McCain’s, Obama’s support for the American farmer: Sincere or not?

Presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama are exhibiting their support for the American farmer. In July, both candidates spoke to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Council of Presidents. Since then, focus has turned to two major issues – energy and trade – and how these issues will affect agriculture.

McCain supports trade agreements that will open markets to U.S. agriculture and lower trade barriers, decrease trade-distorting subsidies and stabilize an affordable food supply for all. He says he would form America's farm policies in favor of small farmers and rural communities. McCain wants the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be more involved by conducting research designed to increase the production of drought-resistant, high-yield crops. He also promises to support conservation programs that encourage environmental stewardship on America’s farmlands.

Obama wants to break down trade and investment barriers to maintain American farmers' competitive presence around the world. He would promote programs that help producers develop global marketing networks. He also wants to make sure all trade agreements contain strong and enforceable labor, environmental and safety standards. And, he wants to involve the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be able to issue and enforce recalls of contaminated food. He hopes to improve food-safety efforts by doing so. Obama has pledged to support conservation projects and industries that produce new value-added agricultural products.

Both McCain and Obama have laid out extensive agricultural plans, but Brad Lubben, a public policy specialist in the department of agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says neither of the candidates have a strong agricultural background.

“The key will be whom the candidates choose to advise them on the issues,” he said.

Agricultural organizations such as the Nebraska Farmers Union Political Action Committee (NFUPAC) have endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate. According to NFUPAC President Gale Lush of Wilcox, the endorsement was based on the candidates’ voting record and their positions on economic issues that impact family farmers, ranchers and rural communities. Other key issues that determined their support include farm programs, renewable energy, rural development, market competition, fair trade and rural health care.

Other agricultural organizations, such as the California Farm Bureau and AgriPac, Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) political action committee, have endorsed McCain. AgriPac’s endorsement was based on the candidates’ qualifications and how their policies would benefit the state and nation’s agriculture industries as a whole. AgriPac Chairman Andrew Hagenow acknowledged that McCain doesn’t agree with MFB on all its organizational policies, but “feels that he possesses the necessary leadership to steer the country on a path toward continued success, growth and prosperity in the agricultural sector.”

McCain’s opposition to ethanol subsidies may hurt his chance to win this election. States such as Iowa and Nebraska have historically sided with the Republican candidate, but these states are huge supporters of ethanol. There’s a probable chance that Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas will still vote Republican as many cattle ranchers in these states are heavily affected by the rise in corn prices, despite its near-50 percent decrease since June.

Not everyone believes that the candidates’ agriculture policy will be in the farmers’ favor. Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs (CRA), believes that regardless of the candidates’ position on agricultural issues, policies in Washington won’t change.

“Historically, policies have supported mega-farms that drive family farms out of business and fail to invest in creating a genuine opportunity for rural people and a future for their communities,” he said.

John Crabtree, media relations officer for the CRA doesn’t think that either candidate has shown sincere concern for rural America. He believes it’s more than just picking a side.

“It’s one thing to say you oppose or support the farm bill, but neither candidate has bothered to address the various issues within the Farm Bill that affect rural communities,” he said.

“Neither party has demonstrated a real commitment to ensuring that rural people – who contribute so much to the nation’s prosperity – share in it,” Hassebrook added. “Neither party seems to understand that America will never be as strong as it can be until all of America has the opportunity to share in building wealth, assets and prosperity.”

Do you feel that the candidates’ efforts toward improving and helping the American farmer are sincere? Or do you think they’re just trying to win votes? Let me know what you think.

Who’s contributing to the candidates and how does this affect their policies?

What factors are influencing the way the candidates form their policies? Are their decisions based on past administrations? Or could these policies be what the American people want? Do advisors or lobbyists help form the candidates’ plans?

All these reasons may be important, but they are not the only factors that define the candidates’ policies. Donations from key industries are significant elements. Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, like most modern presidential candidates, rely heavily on contributions to fund their campaigns and get their respective messages out there. Key contributors include the oil & gas industries, the coal-mining industry, green efforts/environmentalists and the agribusiness industry.

The agribusiness sector includes crop producers, livestock ranchers, meat processors, the poultry and egg industry, dairy farmers, timber companies, tobacco companies, food products manufacturers, food stores and veterinarians. Though most contributions in this industry go to the Republican Party, sugar growers give more to Democrats, which other industries may eventually do if they wish to find allies in the new Democratic Congress. This year, the agribusiness industry has given $2,398,839 to McCain and $1,263,755 to Obama. Some of the contributors include American Crystal Sugar, Farm Credit Council and Reynolds American. According to, this industry will pay close attention to reform topics related to strengthening disaster relief programs and increasing U.S. involvement in global food markets.

