With all the excitement surrounding the 2008 Presidential election, most of us seem to have dismissed an important question: Which candidate will be best for agriculture?
The answer to that question by one of America's most respected farm policy expert may shock you. "As far as agriculture is concerned, I think Hillary looks the best of the three candidates," says Barry Flinchbaugh, the K-State Ag Economist who helped craft several farm bills including the 1996 Freedom-to-Farm bill.
Flinchbaugh says the New York Farm Bureau gave Clinton high marks for her interest in upstate New York agriculture. "She pays attention to upstate New York," he says. "She's interested. I would argue that Charlie Stenholm would be her secretary of agriculture, and I applaud that."
Clinton has stated she favors a strong safety net for farmers, including the Average Crop Revenue proposal in the Senate version of the farm bill. She also supports the 51 cent per gallon blender credit for ethanol and the 54 cent per gallon tariff.
"President Bill Clinton was good for agriculture," Flinchbaugh notes.
However, Flinchbaugh is concerned about the Democrats' position on free trade.
"The democrats are on a protectionist kick," he says. "Right now Hillary and Barack (Obama) are engaged in a battle of who will get rid of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) first. I can't think of anything worse that could happen to agriculture than to get rid of NAFTA.
"They both argue that the best long term solution to the immigration problem is to improve the Mexican economy, yet they want to get rid of NAFTA? They're talking out of both sides of their mouths."
Republican candidate John McCain, R-Ariz., supports biofuels, but he also said – in Iowa last fall – that the farm bill includes too many subsidies. He anticipates a challenge to the subsidy levels at the World Trade Organization, if those subsidy levels aren't reduced prior to passage in the next farm bill. "I want to see us gradually reduce those subsidies," he says.
In any case, Flinchbaugh is concerned about the level of agriculture literacy by all three of the candidates still in the race.
"I can't think of an election in my lifetime when the presidential candidates knew less about agriculture than these three," he says.