Presidential hopefuls need to help America
Republican presidential candidates don't have much to say about agriculture these days. During most speeches, agriculture barely gets a mention.
Candidates talk about too much regulation and too little money for subsidies and other programs, but specifics are sparse.
That does not indicate a lack of interest in agriculture among those who would be president. If anything, it indicates that most sectors of agriculture are in far better shape than the U.S. economy as a whole, which continues to reside in the intensive care unit.
For that reason, most people involved in agriculture are happy to stay out of the political spotlight.
Another reason for the benign neglect is a lack of money. With the federal government running more than $1 trillion in the red each year, most candidates are shy about proposing programs that cost money. If anything, they want to end costly agriculture programs, especially direct subsidies.
With that in mind, there are still some ag-related items on the "to-do" list for the president and Congress after the election. Among them:
* Get the housing industry back on its feet. Whether it's through tax credits for new construction or some other mechanism, the housing industry must be resuscitated. Portions of the lumber, nursery and grass seed industries have been decimated by the lack of housing starts as a tsunami of foreclosures continues to bash the economy. Congress -- whose lack of oversight of the mortgage market caused much of the disaster -- owes it to Americans to stem the tide of foreclosures and open the way for more construction.
* Resolve the illegal immigration issue. It's time to stop tap-dancing around this important issue. Farmers and orchardists already face a lack of workers to pick apples and other crops. Some have resorted to using prison labor to fill the need. This problem will only get worse unless Congress can formulate a means of both securing our borders and providing a legal, cost-effective and simple way for workers to travel to the U.S. through a much-improved H-2A program that allows workers to stay in the U.S. year-round for specific jobs.
In the meantime, illegal immigrants already here should be offered a means of becoming citizens. Here's a plan: Any immigrant who has not been convicted of a felony would be able to sign a 10-year contract for citizenship. He would pay a $1,000 penalty every year. At the end of the contract, he or she must have learned English, stayed out of jail and obtained citizenship.
* Repeal the estate tax. No tax is more unfair and destructive of families and family farms and ranches. The idea that a government can tax a farm, ranch -- or anything else -- because the owner died is outlandish and ghoulish and contributes to the downfall of family businesses. Repeal it.
* Help new farmers. The aging of the American farmer stands out more than any other issue for agriculture, but the new generation of farmers faces an uphill battle in getting established. The high cost of land, equipment and inputs makes it nearly impossible to finance a new farm without a huge injection of cash or a massive loan.
Some ideas: The government could back financial devices that insure a farm's income and make it more attractive for financial institutions to lend money to a new farmer.
Alternatively, new farmers could obtain financing through instruments such as insured bonds, which could be sold on the financial markets. These bonds would pay interest to investors, could be traded and the principal would be insured.
Agriculture may not be top-of-mind for presidential candidates but there's plenty for them to think about as they set their sights on the White House.