Obama keys in on top priorities

Obama keys in on top priorities

Obama's annual address touches on climate change, energy policy, trade and research.

EACH January, the President gives his "State of the Union" address, which offers a starting point for where policies and regulations could go in the year ahead.

Agricultural groups hope the "year of action" will include movement on infrastructure funding, trade and immigration reform.

This year, President Barack Obama highlighted some of the same topics as in past years, but he did come out swinging and said if Congress isn't prepared to move forward on legislation, he will implement executive orders that could accomplish what he wants.

Obama said some of his proposals will require congressional action, "but America does not stand still, and neither will I. So, wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

During an interview the morning after the address, Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) said the President's speech was inspirational and highlighted the need to rebuild trust and work together.

"We've had some real agreements over the last several months with the budget deal and the appropriations agreement and the farm bill, which we've all worked together on," Noem said. However, "I guess I was disappointed that throughout the rest of his speech, he didn't talk more about how we could work together."

The National Corn Growers Assn. agreed that Congress should "move trade promotion authority forward, as the President requested."

Early on in his speech, Obama noted that 98% of U.S. exporters are small businesses, and new trade partnerships with Europe and Asia-Pacific countries will help them create more jobs. "China and Europe aren't standing on the sidelines. Neither should we," Obama said.

The American Soybean Assn. welcomed the President's commitment to trade, especially since soybeans are the nation's leading farm export. However, trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership with the European Union and the Trans-Pacific Partnership "function only if they are established in such a way that takes into account the nature of our domestic industry and the modern methods and tools with which we farm," soybean association president Ray Gaesser said.

Waterway infrastructure bills passed by the House and Senate that are currently in conference offer an immediate opportunity to put people back to work, Gaesser added.

"These bills provide critical investment in the locks, dams, river channels and ports that farmers need to move their products to market," he said. "They are in lock step with the Fix it First initiatives (Obama) outlined in last year's 'State of the Union.'"

Immigration was another topic Obama highlighted that garnered attention from agricultural groups. Obama noted that independent economists say immigration reform will grow the economy and shrink the deficit by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said many farmers rely on an immigrant labor force, and without reform, growers will begin to plant fewer labor-intensive crops or move production off shore altogether.

"Farm Bureau is urging Congress to pass an agriculture labor program with both short- and long-term stability. It's a way to keep our experienced workforce while making sure we have access to a legal workforce through a streamlined and flexible guest worker program in the future. Simply put, either we import our labor or we import our food," Stallman said.

Obama said Congress should undo the damage done by last year's cuts to basic research to unleash the next great American discovery.

Kathryn Boor, dean of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Cornell University, said increased government support is "keenly needed in agricultural research."

Boor said pressure is on agriculture to enhance production capacity while simultaneously minimizing negative effects on the environment.

With the high costs and several years these research endeavors take, though, the responsibility shouldn't be shouldered by a singular entity.

"Benefits from basic agricultural research can be significant and are measured in real dollars," Boor said. "We should not forget that agriculture is one of our largest drivers of economic development."

Obama spent nearly four minutes highlighting his all-of-the-above energy approach but did not specifically mention biofuels.

Nonetheless, "I don't believe the President is any less enthusiastic for his carbon agenda," Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Assn., said, adding that biofuels offers an immediate opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Volume:86 Issue:05

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