Has Obama been good for Ag?

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Our new president has just passed the critical 100-day mark as new occupant of The White House. In that time he's pushed for a massive spending plan, jetted to Europe to apologize for America's egregious unilateral approach to settling world matters, and fired the head of General Motors. He even had time to get a new pooch for the kids. Whew!

While some of his comments and decisions have been controversial, he appears to have as much or more Teflon as another popular president named Ronald Reagan nearly 30 years ago. His approval ratings at the 100-day mark hover around 60%, with wide support from independents and moderates.

A Pew Research Center survey earlier this month asked voters if they approved of Obama's job performance. A Christian Science Monitor project called Patchwork Nation analyzed the numbers by various voter blocs.

Their results show his highest marks — 80% - come from the younger, more diverse voters in the industrial metropolis, or larger cities. No surprise there. But immigrant groups, mostly Hispanic, along with empty nesters and baby boomers, also gave Obama high marks at 72%. Even the wealthier suburbanites gave him an approval rating of 70%

What about farm communities? The sparsely populated rural towns of America, usually dominated by conservatives, gave the new president a rating of about 60%. Evangelicals also gave him low marks at around 56%. The numbers sound high, but these were the lowest numbers in the poll. These two groups voted for McCain last November.

The President has made a few of us in Farm Nation nervous since setting up camp on

Pennsylvania Avenue
. But at this point his bark appears worse than his bite. He proposed ending subsidy payments for farmers taking in more than $500,000 a year and capping payments at $250,000. "More than dead on arrival," responded Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

And that's mostly how it stands now. Neither the House nor Senate budget outlines include any limits on farm subsidies.

Mary Kay Thatcher, Director of Public Policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the President appears to be off to a good start.

"We've been really pleased with several of the decision made by USDA,•bCrLf she told me. "On the issue of animal Identification, I just came from a meeting where 29 groups were invited to speak, signaling a lot more transparency. They seem willing to sit down and listen.•bCrLf

On the other hand, AFBF has "a lot of concerns•bCrLf about EPA, especially after it recently declined to ask the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear a case where the outcome could lead to dramatic increases in regulation and permitting under the Clean Water Act (CWA). A group as diverse and powerful as Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had urged EPA to request a rehearing of the case.

The court's decision could cause massive headaches for farmers and professional pesticide sprayers by forcing them to go get a permit when an outbreak of a bug or disease hits. That just makes no sense at all.

"Our concern is, you have to treat pests pretty quickly otherwise you have real problems,•bCrLf says Thatcher. "But how long will it take to go get a permit to treat that pest? When you have something you need to treat within 24 hours, it's not just the hassle factor but the timing factor.•bCrLf

It may be too early to make a fair-minded call on the president's impact on ag. With his hands full on other matters, it's best he leans on his Ag Secretary as much as possible. I'm confident Sec. Vilsack knows what he's doing.

Even so, those who represent ag on Capitol Hill are really earning their salaries these days.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.


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