TAMPA, Fla., August 29, 2012 – Over 500 agri-business leaders, lawmakers, lobbyists, three former secretaries of agriculture, and even a few farmers gathered at the “Great American Farm Luncheon” during the Republican National Convention to celebrate agriculture and make the case for electing Gov. Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, who serves as one of the National Co-Chairs of the “Farmers and Ranchers for Romney” team, kicked off the event, by assuring the crowd that there will be a farm bill.
“I’m not sure which day, I’m not sure which month, but it will achieve savings and represent real reform,” he told the “who’s who” crowd of agricultural leaders at the event, organized by CropLife America.
Lucas expressed concerns over how the Obama Administration, as part of the president’s budget proposal, has tried to cut the farm bill’s commodity and crop insurance titles over the last two years – programs that have been vital to help drought-stricken farmers.
“There should still be ‘farm’ in the farm bill,” Lucas emphasized about the legislation which his committee approved last month and that devotes about 80% of its funding to food stamps and nutrition programs. “The Obama Administration doesn’t understand that.”
During a series of campaign stops across Iowa earlier in the month, President Obama repeatedly said passage of the new farm bill is the best way to help drought-stricken states and tried to blame Gov. Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, for blocking the bill.
“Unfortunately, right now, too many members of Congress are blocking the Farm Bill from becoming law,” he said. Ryan is “one of the leaders of Congress standing in the way. So if you see Congressman Ryan around, tell him how important this Farm Bill is to Iowa and our rural communities.”
But Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is one of four national chairs of the Farmers and Ranchers for Romney team, made the case that four more years of an Obama Administration could be harmful to American agriculture.
“A nation that cannot feed itself is not a free nation,” he warned luncheon guests.
“Imagine an Environmental Protection Agency, a Department of Labor, a Corps of Engineers unhinged by the future election,” he told the crowd gathered in Tampa
“Frankly, a state like ours is frequently at the tip of the spear. Watch what they do to us in Florida, watch what they do to farmers and ranchers in California and be fearful. And know that elections have consequences,” Putnam explained.
“Today is a celebration of agriculture’s bounty and we want to create a climate in this country where it continues to be a celebration of what is and what will be and not a commemoration of what was. This election will largely dictate that.”
Putnam got some of his strongest applause when he made a reference to Obama’s recent visit to the Iowa State Fair and a proposal that Obama’s Department of Labor proposed last year before finally pulling back, which would limit the ability of farm kids under a certain age to work on farms.
“You can’t go to the state fair and look at the butter cow and walk the past the 4-H and FFA tents and have a policy that would prevent a nine-year old 4-H kid from raising her own Jersey heifer,” Putnam said as the audience applauded.
Sen. John Thune, R-SD, said, “regulatory overreach has been a trademark” of the Obama Administration and ‘it’s making it more expensive for farmers and ranchers to run their businesses.” He said that a Romney administration would provide the ag sector with relief from regulations, the “death tax” and provide more trade opportunities.
In an exclusive interview after his luncheon speech, Agri-Pulse asked Thune to provide more specifics about how a Romney/Ryan team would address farm policy.
“I think the governor is very much a realist in the sense that he knows we’ve got have a strong agricultural sector in our economy for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is food security. The American farmer is going to be called upon to feed not only the United States, but the world, and when you are adding about 80 million people to the world’s population every year, the American farmer is going to have to become even more productive than they already are,” Thune explained.
“And I think the governor also recognizes that we’ve got very serious fiscal constraints and I think policies will be shaped by making sure that we’ve got a good safety net; with crop insurance representing the major component of that.”
Thune said “some of the programs that we’ve had in past farm policy, like direct payments…..everybody recognizes they are going to have to go away. I think that is going to be the way governor Romney approaches this, too. How can we reform, find efficiency, do things in a more effective way, but still maintain the safety nets as necessary to insure that we’ve got a good, strong farm sector in this country and that we’re competitive in the world.
Would a Romney administration make more cuts to crop insurance as the Obama Administration has recommended?
“Well, crop insurance has given a lot already,” Thune explained. “That program has already been trimmed significantly. I don’t think that crop insurance, or any other program, is exempt from review and oversight and if there are things that we find that can be done in a more efficient manner to achieve savings, then great. But I don’t think that going after that program more, in a way that would limit its effectiveness, would be helpful because it has become the main safety net.
Thune emphasized that crop insurance provides a much better safety net than the previous attempts to send out ad hoc disaster assistance.
“We went back and looked at ad hoc disaster payments back to 1994 and it’s over $36 billion. And the one thing that crop insurance has done, is it’s gotten us away from this practice of every single year having to rely on emergency ad hoc disaster payments. And so having a crop insurance program that yes, is subsidized by the government, but yet the producer participates in it, that is effective and works…. I think is going to be really important in the farm policy of the future. And I think Governor Romney will be very committed to that.”
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