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Kerry, Edwards talk with Missouri farmers

(Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- Richard Oswald, DTN, 08/09/04: In what he called "one of the most interesting experiences of my life," Missouri farmer and sometime DTN contributor Richard Oswald sat through a two-hour session with John Kerry and John Edwards. The Democratic candidates supported ethanol, tax credits for rural development, greater use of the Conservation Security Program, firmer rules against packer ownership of livestock and mandatory country-of-origin labeling.

By Richard Oswald DTN Special Correspondent

SMITHVILLE, Mo. (DTN) -- The Kerry/Edwards campaign hosted what they called a "conversation with farmers" Friday, Aug. 6, at the Jim and Ruth Nelson farm east of Smithville, Mo. Both candidates wore blue jeans and stood before farmers seated on hay bales to make their case for an energy-independent America. A corn festooned Kerry-Edwards banner blended perfectly with a garden patch of sweet corn behind the candidates.

John Edwards took the microphone first to thank those who attended. He quickly launched into his vision for America which includes a goal for providing 20% of the United States' fuel needs through renewable fuels including ethanol and soy diesel. He called for the establishment of biomass refineries, small business incentives, and widespread establishment of broadband access for rural areas. He also called for the use of telemedicine in areas where access to adequate, reasonably-priced health care is limited. Edwards said that many projects could be encouraged through the tax system by offering tax credits and rural incentives for development.

Senator John Kerry took over the microphone to call attention to the war in the Middle East. "What else is in the Middle east," Kerry asked. "Oil." He said U.S. truckers were paying out $6 billion more in fuel costs and that the recent run-up in oil prices was costing America's farmers $1.3 billion per year. He said America should not be held hostage by its need for Mid East oil.

Kerry and Edwards propose a $20 billion trust fund to help finance a reduction in U.S. oil dependence. The fund would work two ways by helping to defray the cost of revamping factories used to build energy efficient cars, and by paying an incentive to those who purchase vehicles that run on alternative renewable fuels. Kerry lamented the fact that Americans who want to buy the most fuel efficient cars must turn to Japanese or European manufacturers to do so.

Kerry asked the audience of about 150 farmers and farm supporters to voice questions or share opinions and concerns with him and Senator Edwards. One lady called attention to the rising cost of farm inputs as opposed to the steady prices of farm produce. Kerry answered by saying that programs like the Conservation Security Program are not being utilized effectively by USDA. As proof he cited nearly $100 million worth of backed up CSP requests in Iowa alone. He also proposed a program that would enable producers of organic produce to insure loss of their crops including value loss through GMO contamination. He called for a renewed effort for an effective ban on packer ownership of livestock as well as livestock pollution enforcement and a crackdown on vertical integration in the food industry.

Senator Edwards sympathized with farmers who have to cope with rising costs and diminishing returns. "It's hard," he said, "but there are no easy answers."

Senator Kerry harkened back to a time when, as a teenager, he had spent time on his aunt and uncle's farm where he had learned to plow with a John Deere tractor. He said he had felt connected to the land. Later, he said, he had helped his uncle clear rocks from the plowed field. After the long days work he had to remove his soiled clothes on the back porch because they were too dirty to wear into the house. He said he felt enriched, but tired and in need of a shower. He said his uncle held out a quarter to give him for his days work. That was when he learned that the greatest rewards from working the land weren't monetary.

At one point Senator Kerry's wife, Teresa, passed a note to the Senator which he took and then looked at her questioningly, "What's this?"

"Read it," she said. Whereupon Senator Kerry gave her the microphone and told her, "You do it."

An exasperated Mrs. Kerry then told the group about a hog farm she had toured in Iowa that utilizes non-polluting pasture production through a five-field rotation. That prompted a vociferous response from one confinement hog producer who told the candidates that large scale producers would "freak" at the suggestion that all hogs in the U.S. should be raised in that way. He felt they should know that such a stand could cost votes in Missouri.

Elizabeth Edwards spoke up and said, "Back when I had a personal life, I did some bankruptcy work in North Carolina, trying to help out some small creditors, and I saw hog farmer after hog farmer put in the same vise that you're in."

Senator Edwards then added, "We ought to be turning this hog waste into energy."

Near the end of the meeting a question was raised about health care proposals. Senator Kerry proposed a $50,000 annual cap on health costs for all Americans. He suggested Medicaid expenses for children should be born by the Federal government, freeing the states of that nearly $5 billion expense. He proposed allowing all Americans to buy into the same health care plan that is used by Congress, and he advocated allowing prescription drug imports.

After the meeting the candidates and their wives mingled with the crowd. I asked Senator Edwards how he felt about COOL. He said U.S. producers should be able to identify their produce. I asked him if he felt labeling should be done voluntarily. He replied, "It should be mandatory."

In a conversation with Teresa Kerry I tried to explain the heated statements of the confinement hog producer who had reacted to her impressions of hog farming. She said she understood because of the situation in her home state of Pennsylvania. She said at one time Pennsylvania had more farms per capita than nearly any other state. She was distressed by the consolidation that has taken place there and by the damage to the state and its communities brought about by the loss of farms. She said she felt something ought to be done to help alleviate the problem.