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The Presidential Forum on Agriculture: The Farm Vote

posted on September 11, 2012


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The worst drought in half a century has devastated crops and pushed commodity prices into record territory. With the presidential election less than sixty days away, both parties have a message for rural America. From the Dr. Norman E. Borlaug World Food Prize Hall of Laureates, this is the Presidential Forum on Agriculture, the Farm Vote. Here is Mike Pearson.

Pearson: Good evening, everyone. I'm Mike Pearson and I'd like to welcome you all to the 2012 Presidential Forum on Agriculture. This event tonight is being sponsored by Farm Foundation and by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. The president this year of NASDA is Iowa's own Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and I'd like you to help join me in welcoming him to the stage.

Northey: Thank you, Mike. We are so pleased to be able to host this event in Iowa in such a beautiful building, a building that a month from now will host the World Food Prize events with visitors from all over the world. Today we have visitors from all over the country that are here. We're very pleased to be able to have you here, two great organizations, NASDA and Farm Foundation. Agriculture is very important. Certainly it's very important in Iowa. It's very important in many of our states. Certainly it's important not only to those directly involved in agriculture, but it affects, obviously, everybody in this country as they depend on agriculture for their food, but their fiber and their fuel as well. Those will be some of the issues that we'll hit today. Agriculture is also important, I believe, politically. Certainly it is this political cycle. So we're very much looking forward to the conversation over this next hour and a half about the ag policies and the difference between the two candidates -presidential candidates. We appreciate the candidates sponsoring such great surrogates here to be able to speak on their behalf. Again, thank you and enjoy the event. Now it's my privilege to introduce to you Greg Heying, the President -or the Chairman of the Farm Foundation Board.

Heying: Thank you, Bill. It is certainly Farm Foundation's pleasure to cosponsor the forum this evening. It's something we've looked forward to. We were involved in it four years ago and certainly have been very pleased to have the chance to do this again. My name is Greg Heying, I'm the Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Farm Foundation. For those of you that do not know us, the Farm Foundation has about a proud eighty-year history of objectivity in trying to work through all of the issues that are so important to us in rural communities and in agriculture in all fashions. We work hard to foster dialogue. We keep that dialogue civil and we work very, very hard on all of the issues that are important to you. This is one of those occasions when we're very pleased to be able to be involved in the forum, to listen to the viewpoints that are going to be expressed here, and certainly are anxious for us to get on with this. So I'm going to get out of the way and turn it back over. Thank you.

Pearson: Thank you, Senator. This is a big election with big decisions, and I'd like to start with the first question, bringing it back down. This has been a terrible summer. I'm sure we're all tired of talking about drought and talking about weather, but that's on a lot of people's minds. Ms. Judge, you brought it up in your opening statements, and I'd like you to expand a little bit. Could you talk to us what President Obama has done with regards to the drought and if there's anything you would like to see different or things you would do differently if given a second term.

Judge: The drought, of course, here in Iowa and I know throughout the Midwest has been just devastating. Really here in Iowa, it has not been in one particular area, which is kind of unusual. We've had droughts in the past where there've been some parts of the state that have suffered and others have looked pretty good. But I think Secretary Northey would agree with me that really this has been all over the state and it is really quite severe. The condition of the corn even as it's coming out is not good, and people are suffering. The difference, I think, one of the differences between today and maybe some of the droughts of the past that some of us have lived through is that people are in better shape as far as having crop insurance. And that is really going to help people through this rough patch, I hope -I believe it will -and that they can live to plant next spring. I think if they can, hopefully Mother Nature will be kinder to us. Certainly Barack Obama and USDA have been on top of this, doing everything they can. As I said, there have been a number of -a large number of counties that have been declared disaster areas. There has been negotiation with insurance companies to try to get them to give us some grace periods on insurance premium payments. Those are things that could be done and were done quickly. But the truth is that we have got to get that farm bill passed. We've got to get down the road with that because these disaster programs are expired. Hopefully we can get that done here very, very quickly. I really hate to see this whole thing being used as a political football, but I'm afraid it is election time and a certain amount of that is going on.

Pearson: Thank you. Senator Johanns, the same question to you. What would a Mitt Romney Administration have done differently this summer with regards to the drought?

