Biden spells out a winning plan for agriculture and rural America

Source: By Marshall Matz, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Vice President Joe Biden and his team have released a comprehensive “Plan for Rural America.” Farmers and ranchers might wonder how they fit into that plan, since Rural America has evolved to encompass much more than production agriculture. Bottom line, the plan fundamentally recognizes that net farm and ranch income still drives the success of many businesses on Main Street in Iowa’s small towns and those around the country.

Improving the quality of life in rural America will help keep our small towns vibrant and attractive to more young people (some of whom are leaving the big cities), but agriculture still drives much of the rural economy.

A closer look at Biden’s Plan for Rural America speaks directly to production agriculture:

  • It starts by saying that rural America “feeds and fuels the rest of the country.”
  • It notes the importance of trade policy for American farmers. “More that 20% of all crops grown in the United States are exported supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs and helping to stabilize farm income.”  The Plan continues “he’ll make sure our trade policy works for American farmers.”
  • Biden pledges to “increase funding for the Department of Agriculture’s farm ownership and operating loans that typically serve beginning farmers.”
  • The plan calls for “Re-investing in land grant universities’ agriculture research.”  Biden seeks to bolster funding for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  “Our farmers need new technologies to compete in world markets while protecting our soil and water.”
  • Biden notes that “many farmers are some of the best stewards of our land, air, and water.” That is only logical because these are important assets of the farm and critical to continuing the farm operation. Biden asserts an intent to partner with farmers to make American agriculture first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions, giving farmers new sources for income in the process is a Biden goal.

The plan goes on to promote ethanol and next generation biofuels. Joe Biden believes renewable fuels are vital to the future of rural America, and to the climate.

Biden wants to triple funding to expand rural broadband access. High-speed broadband is essential to the new economy, “yet far too many rural communities still don’t have access to it.” Improved access to high speed broadband is critical given the impact of the COVID virus.

COVID has underscored the importance of quality health care in rural communities.  That is also a high priority for Biden. “Keeping our rural hospitals open is critical not only for saving lives but also supporting local economies.” They could mean life or death for patients in rural hospitals. Many small hospitals do not have even one ventilator leaving patients with a very long drive to a major hospital.

In short, rural America in now much bigger than just agriculture but the Biden rural plan makes it clear that agriculture, farming and ranching are important to the vice president and his vision for America. It is critical to our economy, our balance of payments, our environment and even our national defense.

Agriculture sometimes gets overlooked because it is so very efficient. One percent of the population feeds the rest of the country, and some of the world too. The American consumer spends less than 10% of disposable income on food giving us room in the budget for other necessities and some luxuries too. We spend less on food than any other nation is history.

Finally, it might surprise you to know that Delaware, the state Biden represented in the Senate, has a vibrant farm sector. The secretary of agriculture in Delaware, Mike Scuse, was a USDA undersecretary, serving with Secretary Tom Vilsack. It doesn’t compare to Iowa, but agriculture is Delaware’s largest single land use, with 41% of Delaware’s land in farming. Delaware has about 2,450 farms. More than 115,000 acres of Delaware farmland are permanently preserved for agriculture. Corn grows over two-fifths of Delaware’s cultivated land. Chickens are the most valuable agricultural product, while apples are the leading fruit crop. Other important commodities include soybeans, wheat, and dairy.

Marshall Matz specializes in agriculture at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He was formerly counsel to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and chairman of the Obama Agriculture Committee. Contact: mmatz@ofwlaw.com.

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