Who Gets Your Vote?

December 11, 2015 05:00 AM

Issues impacting agriculture go beyond the race for the White House

If you’ve been combing through 2016 election news looking for mentions of agriculture, you’re likely coming up empty. With 11 months to go before the presidential election, precious little has been discussed about agriculture on the campaign trail. Don’t look for that to change.

Just as agriculture is part of the fabric of America, many of the issues at the center of American life are part of the fabric of agriculture, such as foreign trade, immigration, energy and transportation infrastructure. These sweeping issues extend beyond the purview of the White House to include policymakers throughout the Administration, both houses of Congress, the judiciary and local legislatures.

To Jim Wiesemeyer, who has analyzed Washington agriculture policy for nearly 40 years, this means you should look beyond the White House when deciding whom to support next year. “Sorry, farmers, but you’re going to have to listen to all sorts of elections, not just the one for the White House. These issues take consensus,” Wiesemeyer says.

"America opened its markets to China, but China has not reciprocated. Its Great Wall of Protectionism uses unlawful tariff and non-tariff barriers to keep American companies out of China and to tilt the playing field in their favor."

Farm Journal Media will help you sort through the issues that matter most to agriculture in a series of reports throughout 2016 on these pages, as well as on Farm Journal Media outlets online (AgWeb), on television (“AgDay” and “U.S. Farm Report”) and on the radio (“AgriTalk” and the MyFarmRadio app). Farm Journal Media will also periodically poll its unparalleled database of farmers across the country on the issues most important to them and on the presidential candidates who are winning their support. See the results from the baseline poll, taken in October, on the following page.

The poll found Donald Trump and Ben Carson topped the Republican field of candidates, each far ahead of Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner on the Democratic side. 

The baseline poll also found transportation infrastructure, foreign trade and immigration reform as the issues most important to farmers. 

Ninety percent of the respondents said transportation is “somewhat” to “extremely” important. That doesn’t surprise Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. The nation’s roads, bridges, waterways and rail are generally overburdened and underfunded, and that threatens farmers’ bottom lines. 

"We need a fairer, simpler and more equitable tax system. Our tax form should be able to be completed in less than 15 minutes. This will enable us to end the IRS as we know it."

“Our transportation system is the reason we can get product cheaper to China than Brazil can,” Steenhoek says. “But that advantage won’t maintain itself.” Steenhoek hopes farmers support candidates on the state and national levels who favor a sustainable financing mechanism for U.S. transportation infrastructure to reduce the nation’s reliance on the fixed national fuel tax, which now, he says, leaves a $15 billion gap in financing maintenance and upgrades. 

Foreign trade came in as the second issue farmers care about most. Tom Sleight, CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, urges farmers to seek candidates who talk up foreign trade. 

"Comprehensive immigration reform will strengthen families, strengthen our economy and strengthen our country. That’s why we can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship."

“U.S. farmers are the most international of any business people in the U.S. right now, and a lot of them don’t even know it,” Sleight says. “They need to be nimbly placed within the world of trade because that’s where a large part of their futures lie.” 

About 20% of U.S. agriculture production is exported, according to USDA, including more than half of the cotton, rice, soybean and wheat crops.

Meanwhile, in the presidential race, Wiesemeyer says favorite farmer candidates Trump and Carson might maintain their strong positions going into the spring. But after that, it’ll be a different story, he believes. Look for a more “establishment” candidate to emerge after the March 15 primaries in Florida and Ohio; someone such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, for example. “That’s because these are states typically less conservative” than the Southern states with earlier primaries.

Wiesemeyer says Republicans will likely retain control of the House and Senate, even though 24 Republican Senate seats are up for re-election compared to 10 Democrat seats.  

Among senators seen as supportive of agriculture, Rubio and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) could see their seats change parties, Wiesemeyer says. Rubio isn’t running for re-election. Other vulnerable seats, according to Farm Journal Foundation senior policy adviser Stephanie Mercier, are those belonging to Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis).

Who’s in Congress will be even more important if lawmakers reconsider parts of the 2014 farm bill. After all, it nearly happened with crop insurance this fall (see Mercier’s comments in "The Road Ahead"). It’s only a matter of time before the hatchet comes out again.

Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, says crop insurance will “continue to be in the crosshairs” of budget cutters. “It’s still very much a short-term issue,” Thatcher says. Just one more reason politics matter next year. 

Of the 628 farmers surveyed in the Farm Journal poll in October 2015, the following percentages represent those who think these issues are important in the election, from “somewhat” to “extremely” important.

For ongoing farmer-first news and analysis of the 
2016 election from Farm Journal Media’s outlets, visit www.AgWeb.com/2016election

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