Johanns: Great. Patti and I agree on one thing: it should not be a political football. There are people out there suffering, and this is all across the Corn Belt. I spent the better part of August going across Nebraska Town Hall meetings, drought roundtables, talking to producers. Here's kind of the bottom line, folks. The crop insurance program is in place and producers are saying, look, without crop insurance, we'd be in serious, serious shape. Crop insurance is one of those permanent programs in the farm bill that will continue. It's like the nutrition programs actually. It will continue. So I want to assure people, anybody who's listening in on this, don't lay awake tonight worrying about whether or not you're going to your crop insurance payment. Now, in terms of what we would ask the Mitt Romney Administration to do, we would ask them to lead on this. Here's how they can do it, and they've done it already. There was a piece of legislation passed right before the August recess on the House side that funded four or five drought related programs. That came over to the Senate, and Senator Reid did not take it up. It needs to be taken up. A forage program exists there that would help ranchers. The Livestock Indemnity Program is there if you have livestock losses. That should be funded. Why wasn't it funded, you might be asking. Here's why it wasn't funded. Those who put the last farm bill together, which was my friends on the other side of the aisle, used a budget gimmick. They decided that they wanted to make the current farm bill look cheaper than it was, so they didn't fund the last year of these programs. That's what happened. Now they're paying the price for it, and it's a very embarrassing price. You shouldn't be doing those kinds of gimmicks. Well, Paul Ryan voted for this plan on the House side. Mitt Romney has endorsed this plan. Let's get that funding in place. We know we've got crop insurance in place. Let's go to work on the farm bill. Let's take the politics out of it. Let's get good policy and we can get there. We can get a farm bill passed. We did in the Senate. We've got our farm bill done on the Senate side. That's the kind of leadership we need. Fortunately, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan are providing it. They're doing the right things to assist our producers.

Pearson: Thank you, Senator. I'd like to follow that up with a very similar question, building on what you both have been talking about with the farm bill. Senator Johanns, this question to you first. What would a Mitt Romney Administration change about the current 2012 Farm Bill?

Johanns: You know, here's what I would say about the 2012 Farm Bill: there is significant, substantial agreement. In fact, there's the articles written about this. Everybody kind of looked at the lay of the land. As I said in my opening, I said this is going to be a farm bill more about sacrifice and budget than anything. So literally everybody pretty much agreed that the target number was going to be somewhere around 25 to 30 billion in savings that had to be achieved. The president proposed it in his budget, as a matter of fact. I might quibble with some of the things he proposed, but that's what he proposed. That was his number. That was on top of additional cuts that had occurred in the crop insurance program in the two previous years, so he actually had more cuts than $30 billion. You have the House bill that's more aggressive than the Senate bill. They're at about $30 billion. You've got the Senate bill that's at about 23, 24, $25 billion, depending on how you count some things. The bottom line is this: I think the key issue here is to get it right. There are all kinds of ways of looking at farm prices. The House bill tends to favor the target price approach. We on the Senate side tend to favor the risk management approach with crop insurance. The southern producers tend to like the House bill better than they like the Senate bill. The Midwest producers tend to like the Senate bill better. So what I would say is, look, let's take the time, let's get the House bill done. It will get done. I have to run this confidence in Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson. They are men of good faith. They're working well together. Let's let them do their work and get their bill done. Let's then take the bill to conference where we can negotiate a good farm policy. But at the end of the day, here is what I would say: the key element is get it right and recognize we are going to have to cut some spending. It just is what we have to do as a nation to get ourselves back on the road to prosperity.

Pearson: Thank you, Senator. Ms. Judge, your follow-up. What is worth defending in the current farm bill as it's written?

Judge: I think there is a -I assume you're speaking of the Senate version of the farm bill?

Pearson: Yes.

Judge: I think that the Senate has passed a good version of the farm bill. I know that Senator Johanns supported it, and I believe he will stand by that support. I would agree with him that it's time to get the House version passed. I don't think anyone believes that the House is going to pass the same version as the Senate. The world doesn't operate that way, folks. But if we can get those two bills, to a conference, and have people of good faith sit down and decide what farm policy is going to be, I agree with the Son this one. That needs to happen. As I said, as part of the NASDA for eight years, I took a real learning curve. There was a real learning curve on agriculture across this country. I thought I knew agriculture pretty well because I understood about corn and beans and cattle and hogs. But I didn't know much until I learned about cotton, rice, and vegetable production, those things that are so important to other parts of the country. And those things all have to be figured in and those are different economies and those things have to be taken into consideration. And they will be if Congress gets busy and does what they need to do. As I said in my opening remarks, farmers and ranchers across this country understand that we have a budget deficit. They understand that we have a problem. But they also know that that problem should be shared across our country and across our economies and that they should not be asked to take an overly large share. Again, when we talk about this in a vacuum, that doesn't work very well either. We really have to talk about the budget problems, the deficit problem as we look at the entire budget for the United States.

Pearson: Thank you, Ms. Judge. This next question, it's a very important issue here in the Heartland and throughout America. It's the idea of biofuels. Ms. Judge, I would like you to help to us what should we expect with a second-term Obama presidency with regard to biofuels.

