Candidates pledge support for farmers

The Baltimore Sun

Like everyone else, farmers have a stake in the presidential election.

With this in mind, officials of the American Farm Bureau Federation invited presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain to speak by teleconference to their recent Council of Presidents meeting in Washington.

Each of the candidates pledged continued support for American agriculture.

The following excerpts from their presentations were included in a news release from the bureau, a 6.2 million-member farm lobbying organization representing all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

McCain, a Republican U.S. senator from Arizona, said he would support trade agreements that will open markets to American agriculture.

"I believe the American agricultural worker is the most efficient and productive in the world and one of my jobs is to open every market in the world to your products," McCain said.

Obama, a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois, emphasized his support of the recently passed farm bill.

"I would have liked to have seen some additional reform in the bill," he said, "but on balance, the bill did a lot more good than bad because it dramatically increased funding to fight hunger, it increased funding for conservation, and it provided farmers with stability in an increasingly volatile market."

He told members of the farm organization that "we rely on the farmers of America to produce safe, plentiful food at a reasonable price. And even with the increase in food prices, Americans only spend 10 percent of their income on their food, which is the lowest of any country in the world."

Referring to the increased production of ethanol, a gasoline extender made from corn, Obama added: "America is also looking to agriculture to help make us energy-independent."

Both candidates emphasized agriculture's role in meeting America's energy needs. McCain heralded his "Lexington Project" to make America energy independent, which includes use of alternative fuels, ethanol, nuclear power and offshore oil drilling.

They also touched on two other key issues important to farmers: the estate tax and immigration reform.

McCain said the first $10 million should be exempt from the estate tax with anything above the $10 million level taxed at a 15 percent rate.

"It's outrageous that you can't pass on to your children and grandchildren the hard-won fruits of your labor," McCain told the farm leaders.

Obama said he would keep the estate tax exemption at the 2009 rate, $3.5 million for single filers and $7 million for married couples, but pledged not to raise it above that level.

He said the $7 million level will exempt 99.7 percent of all taxpayers.

"The truth is, a complete repeal of the estate tax would cost the government $1 trillion over the first 10 years, at a time when our country has some huge priorities," Obama said. "To finance that repeal, we'd either have to borrow money or we'd have to raise taxes on families who never even benefit from the estate tax or slash $1 trillion in public services."

Both McCain and Obama emphasized the need for immigration reform to meet the current labor crisis facing agriculture.

McCain highlighted the need for a temporary program. "We need a temporary worker program associated with tamper-proof documents so that you as an employer will know that the person is a temporary worker and you won't have to worry about a Social Security card or a birth certificate," he said.

"We can solve this immigration problem," he said. "We have to fix our broken borders."

Obama said he wanted comprehensive immigration reform passed in his first year in office. "Without immigrant workers, a lot of farms in America would shut down. My commitment to you is that at a minimum we would have the ag jobs section of the immigration reform package done hopefully by the first year," he said.

Bee study

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $4 million to the University of Georgia to study the causes of colony collapse disorder and other diseases affecting honey bee populations, whose pollination is valued at $15 billion annually to farmers.

"Bees are an extremely valuable contributor to the overall productivity of American agriculture, but invasive pests, diseases and environmental stresses are putting U.S. bees at serious risk," said Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.

"This research will help beekeepers meet the pollination demand for the nation's food supply," Schafer said.

CCD became a matter of concern in the winter of 2006-2007 when an estimated 25 percent of the beekeepers in the United States reported major losses of adult bees from their hives.

The USDA estimated that more than 36 percent of the nation's honey bees were lost over the past winter.

So far CCD has not been a problem in Maryland. Jerry Fischer, the apiary inspector with the state Department of Agriculture, said beekeepers here have not lost any bee colonies to CCD.

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