State of the Union Touches on Ag Issues of Trade, Immigration

President Obama addresses variety of ag issues in State of the Union Address; groups respond

Published on: Jan 30, 2014

Farm groups reacted Wednesday to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, reflecting on his plan for transportation infrastructure, tax reform, immigration, energy and trade in 2014.

The President promised a spirit of cooperation for the year ahead, noting that there are several issues in the legislature that must achieve a consensus. For ag groups, that sentiment rang true as bills to reform waterways and immigration are imminent.

"Many farmers rely on an immigrant labor force, and, without reform, growers will begin to plant less labor-intensive crops or go off shore," American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman commented.  "Simply put, either we import our labor or we import our food."

President Obama delivers the 2014 State of the Union Address in the House Chamber, Jan. 28, 2014. (White House photo)
President Obama delivers the 2014 State of the Union Address in the House Chamber, Jan. 28, 2014. (White House photo)

Stallman went on to note that AFBF expects an agriculture labor program with both short- and long-term stability that provides access to a legal workforce.

Obama noted that a review by independent economists shows that immigration reform will grow the economy and shrink deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.

The National Farmers Union said it supports immigration reform, noting that it should "be a priority for liberals, moderates and conservatives alike."

Tax Reform

Constantly on the minds of farmers and business owners, Obama also said tax reform should be a priority of Democrats and Republicans, who he says have both have argued that the tax code is riddled with wasteful loopholes.

According to Stallman, a change to the tax code should include reforms for individuals and corporate entities.

"More than 96% of farms and 75% of farm sales are taxed under IRS provisions which affect individual taxpayers," Stallman explained. "Any tax reform proposal that fails to include the individual tax code will not help but would likely hurt our nation's farmers and ranchers. These farmers could lose their business deductions, yet they would not benefit from lower corporate rates if only corporate taxes are revised."

Transportation/Waterways

Several groups pointed out the President's references to using tax reform savings for waterways and transportation infrastructure.

"We can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes -- because in today's global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure.  We'll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer," Obama said.

Groups applauded the shout-out on the waterways bill, which is currently in conference. It is legislation that many of them have long supported.

"These (waterways) bills provide critical investment in the locks, dams, river channels and ports that farmers need to move their products to market," commented Ray Gaesser, American Soybean Association President. "We thank the President for mentioning these bills specifically.

"We encourage Congress to move forward with the conference committee and pass a bill on for the President's signature," he added.

Waterways Council CEO Michael Toohey added that passing a bill would provide big benefits to manufacturers, farmers and shippers and "will result in the creation and sustainment of American jobs."

Trade

Trade, too, was a State of the Union address topic that resonated among farm groups, who said that expanded trade opportunities are vital to America's farmers and ranchers.

In his address, the President noted the importance of the Trade Promotion Authority, which would allow him to approve trade agreements quickly.

AFBF's Stallman commented: "TPA is the catalyst needed to advance U.S. proposals to reduce tariffs and improve market access for farmers and ranchers in trade negotiations. The U.S. market is one of the most open in the world, yet our farmers and ranchers face high tariffs and other noncompetitive practices when they try to export their products.

"For U.S. agriculture to thrive, we have to correct these disparities and level the playing field," he said.

ASA was quick to support the President's comments as well, noting that strong trade policies can strengthen agricultural trade, which supports more than a million domestic jobs.

"As our nation's leading farm export, trade is vital to the success of soybean farmers, and we applaud this emphasis from the President," ASA's Gaesser said.

Energy

Groups disillusioned with the President's policy on energy were ready for his remarks Tuesday, the same day the public comment period closed on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed plan to cut renewable fuel volumes in the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Though the President said the U.S. is closer to energy independence now than it has been in decades, he made little mention of corn ethanol or other fuels from agricultural products.

"While the President repeatedly cites a desire to pursue his 'all of the above' energy strategy, the policies of his administration tell a different story," Gaesser commented.

"If the President is truly committed to all energy options, we encourage him to recognize what soybean farmers already know: biodiesel is a viable and available alternative that helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil, lower greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs," he said.

National Corn Growers President Martin Barbre added: "We call on his Administration to back away from its irresponsible proposal to reduce the Renewable Fuel Standard, a program that has done much to promote energy independence, restore jobs in rural America, and clear the air."

See a video of the President's State of the Union address.