Judge: Here in Iowa, we think we invented it, and we're very proud of what we've been able to accomplish. If we have a little bit too much pride about biofuels, please excuse us, but we are proud of what has happened here in the last decade, particularly in the production of ethanol and now in the production of biodiesel. It's important to the future of our country, as I said in my opening remarks. President Obama understands that. He understands that we need to lessen the dependence on foreign oil and that we can do that by growing the -growing fuel right here in the Midwest and actually across the country. We're going to stay committed to doing that. The renewable fuel standard has increased the amount of consumption. That will continue too as we look forward. This is just the beginning of this industry. It's going to change. It's going to evolve. It's going to be more efficient. But, my gosh, it's exciting. As I said in my opening remarks, it's trying to fly airplanes with it. Can you believe that!

Pearson: Thank you. Senator Johanns, in a Mitt Romney presidency, what can we expect with regard to biofuels?

Johanns: There was a day a few years ago where we had blenders’ credit, we had a tariff on foreign ethanol. Those things went away. That was within the last year or so. Patty is right, I was the leader of ethanol production. I'm very happy to tell you we followed your lead, and we're second in the United States. That was a time when Tom Vilsack was the Chairman of the Governors Ethanol Coalition and I was the vice chairman. So we kind of had that market cornered, if you will. But here's where you start now. You start with the RFS. It's an important piece of the puzzle. Mitt Romney has led on that. He has said I will support that. I think that is a very, very significant farm policy step for Mitt Romney. I applaud him for that. Absolutely the right step. The second thing, though -and we were predicting this when I was Ag Secretary -is we knew that ethanol use was going to plateau. Why? Because we were filling the 90/10 blend. In other words, that 10 percent and we're actually right about there. We have basically filled that marketplace. So we have to adopt new ways, if you will, to use the product. And we have to take the next steps, which have been in the works. We have to take the next steps in terms of site and using other biomass other than corn to produce energy. But here's where I part ways with the Obama Administration. As somebody who has done budgets my whole life, a budget is a way to set a course to explain your direction, to build support for what you want to do. So the Obama budget this year did this on eight programs: the Biobased Markets Program, the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Repowering Assistance, Bioenergy Program, Biodiesel Fuel, Rural Energy, Biomass Research, Biomass Crop Assistance Program. What was proposed by the Obama Administration for those programs? Zero. Zero. Now, you can talk the talk, but you must walk the walk. As a former governor, I will tell you it is that budget that leads the way. I have just seen, on this very important issue for agriculture, a lack of leadership. We need the kind of leadership that steps up and says there is a next generation here. Let's step forward. Let's take that step. It's the kind of leadership that we are looking for. Like I said, I think soon to be, I hope President Romney has indicated that he's ready to lead in this area, lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and do the right things for developing this industry.

Pearson: Thank you, Senator. Now we do have a question from the floor. I'd ask you to state your name and tell us your question.

Question: My name is John Johnson. I'd like to thank both Ms. Judge and Senator Johanns for appearing this evening and giving your time to us. It's very informative and much appreciated. Do you think that production agriculture needs more regulation?

Pearson: Senator Johanns, we'll start with you.

Johanns: That is such a great question because the reality of the Obama Administration is that Senators like myself, who have a significant interest in agriculture -it's our number one industry in the state of Nebraska -are spending all of our time pushing back on the Obama Administration on regulation after regulation. You have mentioned ones in addition to the long list. Actually in preparing this speech, my greatest challenge was listing -finding the list, because I could've gone on all night. Here's what I'll tell you: Mitt Romney has got the absolute right idea here. He says basically let's take a time out on these regulations. We are way overdoing it. It is a wet blanket on the economy. Let's be thoughtful about what we are doing. Let's do the right cost benefit analysis to make sure that this regulation we're proposing is the right approach. Here's what I will tell you, and I believe this is to be the case. Over at the office of management and budget, where every regulation has to clear, we had to clear our USDA regulations. Everybody did. It's the same way in the Obama Administration. There is a pile of regulations that they are not releasing because they don't want to before the election. When the election occurs, hold onto your hat because you are going to see another generation of regulatory effort because they realize when the voters spoke in the last election and said, look, no more 200- or 2,000-page bills, they turned to the regulatory atmosphere and they're pushing the authorities to the limit. The rule was so bad, the Democrats and Republicans stood up and said that's not what we authorized in the last farm bill. It's just one thing after another. The clean air rules, the 11th Circuit just weighed in on that. They are being stopped because they're exceeding their authority, but we can only do so much. That's why we need a Mitt Romney, who has a thoughtful, careful approach to what the extent of the federal government's power should be over production agriculture. So the answer is, no, farmers and ranchers are good stewards of their land. I grew up on one of those farms in Mitchell County, Iowa. We took care of our lives. We don't need more regulation. We just simply don't. Let's be thoughtful about what we're proposing to put in place. That's what Romney wants to do.

