Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Agriculture has slipped from D.C.'s radar screen

Trying to sell Ram trucks, Chrysler made a splash in the Super Bowl this month with a two-minute television spot celebrating the American farmer — a montage of handsome still photos and a vintage Paul Harvey speech all ending with the pitch: “For the farmer in all of us.”

Nine days later, the picture was very different as President Barack Obama skipped over farmers entirely in his State of the Union address, never mentioning the yearlong farm bill stalemate in Congress nor even including “agriculture” among the thousands of words spoken that night.

“It’s obviously not on their radar screen,” said Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. “The president and his people I don’t think even get it.”

The White House declined to speak on the record, referring questions to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. A spokesperson for the secretary told POLITICO that he remains convinced Obama truly wants a farm bill notwithstanding his silence. Ag trade groups smoothed over the slight by focusing on the president’s remarks regarding potential markets in Europe.

But the juxtaposition of the Super Bowl ad and State of the Union silence reflects a real disconnect in American politics over farm policy. And one that goes well beyond the president.

Chrysler’s marketers made a business decision to invest millions of dollars to identify with farmers, just as the automaker also aired a second two-minute spot for Jeep — this time celebrating U.S. troops coming home from wars overseas.

“We have used the largest television viewing audience to highlight the pride, the resilience and the determination that form an integral part of the American character,” said Sergio Marchionne, CEO for both Chrysler Group LLC and its principal owner, Fiat S.p.A. An accompanying news release speaks of the troops and farmers as “two groups whose work ethic, dedication and service have sustained the very fabric of this nation.”

Contrast that with Washington where in the middle of the worst drought in a generation, no farm bill was even brought to the floor of the House — an unprecedented delay for which Republicans paid little at the ballot box. Indeed, the year ended with Obama washing his hands of the whole matter and allowing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pen a nine-month extension that infuriated many dairy farmers and left the two Ag committees out in the cold.

What is it that Chrysler sees that Washington doesn’t? Are these just modern Mad Men selling pickups to suburban men with farm fantasies?

Or is something bigger happening here in power politics? And is there a lesson that farmers themselves must learn from if they are to better market their importance to American consumers — and voters?

“It was a prideful moment out here in Ag country,” said Keith Alverson, a 32-year-old farmer in Lake County, S.D. “But we’re a small percentage of the population, and it’s clear we’re not connecting the way we used to. We have to find new ways.”

“No one is thinking about the promotion of agriculture in a big and bold way,” said one Republican aide who tracks farm issues. “There are numerous newsletters, coalitions, websites but they’re all serving the same audience. They’re essentially all singing to the choir, but no one is bringing any new folks to the church service.”

Politics is certainly part of it.

When Iowa was in play in the presidential election, Obama talked a good game on the farm bill last summer. But more than past administrations, this White House has taken a remarkably hands-off approach to farm issues — the chief exception being the first lady’s vegetable garden.
Original Article Here

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