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A farmer’s 2012 election analysis

After more than a year of craziness, build up and drama, Election 2012 is now behind us. It was a multi-multi Billion Dollar spectacle. It was a booming time for the media due to all of the spending on ads for the federal and local races. It was an exciting time with lots of interesting rhetoric and promises. Now, we have to sort out what it all means.

We pretty much got the status quo, which in my opinion was as good as we were going to get in this case. As a farmer and father and husband, I am happy about how most things turned out. I might have reservations about President Obama and the Democratic Party he leads for sure, but it’s clear that the status quo is preferable to the Republican alternative. And mostly, that’s because I care deeply about a few things that barely got any air time at all. I care about the Farm Bill. I care about taking action to halt climate change. I care about clean energy and a strong safety net for struggling families. I care about the wildly expanding power of corporate agribusiness, big finance and other wealthy people at the expense of the rest of us.

That said, I continue to be puzzled about why more farmers didn’t seem to be more upset about the lack of action on the 2012 Farm Bill. We are putting crops in the ground, making plans for 2013 and spending our scarce dollars for production expenses without a clear signal of what next year’s federal farm policy will actually be. That makes me nervous, and also very upset that the House Republicans basically blocked any chance we had in passing a decent bill altogether. Last week, Harvest Public Media had a pretty good story about the lack of attention to this important federal policy. Their conclusion: “Farmers don’t make up much of the population and they care about other stuff anyway.”

I couldn’t be where I am (which isn’t very far up the economic ladder, mind you) without good farm policy. Other farmers are the same. Yes, we work hard and all that, but we generally have good resources available to us. If we’re a row cropper, we have subsidies and crop insurance. If we’re livestock producers, we have access to good pricing information and a ruleset that helps make corporations treat us more fairly (things could be improved in this regard, but there are at least some rules being enforced). All of us can apply for conservation funding to help create wildlife habitat, farm more sustainably, build water infrastructure and plant native species. We have cost-share programs for organic transition. We have loan guarantees to help beginning farmers get in the business.

Again, things are far from perfect with respect to farm policy. But there is a basic framework of support for our nation’s food producers. It is an enormous shock to the system to not have the groundwork in place for what the next farm bill will bring.

Taking stock of the political positions of who we can elect, it boggles the mind that more farmers don’t vote for the democrats. Democrats (like the ones in the Senate who wrote and passed a Farm Bill on time earlier this year) tend to support more funding for a farm safety net that pays farmers to do things responsibly while also supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. Republicans, especially those of the newer “Tea Party” ilk, want to get rid of it all. Especially the dreaded “Food Stamp” program they attack with great venom.

I don’t want you to think I’m just some Democratic party hack. I have worked on farm and food issues since way back in the 1990s. I have protested a lot of corporate friendly Democrats in my day. But in the final summations, any clear-minded farmer looking at their pocketbook interest would want a robust system of support to help offset the risks we take by working so closely with Mother Nature every day. That’s the Democratic position on farm and food policy. The Republican position lacks any clarity other than rolling back environmental standards and squawking about the “Death Tax” (that only a handful of giant farmers have to pay anyway).

Now it’s up to those of us in the farming community to get back to work on our farms, yes, but also to help the Obama Administration and Congressional leaders craft a good farm bill. We need it done yesterday (October 1st to be exact).

Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer and rural economic development entrepreneur. He works with his family to raise organic vegetables, beef, lamb, chickens, goats and manage the bottomland forest woodlot in Western Missouri. He has helped to launch numerous social enterprises including a sustainable wood processing cooperative, a dairy goat cheese processing facility and a conservation-based land management company that incentivizes carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. Bryce currently co-owns the Root Cellar Grocery in Downtown Columbia, Missouri, where the local food store operates a weekly produce subscription program, the Missouri Bounty Box. Bryce, along with 135 other farmers, sells his produce through this program.

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