The election matters

Agriculture.com Staff 11/03/2008 @ 12:32pm

One of my favorite spectator sports events is the Olympics. After participating in a couple of triathlons last summer, I was awestruck by the swimming, biking, and running performance of real athletes in Beijing.

Another favorite spectator sport is partisan politics. Living in Iowa gives me a front-row seat to retail presidential marketing every four years. When it comes to agriculture, however, the differences between parties are subtle and often not even relevant. Regional differences in Congress are more important than partisan dogma when it comes to writing farm legislation.

Four years ago, Successful Farming magazine polled a representative sample of readers then published a short story on farmers' views of the race between George W. Bush and John Kerry.

This year, with an important 2007 Energy Bill and the 2008 Farm Bill already passed by Congress, the relevance of the presidential race seems even less than in 2004.

I had decided that other subjects deserved more attention, so I didn't poll readers on this presidential race. And I haven't written a lot about it. Well, I was wrong.

Successful Farming magazine doesn't endorse candidates. I'm not going to do that, either. And by now, you may have already voted or made up your mind.

But if you still are looking for some political analysis, there are stark differences between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, even on key issues for farmers and ranchers.

If you want the starkest, most blunt analysis of the race, here it is:

  • If you raise hogs, vote for McCain.
  • If you raise corn, vote for Obama.

McCain has long been a critic of ethanol subsidies. Obama supports spending more federal money on moving to a biofuels economy.

So, corn prices could fall more under McCain than Obama, which would be a boon for hog producers and a problem for row-crop farmers now riding an inflationary wave of input costs.

Of course, all kinds of factors will influence grain prices, as they already have. But don't kid yourself. Letting the free market work won't be kind to the ethanol industry and will be a bearish force on corn.

Look at Brazilian sugarcane ethanol. The reason cane ethanol makes up about 40% of Brazil's fuel supply has little to do with market forces. It's because Brazil in the 1970s had a right-wing military dictatorship and a state-owned oil company (a socialist concept) that forced cane ethanol into its fuel supply.

In the U.S., mandates (the renewable fuels standard) are forcing oil companies here to blend ethanol.

There are good reasons to vote for either McCain or Obama. But don't expect miracles. Neither one will be able to quickly end our foreign oil dependence or calm an unraveling lending industry. The next president faces a host of grave challenges.

Do I think that disgruntled corn farmers now support Obama? No.

In September, I was visiting with a loyal Republican corn farmer in northern Iowa who had fired off an angry e-mail to McCain's campaign over the no mandates platform plank. Did he see farmers rushing to Obama?

"No," he said. "They just won't vote."

One of my favorite spectator sports events is the Olympics. After participating in a couple of triathlons last summer, I was awestruck by the swimming, biking, and running performance of real athletes in Beijing.

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