Pearson: Thank you. Senator. Ms. Judge, your response?

Judge: Yes, I think I'm going to take an opportunity to clear two or three things up. First of all, I don't believe that there are happy bureaucrats. Perhaps the Senator knows about those bureaucrats more than I did because he's spent quite a bit of time there. But I don't believe that they're out there with fists full of regulations just waiting for the election so that they can implement them. Second of all, let's put the farm dust issue to rest right now. There are no pending regulations by EPA to regulate farm dust, period. The end. That is the bottom line, folks. Likewise, let's talk about these planes. First of all, there are no drones. There are planes. They are four-seat planes that do surveillance, not particularly of family farms, but really more of our streams and waterways. That has been in existence for over ten years, which was during the Bush Administration. That continues today in the same form as it was in during the Bush Administration. That is the truth. So let's keep the facts on the table. Do we need to be careful about regulation? Absolutely! Absolutely we do! And if you think someone is going too far, we should call them on it. We need to have a healthy economy, and we cannot be overburdened with regulation that does not add anything and it simply penalizes us. And Mike is right. Gosh, we do a good job. I'm proud of the farm that my husband and I have owned for a long time and hope to own for another long time. And I think we do a good job with it. So regulation should be very carefully discussed and, if implemented, should be a real purpose to up. If there isn't a benefit, then we shouldn't have it. But let's quit talking about things that don't exist. Drones don't exist. A regulation on farm dust doesn't exist. Let's talk about reality.

Pearson: Thank you. It looks like we do have another question from the floor. The only request on questions from the floor is that we keep them short so we can get more of our answer time.

Question: I'm Mike Strine. I'm the Commissioner from Louisiana. It's great to be here in Iowa with you. Since 2008 the number of people on a supplemental nutrition has doubled. Now were looking at 80 percent of the farm bill on supplemental nutrition. One of the discussions to find funding for this would be to reduce the adjusted gross income that farmers can have to participate in farm programs. The majority of food produced -of production in America is on farms of over $750,000 a year adjusted gross income. If you reduce that to 500,000 or 250,000, you will eliminate the majority of farms from participating in farm programs. How do you see that in the future under each administration?

Pearson: Ms. Judge, the question to you first.

Judge: Maybe I need to ask you another question. You're talking about payment limitations on direct farm payments?

Question: I'm talking about participation in all farm programs.

Judge: Including insurance programs?

Question: Including insurance programs. But when there was discussion in development of the new farm bill to not allow participation in farm programs depending on your level of adjusted gross income, the majority of farms in my home state are sugar farms and are rice. These are larger farms. If you don't allow them to participate in these programs, you eliminate them from the programs, you've eliminated the safety net for the majority of the production in America.

Judge: Again, as I said earlier, this -what works -I've learned through the years and I know Mike has too. What works in Iowa may not work in Louisiana. Farming is not farming across the board. This is one of the questions that's needs to be very carefully considered. Of course, the Obama Farm Bill Plan does not contain direct payments, and there is a belief that we need to get away from direct payments, go more onto crop insurance type of products, and that's, of course, where we'll be going.

Pearson: Thank you. Senator?

Johanns: Without trying to grind down the various proposals that are out there, because I think there are probably a dozen of them, some are based upon adjusted income. Some are based upon an annual payment. Here's what I would offer. I think really when all of the dust settles and the farm bill is signed, there's going to be some payment limitation in that farm bill. But you've just described the debate. In the Midwest, this doesn't seem to be a significant issue that you would find in the South. In the South, that's basically what producers wanted to talk to me about when I was Secretary of Agriculture. So consequently, as you look at the farm bill, I think at the end of the day what you're going to end up with is a conference committee working on a plan that tries to reach a balance, recognizing that Southern agriculture is as important as Midwestern agriculture and trying to achieve that balance. That's been the history of it, and I can't imagine it's going to be much different. Here's what I would say to you, though, in terms of the Romney plan. If you look at what he is focusing on, it's really the best for agriculture. He's saying promote trade, get the government off the backs of farmers, have a more sensible approach to regulation in what you are doing there and the impact, and then taxes. I mean, when he says I'm going to eliminate the estate tax, when he says I'm going to keep rates low, I know what that's going to do to Nebraska farmers, and I think I know what that's going to do to farmers across the country. Can you imagine the day as a farmer or as your constituents talk to you that literally they can pass that farm on to the next generation without worrying about the 45- or 55-percent rate that Barack Obama has endorsed! Can you imagine the impact that will have on American agriculture when that can occur and there isn't a death tax! These items are huge. So I think your issue is going to be adjusted, but I want you to focus on the big picture here, and that is this direction that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have for agriculture is the right direction.

