Agriculture hasn’t exactly been on the front burner of the 2008 presidential elections. Fortunately, however, the presidential campaigns have provided a considerable amount of information about where the candidates stand on a number of issues.

That and their previous public statements provide at least some insight into what either might do on farm issues once he takes office Jan. 20.

John McCain has left little doubt about where he stands on the issue of farm spending. From his frequent criticism of farm programs as “pork barrel politics” to former Agriculture Secretary John Block’s oft-repeated characterization of McCain as a “tightwad,” McCain has carved out a reputation as a curmudgeon when it comes to farm bills.

Nonetheless, McCain’s campaign has said he “favors a risk management program for agriculture that reflects the realities of the global marketplace for food, fuel and fiber in the 21st Century.”

“When farmers suffer from a natural disaster such as drought or floods, we should assist them — this is a commitment we have made to our farmers, and I will honor it,” he told the National Corn Growers Association when it asked both candidates to spell out their positions.

“I am firmly committed to bringing the agriculture community together to develop a sustainable market-driven system of risk management. The 21st century global agriculture market is too complex for America’s farmers to rely on an out-moded system of pre-determined counter-cyclical payments that assumes narrow trading bands for these input costs and commodity prices.”

McCain’s response to the Corn Growers said he believes a market-based system of risk management will eliminate the influence of special interests on America’s agricultural policy. “I will focus agriculture policy on meeting the food, fiber, feed and energy needs of America and the world.”

The statement does not spell out what McCain wants to replace those “out-moded counter-cyclical payments with,” but it leaves little doubt about where he thinks Congress should go on agricultural subsidies.

“Consistent with my long-standing position, I will oppose subsidies, which distort markets, artificially raise prices for consumers and interfere with America’s ability to negotiate with our international trading partners to the detriment of the entire agriculture community,” his statement to the Corn Growers said.

Obama, on the other hand, has said he supports a “robust safety net that targets assistance appropriately and provides farmers with risk mitigation tools that protect them from weather and market conditions that are beyond their control. This includes traditional farm programs, crop insurance and disaster assistance.”

The Democratic nominee noted that he supported the 2008 farm bill and both the bill’s permanent disaster program and ad hoc disaster assistance when farmers in Illinois and around the country have needed it.

“I am pleased to see the final version of the farm bill contains a new revenue counter-cyclical program, the Average Crop Revenue Program, which was developed with the National Corn Growers Association,” he said in his campaign’s response to the NCGA’s request for information on the two candidates’ agricultural positions.

“This program (ACRE) should provide farmers with new tools to mitigate risk, and I hope the U.S. Department of Agriculture implements it in keeping with the intent of Congress, so it works for farmers.”

The candidates also have sharply divergent opinions on such hot-button agricultural issues as ethanol and trade.

Obama says he is a “proud supporter” of the Renewable Fuels Standard and tax incentives for biofuels. “I’ll invest $150 billion over the next 10 years in our green energy sector, enhancing farmer profitability, injecting capital into rural economies and creating up to 5 million new jobs in the process — jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced.”

McCain says he will push the country to make the necessary choices to break its dependence on foreign energy sources and cut off the flow of oil wealth to repressive dictatorships. Those choices will include producing more power, pushing such technology as flex vehicles, cleaning up air and addressing climate change.

“I do not support the current system of tariffs, subsidies and mandates,” he told the Corn Growers. “Rather, as a country, we must focus on stimulating end-user demand for renewable energy and creating a consistent regulatory and tax framework that encourages investment in research, domestic refining capacity and distribution systems to promote energy independence.”

The Republican nominee says a central focus of his agricultural policy will be to expand international trade, bringing American products to more foreign markets and boosting the profitability of American farms.

“I believe we must uphold our current international commitments, such as NAFTA, while looking for new opportunities, which is why I support ratifying pending trade deals with countries like Colombia, Panama and South Korea.”

Noting that American farmers are among the most efficient in the world, Obama said he supports providing full funding to “vital” market promotion programs that enhance access to important international markets.

“I have fought to break down trade and investment barriers that restrict our access to markets and will continue to do so,” he said. “It’s also important that we ensure our trade agreements create a level playing field for American businesses and workers, and that our farmers secure robust market access as a result of these agreements.

“Trade agreements must contain strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards so that American farmers are able to compete on a level playing field. I will also continue to support providing resources to research and technology that enhance the productivity and profitability of our farmers.”

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