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Obama to focus on family farms

President’s website outlines goals for administration

Cookson Beecher, Capital Press, January 29, 2009

President Barack Obama, right, speaks to reporters after a meeting with his top economic advisers at his transition office in Washington, D.C., Jan. 6. From left are White House Chief of Staff-designate Rahm Emanuel, Budget Director-designate Peter Orszag and Obama. - Gerald Herbert/Associated Press At the stroke of noon on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, President Barack Obama's official website went up on the Internet, providing a look at the new administration's agenda on a wide array of topics, among them agriculture, rural areas, immigration reform and energy.

Acknowledging that rural communities face many challenges, Obama nonetheless takes an optimistic tack, saying that rural communities can look forward to "economic opportunities unlike anything we have witnessed in modern history."

According to the website, Obama's ag agenda will help family farmers and rural small businesses find profitability in the marketplace and success in the global economy.

Tracy Taylor Grondine, spokesperson for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that overall the organization supports many aspects of Obama's ag agenda, but with a few exceptions.

"We support all production agriculture and believe policies should not be based on operation size or productivity level," Grondine said.

And while the organization supports a cleaner environment, Grondine said the organization believes proven science should prevail in all legislative and regulatory decisions, especially those concerning confined animal feeding operations.

Grondine also said the organization is pleased with the new administration's emphasis on rural development and renewable fuels.

"We look forward to working with President Obama's administration to meet these challenges and create better opportunities for U.S. agriculture and rural America," Grondine said.

Charlie Ingram, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, agrees, saying that he's pleased that agriculture and rural issues are important to the new administration.

"They have put forth a number of good ideas and proposals in a lot of areas," he said. "We're ready to work with the new administration and the new secretary of agriculture on these issues."

Here are the priorities the Obama administration plans to work on, based on the belief that achieving them "will help ensure economic opportunities for family farmers."

• Create a strong safety net for family farmers. Fight for farm programs that provide family farmers with stability and predictability. Implement a $250,000 payment limitation so we help family farmers - not large corporate agribusiness. Close the loopholes that allow mega farms to get around payment limits.

• Prevent anti-competitive behavior against family farms. Pass a packer ban. When meatpackers own livestock, they can manipulate prices and discriminate against independent farmers. Strengthen anti-monopoly laws and strengthen producer protections to ensure independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.

• Regulate confined animal feeding operations. Strictly regulate pollution from large livestock farms, with fines for those that violate tough standards. Support meaningful local control.

• Establish country of origin labeling. Implement country of origin labeling so American producers can distinguish their products from imported ones.

• Encourage organic and local agriculture. Help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and reform crop insurance to not penalize organic farmers. Promote regional food systems.

• Encourage young people to become farmers. Establish a new program to identify and train the next generation of farmers. Provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm.

• Partner with landowners to conserve private lands. Increase incentives for farmers and private landowners to conduct sustainable agriculture and protect wetlands, grasslands and forests.

• Support rural economic development and small business development. Provide capital for farmers to create value-added enterprises, like cooperative marketing initiatives and farmer-owned processing plants. Establish a small business and micro-enterprise initiative for rural America.

• Connect rural America. Modernize a Federal Communications Commission program that supports rural phone service so that it promotes affordable broadband coverage across rural America as well.

• Promote leadership in renewable energy. Ensure that our rural areas continue their leadership in the renewable fuels movement.

Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. E-mail: cbeecher@capitalpress.com.

On the net

To read Obama's agenda, go to www.whitehouse.gov/agenda and click on the topic of interest. Agriculture is included in the "rural" category.

Rural-life priorities

President Barack Obama also wants to work toward improving the quality of rural life. The priorities for achieving that include:

•Combat methamphetamine. Continue the fight to rid our communities of meth and offer support to help addicts heal.

•Improve health care. Work to ensure a more equitable Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement structure that often gives rural health care providers less money for the very same procedure performed in urban areas. Attract providers to rural America by creating a loan forgiveness program for doctors and nurses who work in underserved rural areas. Promote health information technologies like telemedicine.

•Improve rural education. Provide incentives for talented individuals to enter the teaching profession, including increased pay for teachers who work in rural areas. Create a Rural Revitalization Program to attract young people to rural America and retain them. Increase research and educational funding for land grant colleges.

•Upgrade rural infrastructure: Invest in the core infrastructure - roads, bridges, locks, dams, water systems and essential air service - that rural communities need.
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