Pearson: Thank you. Another question from the floor.

Question: Thank you very much, both of you, for being here. Mr. Secretary, Senator, I had the opportunity to work with you when I was in Congress on the 2008 Farm Bill. I also worked with President Bush and the secretary on promoting the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, the Korea Free Trade Agreement, and Panama Free Trade Agreement. We all worked together in a bipartisan fashion. It was on President Bush's Agenda to get those things passed the last four years I was there. President Obama got those signed. I think both of you will agree that agriculture has never in history of the United States done as well as it's doing today. What would each candidate do different to change the positiveness of agriculture in this country today?

Pearson: Senator, first question to you.

Johanns: My friend, I will tell you that there was no better working relationship when I was secretary and you were in the House than the two of us had. I miss you, to be honest with you, and you might be on the other side of the aisle, but I just think you were one of the members that was always approachable, always open, always willing to listen, but you've raised a very good point. Agriculture has been working its way year after year to some years where the numbers improve. Keep in mind when I became secretary, corn was about two bucks a bushel. But we started to see improvement as I was secretary. We've continued to see improvement, but I will tell you I personally believe it's in spite of Barack Obama, not because of Barack Obama. It is in spite of him, because these trade agreements languished for three years. They just literally sat there on his desk because he couldn't get the unions to sit down and not go full force to defeat these agreements. That's what we're dealing with this administration. You look at his regulatory burden. You look at what he wants to do in terms of tax policy. You look at what he wants to do with estate tax policy. All of these approaches of his are going to be a very serious problem for production agriculture. He just hasn't been able to get as far as he wants to get but, quite honestly, when I see what he has endorsed or supported or proposed in this budget, when I see his regulatory atmosphere, when I see what he has done in trade, which is three agreements that were sitting there when he arrived, other than that no bilateral agreements, WTO processes not going forward, all I can tell you is I think there are storm clouds on the horizon. I just think thank goodness for farmers and ranchers who have kind of knuckled down and really gone the extra mile and worked hard and done all the things necessary and companies that have worked to open up markets and farmers that are traveling to places like China. Our own state does trade missions. I would guess every Ag Secretary here has done those. That's what's making this happen. It isn't the policies of this administration, believe me. They are truly anti-agriculture.

Pearson: Thank you, Senator. Ms. Judge, your follow-up?

Judge: Well, I would disagree, and I'm sure that's no surprise to anybody. I think, in fact, it is the policies in large part that we have in place today that has really stabilized agriculture and caused us to enter into a period that I didn't think I'd ever see. I remember when I left the Department of Agriculture and I thought corn and beans, cattle and hogs were at an all-time high, it was a time to get out before something fell apart and then bill would blame me for it. I just checked his website before I came in today because I thought somebody might ask me. Corn is 763 and beans are 16. Can you believe beans are 1658 today! My gosh! This is good times for agriculture, and we want that to continue. How's it going to continue? It's going to continue by building on production agriculture that we do so well. We'll do it better and better because of the investments that we are having right now in the genetics and in the future. We will only produce more. It's by increasing our trade opportunities, looking for those new markets, finding them, and capitalizing on the opportunity to move agricultural products from this country around the world. It's by using biofuel. There is no -there should be no food and fuel debate, folks. This is part of the future. This is part of lessening that dependence on foreign oil. And we can do it all. We can do it all. So we're on the right path. We're building. We need to continue to build that strong foundation -build upon that strong foundation for the future. Thank you.

Pearson: Thank you, Ms. Judge we have another question from the floor.

Question: Well, I'm Greg Iboff from Nebraska. Hello, Patty. It's nice to see you again after -when we were colleagues together in NASDA. And, Senator Johanns, also a pleasure to see you as well. In Nebraska -I want to stay on the trade subject for a little while because trade is very important to us. Over a third of our production in any given crop is destined for an overseas market. I think you both pointed out that we have had great growth in the volume of trade, but we've done that by doubling, tripling, or maybe even quadrupling some of our crop prices. So maybe not so much in volume as price or growth. And for a Nebraska farmer that is looking to expand his opportunity, we need growth in volume as well. So my question, one on the livestock side and then one more in general. We still don't have access in China. We still have limited access in Japan and other countries on the beef side. On the pork and poultry side, we have sanitary restrictions out there that are biased against highly tested, well-vetted feed additives. So what could we expect out of the next four years of either administration on those issues? Also, what do you think about the various multilateral, like the transpacific partnership and some of the -and bilateral negotiations that need to be prioritized in the next four years as well?

