09 November, 2008 - The Cast Changes

The long campaign is finally over and we now know that come January, Illinois Senator Barack Obama will move into the White House. I do want to congratulate the President-Elect and wish him success as he takes office and the enormous responsibility.

And now for us in agriculture and agri-business, the question is “What is ahead for American agriculture under a new President and a new administration?” You heard me say before the election that regardless of which Senator would be elected, farmers and ranchers would have a steep learning curve and that was borne out in the campaign as I heard no serious reference to agriculture by either candidate.

We do know that coming from Illinois, albeit a resident of Chicago, Senator Obama is a strong supporter of ethanol and soy diesel and alternative fuels produced on American farms. He listened to his farm constituents involved in energy production in the state and early in his Senate career, endorsed farm-produced alternative energy.

On the other hand we also know, based on campaign speeches, that he has serious questions about our current trade policy as well as established trade agreements, including some that have been extremely beneficial to American farmers. In the campaign he talked about dismantling or rearranging trade agreements like NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Agreement and that could be devastating to some segments of our agricultural economy.

Then the other question “Who will be his Secretary of Agriculture”? The guessing game started the day after the election when Chuck Abbott, a reporter for Reuters in Chicago, put together a list of names.

Here are some of the names on Chuck’s list...Tom Buis, President of the National Farm Union; Charles Stenholm, the 13-term Congressman from Texas who helped write several farm bills during his time on the House Agriculture Committee; two Governors are on the list, Tom Vilsack, two-term Iowa Governor and Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas; as well as two state agriculture officials, Roger Johnson, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner and Rod Nilsestuen, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture. I’m sure other names will be added to the list. And based on recent history, it could very well be a name that is not on any list.

Appointments that surprised most of us in the last decade included Bill Clinton’s selection of Congressman Mike Espy and President Bush’s three picks, California Agriculture Director Ann Veneman, Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns and former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer. Speaking of Mike Johanns, he easily won his Senate race in Nebraska and it’s very likely we will soon have a former Secretary sitting on the Senate Agriculture Committee.

I have known and worked with every Secretary going back to Ezra Taft Benson in the Eisenhower administration and I look forward to meeting and working with President-Elect Obama’s choice.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.