Elections, Agriculture and Consequences

by Bryan Bjerke
October 28, 2014

With all the mid-term election fever and political advertising reaching a peak now, I’ve noticed a rather disappointing trend. There seem to be quite a few important issues that affect agriculture, such as immigration, COOL, the EPA, GMOs, drones and privacy, just to name a few. You’d think the election season would be filled with discussion and heated debate among the candidates about these issues. Well, there’s not.

There is an abundance of positive, negative, PAC-sponsored, attack, defend, explain and complain ads, not to mention debates, position papers and editorial endorsements on a multitude of issues, some essential and some just downright silly. But there have been little to no ads, position papers, debates or editorials about agriculture and its key issues by candidates, news media or the general public.

There are seven states where agriculture at least gets a face on the ballot this November. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Dakota, South Carolina and Texas will elect agriculture commissioners. Of the 50 states, only 12 have agriculture commissioners who are elected. The rest are appointed. But among the 471 seats in Congress up for election next month, 36 Senate seats and 435 House seats, along with 36 states deciding who will be their next governor, agriculture, exports, food production and other issues get hardly a mention.

Three states are taking the discussion of agriculture a little more seriously this year. And, as a result, agriculture is at least getting some additional attention. Agricultural ballot issues are up for a vote in Hawaii, Maine and Missouri. According to votesmart.org, there is an amendment to the Hawaii State Constitution that would authorize the State to issue special purpose revenue bonds and use the proceeds from the bonds to assist agricultural enterprises on any type of land. In Maine, there is a bond issue on the ballot that would provide $8 million to assist Maine agriculture. And in Missouri, Constitutional Amendment 1 would guarantee the rights of Missourians to engage in farming and ranching practices, subject to any power given to local government under Article VI of the Missouri Constitution.

The number of people involved in agriculture and agribusiness continues to slowly shrink. There are 22 million people in this country that produce, process, sell and trade our food and fiber. Only 4.6 million of those people live on the farms. That’s slightly less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population, not exactly a big voting block.

When you weigh those numbers against the economic importance of production agriculture to this country and the world you realize that agriculture has never been more essential, or more taken for granted. Agriculture has been credited with being a driving force in the economic recovery, as can be attested to by main street businesses in rural America. The U.S. exports about one-fourth of the total U.S. farm output, helping to ‎offset trade deficits in other sectors of the economy. Thirty percent of total crop production in the U.S. is exported. Ag exports generate more than $100 billion a year in business activity and provide nearly a million jobs.

And yet, it takes a lot of hard work and as much noise as we all can muster to get things to go our way. Well, I think we all know that American agriculture is not afraid of hard work. It would just be helpful if we had some more people helping to amplify the noise.

The old saying that elections have consequences is as true as ever. So what are the consequences for agriculture when elections go on with the voice of farmers and agribusiness on the sideline? Elections are free, but we pay for the results.