (the Obama administration) are not releasing until after the election. After that, hang on your hat.”
Judge countered to put some rumors regarding regulations to rest, saying there are no pending regulations on farm dust and EPA is not using airplanes for farm surveillance. The airplanes are to monitor streams and waterways, a program started under the Bush administration.
“Let’s quit talking about things that do not exist,” Judge said.
The Obama administration has touted the passage of three free trade agreements during his first term. Judge said trade issues, such as the blockage of U.S. products from foreign countries based on protectionist measures, is “very vexing.” Solving these problems will take getting trade associations, USDA, congressional delegations and the president involved.
Johanns said that Romney, if elected, will get the World Trade Organization (WTO) involved to bring member countries in line.
“We need to work on principals and standards that are fair to each side,” he said.
While the administration finally signed the three FTAs, Johanns said, Obama has not started work on any other agreements and has not received trade promotion authority from the Senate, something that Romney said he will pursue.
Trade promotion authority gives the president the authority to negotiate trade agreements that can only be approved or disproved by Congress with no amendments, he said.
Iowa FFA President Steven Brockshus asked the pair what their candidate would do to help young people return to the farm.
“The key is profitability in agriculture, and we will stay home at the farm,” Johanns said, quoting another FFA member he met. “That is the Romney plan, let your dad pass that farm onto you without being hammered” by estate taxes and improve trade policies.
Judge said she shared the excitement she once saw when she asked the kids attending a state FFA convention how many of them wanted to farm.
“They stood on their feet and cheered,” she said. “That is what they wanted to hear. They believe there is an opportunity” to farm.
Judge said she recognized it is expensive to get started in farming as well as a college education.
“You need to get an education” to gain the knowledge about the complexities of farming, she said. And more needs to be done to make a college education affordable.