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Inside Washington: How Democrats plan to invest in rural America

Democratic National Platform has few details on how it wants to see changes in the countryside.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has already won over many rural voters in New York, where she has served as a senator and her home state of Arkansas, but the question is whether she has the votes to make a difference in rural America in this election. The Democratic National Platform is short on details on what it plans to do to make a difference in the countryside.

Last August, Clinton released a detailed agricultural fact sheet outlining her comprehensive agricultural policy position for a vibrant rural America. The Democratic National Platform released this week had a mere half-page of text in the 55-page document. A few additional mentions also pop up in the platform’s sections on poverty, tribal nations and public lands and waters.

The platform said it will increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers, with “particular attention given to promoting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.” It also said it “will promote collaborative stewardship of our natural resources while developing clean fuels that will grow our economy, lower our energy bills, combat climate change and make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.”

Clinton’s fact sheet provides further clues about how the Democrats might achieve these goals, calling for full funding of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and support for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

According to the platform’s “Protecting Our Public Lands and Waters” sub-section: “Agricultural lands account for nearly half of the total land area in America, and our agricultural practices have a significant impact on our water, land, oceans and the climate. Therefore, we believe that in order to be effective in keeping our air and water clean and combating climate change, we must enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship.”

Although it does not address the role of agriculture specifically, the platform commits to convening a summit, within the first 100 days of the new administration, to gather leading scientists, policy experts and activists to chart a course for addressing the climate crisis.

On the campaign trail, Clinton had come out opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after her primary candidate, Bernie Sanders, was opposed to it. When Sanders spoke at the convention earlier in the week, he garnered a cheer from the crowd “No TPP! No TPP!” He noted, “We’ve got to make sure that TPP does not get to the floor of the Congress during the lame-duck session.”

Clinton’s trade advisor said Clinton is against the TPP in the lame duck and afterwards.

It seems that Clinton will likely pick up where the Obama Administration has left off on the strong support of local and regional food systems.

Both the platform and fact sheet call for reforms to and increased support for lending and credit programs that serve farmers and rural communities – though the fact sheet provides significantly more detail.

The platform calls for increasing equity capital for rural businesses (generally, not just agricultural businesses) through the expansion of the New Markets Tax Credit. Clinton’s fact sheet does not mention the New Markets Tax Credit but does call for simplifying regulations on community banks, which are the primary financial institutions for more than 70% of rural community members. The fact sheet also seeks to increase the number of rural business investment companies, which “make equity investments in small rural businesses — driving growth and creating jobs in rural areas.”

At the Democratic National Convention this week, there was a plenty of hype around agriculture, with Rural for Hillary holding its first meeting and a special reception honoring Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack and Pennsylvania agriculture secretary Russell Redding were the guests of honor at Tuesday evening's reception at the Union League of Philadelphia, Pa., which is hosted by a group calling itself the Leaders of American Agriculture. The non-partisan group includes 30 companies and trade associations as supporters, including AgriBank, CoBank, FMC Corp., Growth Energy, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, PepsiCo and the Renewable Fuels Assn.

Vilsack had been one of the top contenders for Clinton’s vice president spot. However, he continues to be a strong supporter of Clinton.

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