Farm groups welcome Obama

The Baltimore Sun

Farm organizations around the country are lining up to offer their congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama, who will take over the White House in January.

"We have appreciated Sen. Obama's leadership on issues ranging from strong safety net programs within the farm bill to the promotion of corn-based ethanol as an important source of domestic energy," Bob Dickey, president of the 32,000-member National Corn Growers Association, said in letter of congratulations to the president.

Throughout the year, the NCGA has had a positive working relationship with the president-elect's campaign staff as they reached out to the agricultural community and developed policy positions that would affect the industry.

Dickey said the NCGA recognizes the major challenges facing the president-elect, including issues in the agricultural sector such as renewable fuels, trade, and farm bill implementation.

He said the NCGA has a history of working with leaders from both major parties and will continue this tradition with the new administration and the 111th Congress.

Dickey's counterpart at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Andy Groseta, said his group is also looking forward to working with the president-elect's transition team while providing information and counsel as needed on the challenges the new administration will face in food and fuel policies.

"In the coming years, ranchers, farmers and rural Americans will be significantly impacted by tax policies, environmental regulations, international trade, renewable fuel subsidies, and food safety and nutrition," said Groseta.

"NCBA worked closely with the Obama campaign on each of these concerns, and we have been assured a seat at the table when decisions are made regarding these and other issues of importance to America's cattlemen and women," said Groseta.

The head of the 33,000-member cattlemen's association added: "We appreciate Senator Obama's commitment to basing [farm] decisions on sound economic and scientific evidence.

"NCBA is eager to share the stories of our cattle producers and discuss the challenges they face today, from estate taxes that cause families to lose century-old ranches to the high corn prices resulting from ethanol subsidies that create unfair competition in the marketplace," said Groseta, a rancher in Cottonwood, Ariz.

During a meeting with the corn growers association in September, Obama said that as he traveled the country, he saw that rural America was struggling. "Our economy is in turmoil," he said. "Families in the heartland are being squeezed by the rising cost of health care, and energy and wages are not keeping pace. And more and more farmers are worrying because even though some commodity prices are higher, input costs are higher as well."

He said farmers were not just a part of a string of bad luck. "The truth is, while you've been living up to your responsibilities, Washington has not. And at this defining moment, when the stakes could not be higher, rural America needs change."

Obama told the grain farmers that he supported the farm bill and its average crop revenue election program that gives farmers a helping hand in turning a profit.

He said he was proud of his record on rural issues in Illinois and that as president he would understand that when the government strengthens rural communities, it lifts the entire nation.

Excerpts of other Obama views in a position paper presented to the corn growers association:

* Ethanol and renewable energy: "I am a strong supporter of efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by promoting the development of renewable energy, including biofuels, solar and wind energy.

"Farmers are on the cutting edge of America's path to energy independence," he said. "We are already replacing millions of barrels of imported oil thanks to our successful biofuels program, and I recently established a goal to have 60 billion gallons of our fuel come from biofuels by 2022."

* Taxes: He said his plan would provide a tax cut for 95 percent of working Americans, including farmers.

* Trade: "Trade is vital to our agriculture sector," he told the farm group. "About 20 percent of the corn and 35 percent of the soybeans we grow in the United States are exported. These markets increase demand for our home-grown products and provide American farmers with additional revenue. Our farmers are among the most efficient in the world, and if given a level playing field, can compete effectively with anyone in the world."

* Environmental regulations: He said he would make it a priority to consult stakeholders when important policy decisions affecting agriculture are considered, whether at the Department of Agriculture or the Environmental Protection Agency.

Help for soybeans

Maryland farmers were recently warned that Asian soybean rust, a contagious fungal disease that has devastated soybean crops in other parts of the world, had made its way to the state.

The fungus, which can reduce a soybean's field yield by 80 percent if left untreated, was spotted at disease sentinel plots in Worcester County.

This week comes word from scientists who say that new research shows promise of protecting soybean fields from the damaging disease.

Molecular biologist Kerry F. Pedley, at the Agriculture Research Service's foreign disease-weed science research unit at Fort Detrick, will use gene silencing to discover plant genes that play a role in guarding against soybean rust in resistant plants.

Gene silencing allows scientists to identify a gene's function by disabling it in plants or other organisms, challenging the organism in some way - such as with exposure to a pathogen - and observing the consequences that result from the gene missing.

In Pedley's studies, the gene-silenced plants will be inoculated with spores of Phakopsora pachyrhizi (the scientific name for the soybean rust pathogen) and monitored for a breakdown in resistance.

The ultimate goal of the research is to streamline the development of new soybean cultivars that can withstand soybean rust.

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