Pearson: Thank you. Ms. Judge, the first question -the first answer to you.

Judge: These issues concerning trade are vexing. We've worked on them for a long time. In fact, that's the first time I met Mike Johanns. He and I went to Brussels together to try to convince the European Union that they should embrace GMOs. We weren't particularly successful, although we had a nice trip. You know, that's an ongoing issue that requires our trade association, the private sector through our trade association, USDA, our congressional delegation, the president. It requires all of those factors to solve these problems regarding trade. And some of the things that we know are being thrown up that are red herrings to inhibit our products from moving. It's not an easy fix. It's one, I believe, that the Obama Administration will continue to work on. Again, that has to be in close cooperation with the private sector in order to get that accomplished.

Pearson: Thank you, Ms. Judge. Senator Johanns.

Johanns: Just to offer a quick thought on a previous question. No doubt about it, prices are higher. I think, Patty, I printed off that same list and I've got it in my file somewhere. But we have to knowledge it's drought that's driving this. I would never go out and try to convince farmers and ranchers that it's because of my efforts in the Senate that prices all of a sudden got high. Nor was it my time as Secretary of Agriculture necessarily, other than we tried to create the right atmosphere. It's supply and demand. But let me, if I might, talk about the Romney plan with trade, because, again, somebody who sat there during WTO negotiations and bilateral negotiations and worked every single week on something to deal with a border being closed, whether it was beef or pork or chicken, I can tell you Romney really has figured this out. Number one, he says, look, you've got to engage the WTO. You've got to get them involved in browbeating, doing whatever is necessary to get the members of the WTO, which is 150 countries -it's the major trading countries in the world -to recognize that we've got to work with each other on principles and standards that are fair to each side. You can't say to the United States we want to sell you our pork but we don't want to buy your beef. That just doesn't work. There is no scientific basis. So a President Romney would say you've got to engage them, and those standards have to be based on science and common sense. They can't be just seat-of-the-pants, all of a sudden the border is closed to a given country to chicken legs from the United States. And we run into that too much. The second thing is the recognition that bilateral agreements are very important. We worked for years and years to get this huge WTO Agreement in place. But the reality is we're going to make the most progress in the foreseeable future by literally working with countries on a face-to-face, country-to-country, bilateral basis, and sitting down and negotiating a level playing field for our producers. That's the key. Our farmers and ranchers can compete with anybody in the world if we can get the level playing field, but in too many countries, there's not a level playing field. Mitt Romney recognizes this. He recognizes we've got to level the playing field for our producers and other countries. The other thing I will tell you- and you will never see Barack Obama ask for this, and this is why he's never going to get a significant trade agreement. He does not have trade promotion authority. What does that mean? That means that you sit down with a country and you say let's start negotiations on this complex trade agreement. When all the cards are out on the table, you've shown everything you have and you reach across the table as an administration and you shake the hand of the other country and say we've got a deal. Then the next thing you have to tell them, if you don't have TPA, is, oh, by the way, there are 100 United States Senators and 435 House Members that can amend this agreement. Do you think for a minute they're going to invest the time and money and effort to try to negotiate with the United States when it can be amended by literally any other member in Congress? That's why you need Trade Promotion Authority. Involve Congress in the debate and in the discussions, but you've got to get TPA. Mitt Romney says I'm going to get that. I'm going to work with Congress to get Trade Promotion Authority. Every president needs it. I don't care if they're Democrat or Republican. You'll never see Barack Obama ask for it. Unions don't want to.

Pearson: Thank you, Senator. We have time for one more question from the floor. Right over here.

Question: I'm Steven, the State President of the Iowa FFA Association, representing more than 12,000 FFA members here in Iowa and over half a million future agriculturalist and youth across the nation. It's great to see in the crowd that there's support for future generations here trying to get onto the farms here in the future as we move -moving forward. Also, there's a positive future for agriculture with both administrations. Since there is a positive future, what are they doing to ensure that students and youth are able to stay working on those farms and keep moving and getting into agriculture as we progress here in America?

Pearson: Thank you. Senator Johanns?

Johanns: Steven, congratulations. Being the president of this organization is a great honor. I remember back when I was doing farm bill listening sessions across the United States, we always started with a member from FFA and a member from 4-H, two organizations I belonged to when I was growing up in Mitchell County, two great organizations. Here's what I would say. I feel good about assuring you that no matter whose plan you look at, you're going to see a pretty strong beginning farmer’s itemization of things in the farm bill that will be of assistance. Some of it's in the conservation title. I proposed enhanced direct payments. There won't be direct payments in the next farm bill. But I could literally go down through a list of things that would be helpful to beginning farmers. But I'll hearken back to what one young future farmer in the blue jacket said to me at a forum. I don't even remember where. He said, Mr. Secretary, the key is profitability in agriculture and we'll stay home and farm. That's the Romney plan. The Romney plan is get government out of the way, have a sensible approach to regulation. Let your dad pass that farm to you, if that is in fact the case, without being hammered with a 45- to 55-percent tax. He's got the right ideas with capital gains and the tax rates, bring profitability back, bring trade back. You've got a great future in agriculture. I pray the president- soon-to-be President Romney can implement that plan because I think it will be tremendous for your generation.

