There is something missing from the current Presidential campaign. While there is no shortage of attack ads, no shortage of petty accusations during the debates, no shortage of sensationalistic media spin, no shortage of fact checking and fact fabrication, and no shortage of skewed polling results, there is a shortage of one thing: any mention of agriculture. Why should there be any mention of a sector of our nation’s economy that most voters don’t care about and even fewer understand? The answer is not just because I am a agriculture fanatic, but because agriculture is an important component of several of the some of the central issues of the campaign and not including it in the discussion is these issues shows a profound lack of understanding of the issues by the candidates and the media.
During the past debate between the two candidates for President, the subject of recent unrest in the Middle East got quite a bit of attention. The subject of the “Arab Spring” which sparked widespread violence in several nations was discussed, and the US response to this was a point of contention between President Obama and Governor Romney. A point missed by both candidates is that agriculture is one of the reasons for the unrest. World food prices, especially wheat which a stable of diets in the Middle East, have done up dramatically, and this is one of several reasons for the civil unrest. While Governor Romney berated the administration for a weak response to the Arab Spring, he missed the point that the US, as the major food producer of the world, could have provided food aid and taken other steps to offer food security to this region and, thus, improve our image and influence.
During that same debate, a good deal of time was spent discussing Afghanistan. There was a difference of opinion between the two men as to whether US troops should be left in Afghanistan. The President missed a major opportunity to score points and put a positive spin on his handling of the war in Afghanistan. Under his administration, dozens of National Guard Ag Development teams have been deployed to Afghanistan and have made a major impact on the economy and society of that nation. These teams have helped to rebuild the farm economy of that nation and to teach a new generation of young people to farm. US Land Grant Universities have planted the seeds of an extension service, while a Future Farmers of Afghanistan has been established. This is the kind of nation building the US does best, but is the kind that never gets noticed by the media or seemingly by our leaders.
Of course, most of the campaign rhetoric has been about jobs. More statistics about jobs and unemployment have been tossed around in the campaign than almost anything else. But one jobs number that has not been mentioned is that there are currently 50,000 job openings in the field of agriculture. This figure comes from Eric Spell with AgCareers.com, an on-line recruiting service for agriculture. Furthermore, he estimates that within the next 5 years, over 1 million people currently working in the agribusiness sector plan to retire. That means another 1 million jobs that will need to be filled. He is not talking about minimum wage, sweep out the barn jobs, but good paying, skilled occupations in every area of agriculture. Certainly this would enough fodder for both campaigns to make hay. Agriculture also has some contributions to the discussion of energy and trade, yet is seldom mentioned whenever these topics are discussed.
Is it that the campaigns don’t understand the issues and how agriculture fits into them? Do they choose to ignore the ag contribution fearing a public backlash or, worse, public boredom? Whatever the reason, leaving agriculture out of the discussion does a disservice to voters and to the 27 million people who work in areas related to food, fiber, and fuel production.
By Gary Truitt