Lack of farm bill breeds frustration, but other issues also stoke grower interest
By TIM HEARDEN
In a national election that's been touted as the most important in a generation, farmers and ranchers are dialed in and active, observers say.
Issues ranging from the fate of the federal estate tax to debates over a new farm bill have kept growers involved and interested in politics, say Farm Bureau officials at all levels.
"They're very much paying attention, especially if they have contested (congressional) races," said Cody Lyon, director of grassroots and policy advocacy for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
"They enjoy doing the retail-politics side of one-on-one meetings or group meetings with candidates to learn about the issues that are important to the candidates, and issues overall," Lyon said.
If a topic is on the minds of farmers and ranchers, Jeff Fowle is likely to see it play out in social media. The rancher and hay producer from Etna, Calif., helped form the AgChat Foundation several years ago and now has more than 42,000 followers on Twitter.
Fowle notes widespread interest in the elections across the country, and finds there's a general dissatisfaction with both major political parties.
"They are more interested in finding problem-solvers and not really caring whether there's a 'D' or an 'R' behind the name," Fowle said. "They're tired of the traditional party lines and party-speak, and it's a lot of frustration."
Much of the frustration, he said, comes from Congress' inability to pass a farm bill this year -- a point that portends trouble for incumbents in both parties.
"You've got individuals from both parties who for political reasons failed to lock themselves in a room and come up with a solution," Fowle said. "Certainly no matter what decision ends up being made, people aren't going to be happy. But doing nothing puts a heck of a lot of farmers and ranchers around the nation at risk."
"Probably the most immediate concern is the five-year farm bill and how that's going to play out," he said. "It turns into not necessarily what the new person can do during the lame-duck session but what may be left for the new members of Congress in January."
Growers are also concerned about budget and financial issues, he said, including whether Congress can find an alternative to the pending $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts that were part of last year's debt ceiling deal.
He said local Farm Bureaus' meet-the-candidate sessions and debates have been well attended.
"As the election starts heating up more and more, (farmers will) become even more engaged," said Casey Gudel, manager of political affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation. "Most voters don't think about it until their sample ballots start arriving in mailboxes."
The activities come as the campaigns of President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have gone to lengths to inform the public about their views on agricultural issues.
The campaigns held luncheons for agriculture officials and lobbyists at the party conventions, sent representatives to a televised Iowa forum on ag and spelled out their views in questionnaires from the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Capital Press.