My View From The Country

Agriculture Struggles With Election Politics

Agricultural interests in the U.S. will likely have to align themselves with larger interests in order to be part of a viable political coalition. Either that, or continue to see our influence erode.

Historically, agriculture doesn’t play a big role in election politics. The obvious reason is that we lack two very important factors to be a significant player – money and votes. But, perhaps more importantly, agriculture’s issues have tended not to be overtly partisan.

Agriculture has had great supporters wearing both a “D” or an “R “behind their name. Sadly, things have changed in the Washington Beltway over time, and within the industry as well. The farming community has always been somewhat divided along ideological lines, with the Farm Bureau and the Farmer’s Union tending to line up on different ends of the spectrum.

A Closer Look: Flinchbaugh, Stenholm Assess Current State Of Politics

And the cattle industry used to have its debates internally and speak with one voice in public. But a couple of issues caused some irreconcilable differences and now we have the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and R-CALF formed up against each other along ideological lines. The differences, however, truly are not that significant. While the groups involved would be loath to admit it, they agree on probably 95% of the issues, and probably even higher on issues truly important to the bottom lines of producers in the long term.

It should be simple to support those who support agriculture and keep absolutely everyone in the camp regardless of political affiliation; after all, agricultural interests are always going to be severely outnumbered. The problem is that while we don’t necessarily divide along party lines, the level of partisanship in Washington and even at the state level has become so deeply entrenched that it dominates everything that occurs in D.C. And we are dealing with far more issues and regulatory oversight than those that are controlled by USDA.

There is very little compromise or statesmanship anymore. The party in control controls the agenda and the minority party is essentially irrelevant, except to obstruct or position itself for the next election. This means that policy is no longer set by individual representatives and senators as much as by political parties.

The good news is that neither political party has strong views on agricultural issues; that serves to keep agriculture somewhat out of partisan squabbles. But there is no more moderation in today’s political arena; it’s just extremes and party politics that tend to be dictated by the relative power of large special interest groups, whether they be environmental, animal welfare, food safety or nutrition. 

Election 2012 Resource: Obama & Romney Outline Positions on Farm Issues

So, in essence, agriculture is being forced to abandon its non-partisan and long-standing positions, to adapt to the reality of a deeply divided partisan world. It’s sad, but policy and even regulatory environments are now described most accurately by which party is in the majority, instead of what is best for agriculture.

How one exerts influence or control in this environment becomes less about finding good solutions with a broad consensus, and more about who can deliver more partisan political victories since it’s the majority that dictates the agenda. That means you’re either effectively eliminated from the process half the time, or you have very little influence all the time.

The result is that agricultural interests will likely have to align themselves with larger interests in order to be part of a viable coalition. Either that or continue to see our influence erode. I doubt this is what our founding fathers envisioned from the two-party system.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

B Viering (not verified)
on Oct 12, 2012

Sorry Troy but, what you are advocating is the absolute opposite of what is in agriculture's best interest. The current proposed farm bill was the result of good old fashioned bipartisan negotiation. While far from perfect, it is better than no farm bill. Aligning with either extreme will necessitate changes to conform to that groups bigger goals whether it is in agriculture's best interest or not. At that point, agriculture will truly become irrelevant politically.

Our country has a history of going through cycles of political extremes. We in agriculture need to stay the course of advocating what is in the best interest of agriculture. If we align with any extreme position we will go the way of that extreme group. God help us if we pick the wrong team...

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contribur Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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