Pearson: Thank you, Senator. Ms. Judge?

Judge: I also want to thank you for being here. It's always good to see the members of FFA. It holds a special place for me too, as an Iowa and as the mother of former FFA members. It's a great organization. I applaud you. When I was Secretary of Agriculture, I had the opportunity to go annually to the convention. It's always very exciting in Iowa to see all of those young people assembled. I remember walking out there one night in front of that, over a thousand young people, and abandoning the speech that had been carefully prepared for me and saying how many of you want to farm. Not how many of you want to be involved in agricultural business, how many of you want to do something concerning farming, but how many of you want to farm? Folks, that entire assembly stood on their feet and cheered. That's what they wanted to hear. That is not what a generation before them believed or heard, because today there is opportunity. There is promise. Yes, it's an expensive endeavor to enter into farming. Land prices are high. Equipment is high. We have to work around those things. We've also got to get you an education, because farming today, you do need to get an education. There's too many things that are too hard to understand if you don't. So we want you to go to college. We're going to try to make that more affordable, make that easier for you. Then hopefully you go back and we'll have this next great generation of farmers on the farms across their country. Again, thank you for being here. It's great to see you.

Pearson: Thank you, Ms. Judge. We are getting close to the end, but we do have time -we don't want to forget our viewers out there who have been submitting questions via Twitter. We have one question asked repeatedly. Ms. Judge, I'll start with you. What are the candidates' positions on a one-year extension of the farm bill?

Judge: It is my belief that President Obama has pretty firmly talked and believe that we need to have a five-year farm bill passed, and really has not thought that it was a good idea to piecemeal this and that we really should -we should get -knuckle down, get something passed out of the House, get to conference committee, and commit ourselves to a five-year program. So again, agriculture has that roadmap that they need for the next five years.

Pearson: Thank you. Senator?

Johanns: Mitt Romney has stepped up on this issue. He's now done some of the candidate surveys that we all do when we're running for office. He has said very, very clearly, let's get a farm bill done, but let's do it right. That is the key issue here. We've got some tough issues to negotiate our way through here. There's just no question about it. We can't underestimate that there is a significant farm policy difference in the two bills, the one that came out of the House Ag Committee and the one that came out of the Senate. Mitt Romney knows that reconciling this through the conference process is going to take real effort, but he's saying get it done. Let's get it done right. That's the kind of leadership you need here, because that's the important thing. The important thing is let's get a farm bill that we can work with over an extended period of time. Mitt Romney is saying let's give the certainty that farmers and ranchers need by making sure that this is a farm bill done right, so we don't have to go in a year from now, two years from now and tweak this or tweak that or adjust this or adjust that. Let's spend the time. Let's get it right. Let's get it done.

Pearson: All right. Thank you, Senator. Thank you both so much. We do have enough time for closing remarks. Since we started with you, Ms. Judge, we'll begin our remarks with Mr. Johanns -Senator Johanns, excuse me. I will get out of your way.

