Reader surveys and online polls ahead of the November presidential election consistently indicated that BEEF readers preferred Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a wide margin over Barack Obama. And that support within agriculture for the Republican nominee appears to have been wider than just beef producers.
The Associated Press reported that exit polls estimated that 61% of rural voters supported Mitt Romney, with 37% backing Obama. The problem for rural Romney supporters, however, is that rural voters accounted for just 14% of the turnout.
Meanwhile, Obama rode to victory a winning and diverse coalition that included significant majorities of blacks (94%), Hispanics (70%), single women (68%), and voters 18-29 years of age (60%).
So, after a record election in terms of political spending, nothing much changed. Obama won a second term, Democrats retained control in the Senate, and Republicans the House. Colin Woodall, point man on Capitol Hill for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), says the lack of change is both bad and good for U.S. beef producers.
“The general dynamic and philosophies stayed much like we’ve had the past two years. That’s bad for us because we’re not going to have the opportunity to see some major reform like we’d hoped – major tax reform, major Endangered Species Act (ESA) reform. That’s just completely off the table now.
“But, at the same time, it’s the same dynamic we’ve been working with the past two years, so we know how to navigate those waters. And I think that will help us take away some of the surprise in figuring out what the next two years will look like in Washington, D.C.,” he says.
While voters went Democrat on the national level, the state level was a different matter. Republicans are at their highest level of control of state governments in 60 years.
“Individually, the state legislatures have a huge impact on our cattlemen in their respective states. Most of the red states seemed to have gotten redder this election on the state legislative side and that probably bodes pretty well for cattle producers,” Woodall says.
The fact that U.S. agriculture went overwhelmingly Republican in the November election wasn’t lost on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, either. In early December, he told attendees of a Farm Journal forum that rural America is “becoming less and less relevant.”
Vilsack told the conference he’s frustrated with agriculture’s internal warfare and suggested they need to be more strategic in picking their political fights.
“Why is it that we don’t have a farm bill?” Vilsack asked. “It isn’t just the differences of policy. It’s the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it.”
Woodall say a second Obama term is worrisome on the environmental front. “I think we really need to be worried about EPA regulations, as a lot of things we’ve been talking and hearing about the past four years will finally be implemented. The shackles are now off EPA and I think a second Obama administration means a really negative relationship (for cattle producers) with EPA.”
At press time in December, Woodall said he expected to see both the dust rule and Clean Water Act (CWA) guidance move forward before the end of 2012.
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“These are the two biggies we expect first. We’re in a situation now where we’re going to see just how far we can trust Lisa Jackson (EPA chief). She had committed to not adding coarse particulate matter – ag dust – to her final dust rule. But since the rule didn’t come out before the election, all bets are off now. That’s something we are geared up for; making sure that we can keep the pressure on EPA to implement what she committed to us that she would, which is not to include ag dust.”
He calls the CWA guidance, which would change the federal definition of navigable waters “the biggie.” The rule would put all surface water under the jurisdiction of EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.
“It would hit everybody out there with water on their property. What would happen basically is that farmers and ranchers would have to get CWA permits in order to utilize those bodies of water and the land around bodies of water. That would just really impact farming and ranching.
“We’re talking about creeks, streams, brooks, dry streams, ephemeral streams, arroyos, playa lakes, in-ground stock tanks, and even potentially to the point that if you just have low spots that fill with water when it rains, then those could be considered waters of the U.S. It could be interpreted that broadly,” Woodall says.
He adds that NCBA is preparing for this eventuality. “We’re just trying to make sure we have our congressional friends ready with some options for us. We’re also making sure that we have our war chest built up so that we can potentially take them to court.”
Woodall also expects more discussion in Washington regarding feedlots and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
“Those will be under more scrutiny in the coming years. We also have the potential out there for regulators to move forward in classifying manure as a superfund element. And potentially really cause some problems for us in declaring feedlots superfund sites,” Woodall says.
Meanwhile, he says trade was a positive area in the past four years for U.S. cattle producers and he expects that to continue.
“The trade front is the area where we have the best relationship with the Obama administration. And we’re still very hopeful that we can get an announcement from Japan soon about raising the qualifying age for U.S. beef exports to 30 months and younger from the current 20 months.”
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He credits Obama’s leadership in finalizing recent trade deals initiated under the Bush administration.
“President Obama and his negotiators were very involved and were the ones who eventually got the trade deals implemented. He worked very hard to make sure Democrats in Congress would support passage. He personally engaged to make it happen, and we give him a lot of credit on the trade front,” Woodall says.
Woodall says the November elections boosted the cattle industry’s influence in Congress a bit.
“We have a couple of new members in Congress who are actually cattle producers. Ted Yoho from Florida is a DVM and a cattle producer. And the new senator from Nebraska is Deb Fischer, a producer. So we’re pretty excited that we have a couple more of our own who are actually here in the halls of Congress.”
His advice to producers is to get engaged in the process. “Whether that’s through your local, state or national association, join them and make sure you know what’s going on. Also, get engaged with the local offices of your members of Congress. Go in, introduce yourself, invite them out to your farm and ranch and build that relationship. What you’ll find is that they will come to you for info, because at the end of the day, these people want to know who their constituents are,” Woodall says.