Oil and Gas
Obama and McCain are both receiving hefty contributions from companies in the oil & gas industry. McCain has received three times more than Obama. Whereas Obama beat McCain in contributions from companies like Exxon and BP, McCain has received more from companies like Koch Industries, Valero, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Conoco Phillips and Hess Corp. As of Oct. 19, McCain has received $2,028,275 from the oil & gas industry this year, while Obama has received only $523,133, according to figures that were released by the Federal Election Commission and that appeared on

Coal Mining
As McCain and Obama have both committed to advancing clean-coal technology, they are showing support from the coal-mining industry. McCain is again receiving more from this industry than Obama at $75,596, while Obama has received just $12,900. Though his running mate has said differently, Obama knows that the coal issue swings voters and has released many ads to show that he supports clean-coal technologies. McCain is doing other things to show that he supports clean-coal technologies, including visiting one of the country’s largest coal producers, Consol, and touring its research and development campus located in Pittsburgh.

Green Efforts
The candidates are also paying close attention to the alternative energy industry, which includes wind, solar power, crop-based ethanol and other biofuels as their importance is significantly increasing. While McCain has received the majority of contributions from the other industries, Obama enjoys 73 percent of all alternative energy contributions. This industry has given him a total of $90,557. The top contributor in the industry is National Biofuels, which has given a total of $160,400 to Democrats. Environmental groups are also making donations, hoping to affect energy and agricultural legislation. Environmentalists have given $201,050 to Obama and $38,925 to McCain. The Environmental Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife spent the most in lobbying efforts, while the Sierra Club donates directly to issue ads rather than siding with a political party or candidate.

As you can see, financial contributions play a major role in elections, but it’s still unknown how much they will affect policy making. How do you think these contributions are affecting the candidates’ policies? Would an industry’s support sway your vote? What do you think? Please comment below.

Obama, McCain: Who will win the rural vote?

With the election four short weeks away, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain are focusing heavily on rural America to win this election. And they’ll need it. According to the National Rural Assembly, 60 million people live in rural areas.

Obama says he wants to make sure that family farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions and fair prices for their goods. He says farm programs are designed to help family farmers instead of corporations. Obama also says he wants to encourage organic agriculture and would like to see more young people become farmers. He plans to provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm.

McCain wants to provide sustainable, market-driven risk management for America’s farmers to reflect the outcomes of the global marketplace. He claims this system would eliminate the influence of special interests on American agricultural policy. He argues this agricultural plan will meet America’s need in food, fiber, feed and energy. Technology will help to reach these needs. McCain is heavily pushing the continuation of positioning America as the leader in agriculture technology.

Both candidates want to provide jobs, education and health care for people in remote locations.

Obama said in the Oct. 7 debate that he plans to invest $150 billion a year over a 10-year period to free the United States from its dependence on foreign oil. He claims this plan will improve the bio-fuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial-scale renewable energy, invest in low-emission coal plants and begin the transition to a new digital electricity grid. He also plans to execute an economy-wide cap-and-trade program suggested by scientists to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

According to McCain’s Web site, he has proposed a $300 million award for “the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the number of commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” He supports the increased use of alternative energy sources like wind, solar and natural gas. McCain’s plan also focuses on increasing the number of nuclear power plants in the United States. He wants to construct 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030.

Both candidates focus on advancing technology and green jobs. Obama plans to create an energy-focused Green Job Corps to help disadvantaged youth gain the job skills they need. Obama also wants to create a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund to bridge the gap in U.S. technology development. He would make a $10 billion investment per year for five years. They both also want to advance clean-coal technology. McCain plans to spend $2 billion annually to help the science, research and development to improve this technology. By doing so, he claims he will restore the jobs lost and create new ones in the coal industry.

Dee Davis, president of the Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies, says whoever wins the rural vote will win the presidency. At this point, it’s still hard to tell who is leading with the polls continually changing. The rural population is still torn between the two candidates. Many people living in rural communities approve of McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate because of her understanding of agricultural issues. However, Sen. Joe Biden has repeatedly shown his support for America’s farmers as well. He supported the farm bill and has fought to maintain a competitive marketplace at home for America’s farmers.

Let’s hear your thoughts. Which candidate do you think has a better plan for developing and assisting rural communities?