Sen. Obama's experience with agriculture issues

I read with concern your Sept. 26, 2008, editorial “Farmers' decision will not be easy in November” in which you assessed the records and prospects of both candidates for the future of agriculture.

I object to your characterization of Sen. Obama as someone who “is not known as a student of agriculture.” As Democratic and Republican agricultural leaders from Sen. Obama's home state of Illinois can personally attest, Sen. Obama is a very knowledgeable and capable student of agriculture, a friend of farmers, and a champion for our priorities.

During my careers as a farmer, Illinois Soybean Association past chairman, Farm Services Agency State Executor Director, with a hand in agriculture issues, I have seen Barack Obama with an open door policy to farmers from Illinois during his career, going to farms, listening to our perspectives on farm policy, environmental regulations, trade, and taxes. This appreciation for agriculture has translated into Sen. Obama enjoying a strong record as a champion for farmers.

For example, Sen. Obama supported the 2008 farm bill and fought for ad hoc disaster assistance for farmers from Illinois and around the country. He supports a robust safety net that provides farmers with risk mitigation tools that protect them from weather and market conditions because he understands that these events are beyond our control. He supported the 2008 farm bill's permanent disaster program and was encouraged to see that the final version of the farm bill contains a new revenue counter-cyclical program, the Average Crop Revenue Program (ACRE).

Sen. Obama is also a champion of efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by promoting the development of renewable energy, including biofuels, solar, and wind energy. He fundamentally understands that farmers are on the cutting edge of America's path to energy independence and has voted for the key policies to put us on track. Sen. Obama supported the Renewable Fuels Standards in the 2005 and 2007 energy bills and tax credits for the production of biofuels, solar, and wind energy. These are policies he has pursued because he understands that in addition to securing our energy independence, they hold the potential to enhance farmer profitability and spur rural economic development.

Sen. Obama is a leading supporter of the locks and dams project in the Water Resources Development Act, which help farmers bring their crops to market; market promotion programs that open overseas markets to our products; and sensible tax and health care policies that are targeted to help working families and farmers.

I know all this because I have spent time with Sen. Obama on our farm in a rural community, and in his Senate office, explaining and discussing those issues with a very receptive leader who obviously has a strong understanding of our issues. Perhaps more importantly, he acted on that knowledge by championing agriculture's priorities.

While you were right to point out that Sen. McCain has consistently opposed farm bills during his tenure in Congress and has raised concerns among many in agriculture, your piece fell short of covering the full range of agriculture priorities that Sen. McCain has actively opposed during his career.

Your editorial quickly glanced over Sen. McCain's active opposition to renewable energy. In addition for calling to suspend the Renewable Fuels Standard, McCain once said that “ethanol has absolutely, under no circumstances, any value whatsoever.” What is most astonishing is that while Sen. McCain even at last week's debate publicly declared that he opposes ethanol subsidies, his economic plan continues some $4 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas. Not only is this policy short-sighted in terms of our future energy independence, it would fundamentally tip the balance of our tax code toward a finite source of energy rather than clean-burning, homegrown biofuels.

McCain has repeatedly opposed bipartisan crop insurance reform bills, agriculture research, ad hoc disaster assistance, and many other priorities for our nation's farmers.

I hope that this letter clears the record and establishes just how different these two candidates really are.

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