Johanns: Well, thank you very much. What an attentive audience. Literally as we spoke, you could see that everybody was listening to everything we were saying. That doesn't often happen to a United States Senator, so I do appreciate it. Patty, I think we've demonstrated that two longtime friends who disagree about some things can have a civil debate. I think that occurred tonight. As you can see, there are disagreements, but we are friends and we did have a civil debate. I believe in Mitt Romney, ladies and gentlemen. There's a whole lot of reasons why I do. There's certainly the personal side. I've gotten to know him through the years. He's a remarkable man, a remarkable family man, a remarkable man of faith, and a person who has been successful in literally everything he's done, from being the governor of his state to taking the Olympics from a losing proposition to literally a profit-making enterprise. It's kind of remarkable when you look at his life. He does have the right ideas if you look at his plan for agriculture in America. Think about tax policy. I've said over and over again, he wants to eliminate the estate tax. Ladies and gentlemen, for our industry, that is just enormous. Think of the possibilities for this young man if literally he can start planning on a future where he doesn't have to worry about finding the money or selling the land to pay a 45- to 55-percent rate. The way he adjusts -or the way he deals with tax policy in the rates we pay is absolutely right. Let's do everything we can to keep rates low. Why? Because that gives us the greatest opportunity to grow the economy. Obviously we're going to start attacking that budget deficit in a much more aggressive way if we have 5 percent unemployment than if we have 8 -– something percent unemployment. That seems to be where we are stuck. The regulatory atmosphere, I could go a long time on what Barack Obama has proposed, through his departments and agencies, but it's been a big, wet blanket on the economy. What do I talk to farmers about? EPA and what they are doing; the Department of Labor and the Labor Rule. Can you imagine? I couldn't go work on my uncle's farm if those rules were in place. When I was growing up on the dairy farm in Northern Iowa, none of that made any sense. It was like people didn't understand what production agriculture was all about. In trade, Greg Iboff said it best. About a third of what we produce in Nebraska, we've got to find a foreign market for. And we're very good at it. Governors over a long period of time have traveled the world. Greg has traveled the world. His predecessor did trying to do everything we could. Mitt Romney says, look, get the WTO engaged, let's make sure companies are complying with the trade rules, let's do the new bilateral trade agreements that will open up new markets. There won't be new trade agreements with Barack Obama. He doesn't have TPA. Mitt Romney wants to get it. And then finally with energy, perfect example of the walk doesn't meet the talk. I know what the president says, but then he doesn't fund the programs, and they literally are going to die on the vine. You know, Mitt Romney says let's use our energy resources. Truly, let's go after an all-of-the-above strategy. We can finally look forward to the day where we can be energy independent. It can happen. It's not happening because of the Obama Administration. They're not increasing production on public lands. It's declining. It's happening on private lands in states like North Dakota where the private owners have taken this step forward. That's why we're decreasing our dependence. It's not because of his efforts. Let me just say Mitt Romney is the man, in my judgment, who will best serve agriculture as the next President of the United States. Thank you very much.

Pearson: Thank you, Senator. Ms. Judge?

Judge: Thank you, Mike. Since day one President Obama has worked to build stronger and more diverse rural economies through investments in renewable energy, in manufacturing, in education, and in agriculture. And today he is standing by farmers through this drought. He's advocating for a strong safety net, and he's urging Congress to pass that farm bill so that United States agriculture continues to experience one of its most productive periods in its history. When you're the president, it's your job to look out for the worker and for the investor, for big companies and for small businesses, for the health of a farmer's business and for the health of small-business people. That's how Barack Obama sees the economy, and that's how he sees this job. The president understands the challenges rural Americans face. He understands that we need to keep moving forward so that we can build those new wind turbines, we can increase our trade exports, we can increase production of biofuels from the Midwest rather than importing oil from the Middle East. These are the president's values and these are the priorities that he's fighting to maintain. You know, Mitt Romney could learn a thing or two from rural America, where I've lived all my life. He may know how to make a quick buck, folks, but knowing how to make money for yourself or your investors is not the kind of experiences that teach you how to look out for middle-class families that live and work where I live and work. Romney's failure to take a stance on crop insurance, his lack of support for the wind energy industry does not give us a lot of faith that he understands American agriculture and that he understands rural America. He hasn't told us much about his position on the farm bill. I learned more tonight from Senator Johanns than I heard from Mitt Romney on that subject. Could that be because he's a candidate that really doesn't have much knowledge about the issue? Tonight we heard a lot of talk about tax policy. I'd also like to mention that part of Romney's tax policy is to lower the tax rate, give tax breaks to the wealthiest 1 or 2 percent of the people in this country. You know, I lived through the 1990s on a small farm in Southern Iowa. I want to stand here and tell you trickle-down economics does not work. It has never worked. Some sort of idea that if you put more money in the pockets of rich people, that that's going to create jobs for us, has never worked. But we're hearing it again. The same story -tired old story that doesn't work. I just want to end by saying also one more time, there are no drones. There are no dust regulations for farmers. And President Obama stopped those child labor law changes when he learned about that. So let's build -let's continue to build. Let's talk about the future. Let's talk about going forward. Let's talk about building this rural economy and strengthening American agriculture all across this country. And let's talk about returning Barack Obama to the White House. Again, thanks very much for letting me be here with you today.

Pearson: It was great to be here and have a civilized debate, get a lot of ideas out there on the table. Hopefully everyone here learned something. Also, I'd like to extend, once again, a big thank you to Chairman Heying of Farm Foundation and Secretary Northey of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture for putting this event on tonight and helping us all learn a little bit more about what's going on with Federal Ag Policy and in America. So thank you both so very much. So, have fun, talk some more, and continue to learn. Thank you all.


Tags: agriculture Barack Obama campaign 2012 Department of Agriculture Des Moines farms forum Hall of Laureates Iowa livestream Mike Johanns Mitt Romney NASDA Patty Judge presidential campaigns USDA World Food Prize