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46175

Ag-related issues key in 2008 presidential race

They may not be the most eye-catching issues on which lengthy reports on the evening news are based these days, but issues strongly linked to agriculture are quietly playing considerable roles in the federal government and the race for the next president of the United States.

Taking action on the future of renewable energy and immigration, both issues tied closely to agriculture, will be important to the next president's agenda. The potential exists to ensure both the development of biofuels as part of the nation's energy complex and a reasonable resolution to the immigration problems the nation currently faces, says Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who's seeking the GOP nomination in the 2008 presidential election.

"I think we have historic opportunities here to expand the renewable fuels business. It's the biggest opportunity we've seen in agriculture, I think, in a generation," Brownback told Agriculture Online on Wednesday. "If we get one-quarter of the fuel market, that's $250 billion."

As the future implementation of developing cellulosic ethanol technology draws nearer, so grows the overall acceptance of renewable fuels in Washington, DC, Brownback says. Coupled with the current environment in the petroleum, renewable fuels will eventually become a mainstream part of U.S. energy policy, the senator says.

"Overall, the climate has improved for ethanol dramatically. Now, there is some negativity surrounding it, but it's much more muted than in the past," says Brownback, who grew up on a farm near Parker, Kansas. "The reality is we have oil prices consistently above $50 per barrel -- sometimes way above that -- and people are starting to look at the reality of this situation and ask what we are going to do."

One of the greatest strengths of the renewable fuels sector is in its effects to national security, according to Brownback. In these terms, wider acceptance and use of ethanol, for example, could immensely improve national security.

"In 10 to 15 years, we could be not nearly as exposed to terrorist threats and generally more secure," Brownback says.

Another issue -- immigration -- closely links national security and agriculture. Of utmost importance to Brownback, he says, is border security, followed closely by the adherence to federal immigration policy by the business community.

"We need a more enforceable system. If you're going to hire someone, you need to know if his or her Social Security number is real, and you need to have accountability," Brownback says.

To these ends, the Kansas senator is calling for comprehensive immigration reforms, including a guest worker program. For businesses who rely on immigrant labor -- including many in the ag sector -- a simple approach is best.

"For businesses, make it simple and have a high fine for non-compliance," Brownback says. "If someone knowingly hires illegal immigrants, they should pay stiff fines."

Such a system is likely years away, he adds, saying today's lack of statutory authority for the sharing of Social Security information is one hindering policy that must change in order to reform immigration policy.

They may not be the most eye-catching issues on which lengthy reports on the evening news are based these days, but issues strongly linked to agriculture are quietly playing considerable roles in the federal government and the race for the next president of the United States.

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