Hot Topics Debated
In September, President Barack Obama answered agriculture-related questions put forward by the American Farm Bureau Federation on topics such as energy, farm policy, labor, taxes and trade.
Farm Policy Question: A new farm bill will be enacted and implemented over the next four years during a time of significant evolution in agriculture. What policy and risk management tools do you propose to ensure that agriculture is a profitable, competitive and viable industry?
Obama: I understand the need for a strong farm safety net. That’s why I increased the availability of crop insurance and emergency disaster assistance to help over 590,000 farmers and ranchers keep their farms in business after natural disasters and crop loss. My administration expanded farm credit to help more than 100,000 farmers struggling during the financial crisis to keep their family farms and provide for their families. And as farmers continue to go through hard times because of this drought, we are expanding access to low-interest loans, encouraging insurance companies to extend payment deadlines and opening new lands for livestock farmers to graze their herds.
And I know that any farm bill passed this year—and there needs to be a farm bill passed this year—needs to have adequate protections for America’s farmers. That’s why I have called for maintaining a strong crop insurance program and an extended disaster assistance program.
Labor Question: U.S. agriculture has a long history of relying on temporary workers to help plant and harvest crops, tend orchards and manage livestock. What would you do to solve agriculture’s labor shortage problem?·
Obama: To contribute to the vitality of our agricultural economy, we must design a system that provides legal channels for U.S. employers to hire needed foreign workers. This system must protect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers and only be used when U.S. workers are not available. I have called on Congress to pass and implement the AgJOBS Act, which allows farmers to hire the workers they rely on, and provides a path to citizenship for those workers.
But we cannot wait for Congress to act, which is why my administration is already taking action to improve the existing system for temporary agricultural workers. We are also standing up a new Office on Farmworker Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the first office for farmer workers in the Agency’s history. These measures are helping to identify the challenges faced by farmworkers and address the need for a reliable labor force.
See full responses at fb.org/index.php?action=legislative.2012presidentialQuestionnaire.
“Even with advanced technology and knowledge, you still have to look up and pay attention to what is happening around you,” says Michael V. Geary, CEO of the Association of Horticulture Professionals. “In short, we develop plant products, and then we sell them. How do we keep from missing out on the opportunity to sell more plants, flowers, trees and related products? Many think one of the problems we have is the perceived disconnect between the growers and the retailers, and ultimately the consumers. Either way, we need to make sure we do not become obsolete.”
“The floor of competition for U.S. grain production rises every day. This year is a wake-up year for us with the short crop we had,” said Thomas Sleight, president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, at the recent Export Exchange industry conference in Minneapolis. “I would hope that the U.S. farmer comes back and comes back strong, flexing their competitive muscle. But certainly, the doors have been opened for the other suppliers,” he told Reuters. Importers from South Korea, Taiwan and Japan have been buying feed from South America and producers in the Black Sea region instead of the United States, Reuters reported. It is also reported that China has not purchased any U.S. corn since midsummer and will not buy until the spring of 2013 and only if prices are closer to the $6.00 level, according to the grain buyers at the conference.
“Seed connectivity is essential to e-business—it supports more accurate and timely data, allowing companies to increase their efficiencies,” says Lori Edwards, chair of AgGateway’s Seed Council, and business process analyst manager at Syngenta. Edwards is part of a group of 20 companies in the seed industry working collaboratively within AgGateway on a project called Seed Connectivity II. The program will improve e-business processes by streamlining the seed supply chain, establishing electronic connectivity among many manufacturers, distributors and retailers for shipping, invoicing and reporting, as well as for price sheets, seed bookings and orders. “By the end of this project, we will have created e-connectivity solutions for the seed ordering and inventory management processes, which is a major step forward for e-business in this key agricultural sector,” adds project board chair Greg Erler, the electronic business-to-business manager at Monsanto Company.
Ready for Rust
“If the wolf has to come, we’d better get prepared,” said Kang Zhensheng, head of a wheat lab at Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in China, speaking about the spread of wheat stem rust. “We are breeding new Ug99-resistant wheat types, and cooperating with the [Borlaug Global Rust Initiative] to develop a surveillance system to track the disease.” Zhensheng was speaking at a technical workshop put on by the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative in China at the end of August. Wheat experts from around the world attended the meeting and discussed breakthroughs in technology used to resist wheat rust. After being spread widely in East Africa and West Asia and causing severe damage to crops, the catastrophic disease has become a threat to China, where it is likely to be carried to in the wind. But farmers in the United States need to be wary as well. “This is the most damaging disease for wheat,” added Dave Hodson, an expert with the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative who has spent years conducting field studies in Ethiopia. “Wheat rusts are global travelers with no respect for political boundaries. Effective control often depends on finding out what is happening in distant regions.” Hodson plans to encourage farmers to use cell phones and other mobile devices to help them better observe the spread of the disease.
Research led by Simon Fraser University biologist Allison Kermode and an international team of scientists from SFU, Griffith University and Macquarie University in Australia, University of British Columbia, and the Washington University School of Medicine have made a potential step forward in developing a plant-based enzyme replacement treatment for rare genetic diseases. The study involves an mRNA-based strategy that enables the therapeutic protein, called alpha-L-iduronidase, to be generated within a transgenic corn plant. Quoted in a Reuters article on the finding, George Lomonossoff of Britain’s John Innes Centre says the strategy is “an important addition to the toolkit for producing pharmaceuticals in plants.”
December Issue 2012