State of the Union Hits Ag Buzz Words

President Obama talks trade, infrastructure, rural Internet access and regulations in his annual State of the Union address.

Every year the President stands before Congress and the nation to highlight the top priorities for the year. Over the past decade one of the most memorable and impacting State of the Union addresses for agriculture came in 2006 when President George W. Bush spoke of the nation's addiction to oil and it significantly spurred ethanol demand.

This year's talk from President Barack Obama is unlikely to have the true revitalization ability as Bush's talk in 2006, but some buzz words put the raise bar as to whether or not we can see some progress on top issues.

Renewable energy

Obama called on Congress to divert oil subsidies worth $4 billion to renewable energy. Obama also pledged to increase funding for clean energy in his 2012 budget to $8 billion, or about a third more than in 2011.

“The 25x’25 Alliance commends President Obama for his foresight and the prominence he has given to the goal of producing 80% or America’s electricity with clean energy by 2035,” said Read Smith, co-chairman of the alliance’s national steering committee. “With the vision of meeting 25 percent of our nation’s total energy needs with renewables from the land, the 25x’25 Alliance believes that America’s farms, ranches and forestlands can provide the renewable energy that can help meet the president’s ambitious target.”

Trade

U.S. agriculture would be nothing without trade, and in today's tough economic times, Obama, especially with a growing Republican Congress, might be starting to take notice.

Obama said before he took office he made it clear that "we would enforce our trade agreements" and would only sign deals that "keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs."

Obama asked for passage of the South Korea Free Trade Agreement which was finalized last month. In his speech he said it would support at least 70,000 American jobs. "This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor; Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible," Obama said.

Tuesday American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman testified before the

House Ways
and Means Committee that combined, the Korea, Colombia and Panama agreements would add an additional $3 billion to the U.S. economy through agricultural trade.

Once fully implemented, the Korea free trade agreement would trigger $1.8 billion annually in agriculture exports. Gains in exports through the Colombia agreement are estimated at $815 million, while the Panama agreement is estimated to increase U.S. agricultural exports to more than $195 million.

Stallman referenced the billions of dollars being lost in exports to competitors because of the stalled agreements. For example, from 2000-2009, the Chilean wine market share in Korea rose from 2.4% to 21.5%, while the U.S. share fell from 17.1% to 10.8%. In Colombia, the U.S. overall agriculture peak market share was 46% in 2008, but dropped in 2010 to 21%, being taken over by Argentina.

A recently completed Panama trade deal with Canada threatens to give Canadian exporters a significant competitive edge over the U.S. for products such as beef, pork, beans and various processed foods if the Canadian trade deal enters into effect before the U.S. agreement.

Infrastructure

U.S. agriculture has benefited greatly from a strong infrastructure, possibly the greatest advantage over growing agricultural powerhouse countries in South America. In his speech, Obama noted that Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than the U.S. does. China is building faster trains and newer airports. "Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation's infrastructure, they gave us a 'D'."

The grade probably isn't surprising to rural America. And for all those growers who make visits to Capitol Hill requesting funds for infrastructure finally there is someone else who recognizes the issue at hand.

Obama called for redoubled efforts in rebuilding infrastructure, putting Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges. "We will make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based on what's best for the economy, not politicians," he said.

Lofty promise, we'll see how it plays out in Congress where those pet projects actually originate.

Rural internet access

South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do, noted Obama.

Rural broadband access has been billed as achievable for the past several years. But yet, we're still years away from success.

Obama again tried to set an ambitious goal, calling for 98% of all Americans to have high-speed wireless coverage within the next five years. "This isn’t just about a faster internet and fewer dropped calls. It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world," he said.

Regulations

It's no secret that regulations have increased significantly under the watch of Obama. For farmers this mainly has come under the umbrella of the Environmental Protection Agency. But even the latest discussions by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack with organic and non-GE interests over the approval of biotech alfalfa questions the Administration's ability to keep regulations science-based.

Obama said in order to "reduce barriers to growth and investment" he's ordered a review of government regulations.

"When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them. But I will not hesitate to create or enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people," he said.

So let's see which ones are billed as "safeguards to protect the American people" and whether that matches up with how rural America sees them.  

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