Big ag, little ag, hobby ag, cattle business, corn business: whatever it is that you do out on the farm, it's time to make up your mind about what you really want from your local, state and federal elected officials. The time to step into the voting booth and punch your ticket is just a few weeks away. Although I've never thought single issue voting was a wise idea, maybe the broad ag business can offer a wider net of important issues.
So let's start with a few rules. (1) The date to remember is November 4. If you're not mailing in a ballot, that's the day you have to journey to your nearest precinct to do your civic duty. (2). Ignore any ad for or against any party that you see or hear after October 20. The odds are very good that it will either be an outright lie or a clever but spurious bending of the facts. (3) Ignore most ads that you see or hear before October 20. If you really don't know why, reread point 2.
Candidate Y did something regrettable 30 years ago? Unless it was murder and his complicity has just been discovered, big deal. Candidate X said something stupid last week? Yawn.
Candidate Z spoke against agriculture? Now we're talking real political trouble. Say something ugly that goes against the better interests of the 2 percent of America that still till the soil and prepare for your doom, no matter where you stand on anything else.
Cases in point: a recent story in Politico, outlining the curious demise of several political heavyweights, suggested that being on the wrong side of the major ag issues is a very bad idea. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), spent two years putting the House Agriculture Committee through hell. His reward? He was embarrassed in the primary by a complete unknown.
Steve Southerland (R-Fl.), offered a massive food stamp amendment that played a key role in stopping passage of the farm bill in June. His career in a rabidly Republican district isn't dead but it is on life support.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who tried to kill the farm bill in February, needs help from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who supported the farm bill, to survive what should have been a walk-off homerun of an election win.
Most embarrassed is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He worked hard to kill the bill for two years and an unexpectedly strong challenge from Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes has him doing an abrupt about face trying to take credit for its successful passage.
Cause and effect? Maybe not, but wouldn't it be wonderful? It would mean that agriculture still counts, notwithstanding Secretary Vilsack's suggestion that Washington couldn't find its way to rural American with the help of the best GPS offered by Garmin or the CIA. Kit Pharo could show up at the White House door on horse back, yell "follow me boys" and the Secret Service would lose track of him before he got to 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.
But let's get to the real issues, the ones that push the buttons of farmers and ranchers from Portland to Portland (Maine to Oregon). They might not agree on the solutions to these six shouting points but they should agree on their importance.
1. GMO's and their first cousin, seed patenting: Few things ignite international furor like genetically modified organisms with the probably exception of patenting those modifications. A small but vocal and unschooled mob in the general public detest the idea of GMO's. Most farmers understand the advantages but many fear the public kickback. The real core of the argument, though, is whether or not industry giants like Monsanto can patent genetically modified seed and legally prohibit the millennia old agricultural habit of saving seed for next years crop.
2. Subsidies: What is the proper role, if any, for the federal government in 'managing' what we grow through subsidies. Should growers of staples like corn, dairy and sugar benefit with billions of Uncle Sam's tax dollars or should they listen to the demands of the free market?
3 Organic farming: How about a firm and generally agreed upon definition, first? And could we then accurately label those products and prosecute those shifty players who would misuse the term?
4. Climate: Global warming, anyone? By that, I mean the general condition of our worldwide climate, not tomorrow's weather report for Tulsa and vicinity. Does the collected knowledge of 97 percent of people who research this stuff really mean nothing? Does this properly belong in the realm of politics which can shift from year-to-year or should we leave the debate to scientists? And if it's real, does it really mean a damn thing if it's manmade or a natural occurrence?
5. The environment: Personal comment - those folks who whine that farmers and ranchers do not care about or practice sustainability frankly have no idea what they're talking about. Still, the condition of croplands and pasture will always be a point of contention between urban and rural people. Does the damage to our water resources that might be caused by runoff - pesticides, fertilizers, animal waste - fall within the purview of any of the various federal government agencies? How should we manage the great southwestern drought and the decline of the aquifers that make the Midwest the center of modern American agriculture?
6. Animal welfare: How long will we let animal welfare and animal rights groups grab the headlines with horrendous videos that nauseate the general public? Do 'ag-gag' laws help or just further the impression that we have something evil to hide? Most politicians in ag states are four square behind these laws; it's a matter of surviving the next election when angry farmers and ranchers, tired of being painted with this tainted brush, step into the voting booth. But are there better answers to a problem that will always be with us?