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Trade Policy and the Family Farmer

The candidates spent the few minutes before a commercial break debating trade policy -- a very important issue for Iowa's farmers.

All four of the major candidates tended to agree that the current trade policy was skewed in favor of large multinational companies and against the small family farm.

Edwards called the policy "failed" and promised that under an Edwards administration the first question asked on trade agreements would be: "Is this good for middle class working families in America?"

Clinton agreed and used the question to talk about her work in the Senate on behalf of the 34,000 family farms in New York. "I tried to become a real advaocate for them," she said. "I want to be a smart, American trader."

Obama attacked the subsidies being given to "these big mega farmers" and vowed to "cap those subsidies" as president. Obama said globalization was already here and the key was to make sure that Americans are "hard bargainers" when it comes to trade agreements.

Richardson, too, vowed to "find a way to make sure the big agribusiness interests don't hurt the family farmer," proposing a focus on "renewable fuels and technology."

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 19, 2007; 10:03 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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So essentially there's not a free trader in the bunch? I don't get to vote in this election (I'm Swedish), so I get that my dismay is, well, irrelevant. But while I'm generally pretty good at translating Politician into English, I just don't get what Sens. Clinton and Obama mean by being "a smart American trader" and "a hard bargainer", respectively. My hunch is that it means they're going protectionist, but it's honestly hard for me to tell..

In my politial context, it's generally accepted that free trade is both the smart and noble stance. I suppose that might explain why I'm so lost on this issue in American politics. Anyway, help me out?

Posted by: Olov | August 22, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Espi--Farmers are important because they, you know, MAKE FOOD.

Posted by: roo | August 20, 2007 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to weigh on this issue, being from a family of tobacco and corn farmers. My dad was a farmer, his dad before that and his dad before him, ect., ect.

First, I'd like to say that CAFTA is good for the American farmer. I have many friends that have capitalized on international contracts since the tobacco buyout a few years back. Why does this help the smaller farmers? I know, personally, I decided to go into business instead of farming. So, we sharecrop our property to farmers who have these overseas contracts in order to receive a boost in profits. As far as the trade and subsidies, they are both very nice boosts. These dems. talking about ending them will only hurt the small time farmer.

Moreover, other things that can be done to help small farmers are obvious steps not taken. Lowering property taxes would be a huge step. I can tell you that every time my county needs money, they just slap a property tax initiative on the ballot and the property owners pay for it. We pay for it, more precisley. Hard working people that run farms to keep our produce local. I ask this question: do we really want America's food supply imported? I say no, I don't. So the subsidies and trade should continue, but property taxes need to be lowered and more tax incentives for buying/owning equipment should be given as well. Finally, the small time farmer should be given more tax breaks for following the health depts. demands. For instance, a few years back my family was told the barn standard has been updated and our barns were no longer efficient. Getting it fixed went on to cost my family $40,000 plus. If not, any tobacco not sold the year it was raised could not be carried over to the next year. So tax breaks, property tax correlated, could be a major help in helping the small farmer deal with all of these regulations.

These are just some ideas that would help out the small farmer.

Posted by: reason | August 20, 2007 11:35 AM | Report abuse

LOOK at Obama's answer. I think he gets it. Dodd also addressed the issue. Edwards loves the union and answered for them. Hillary does not care since farmers dont give her any money. So I hope Iowa can judge these folks and send the right MAN to the ovak office. NO HRC.

Posted by: Paul | August 19, 2007 11:32 PM | Report abuse

LOOK at Obama's answer. I think he gets it. Dodd also addressed the issue. Edwards loves the union and answered for them. Hillary does not care since farmers dont give her an money. So I hope Iowa can judge these folks and send the right MAN to the ovak office. NO HRC.

Posted by: Paul | August 19, 2007 11:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm from Iowa, and my grandfather was a hard working farmer who made a living on a quarter section of land.... those days are long gone. Today, I see wealthy large Farms and Corporations farming over a 1000 acres of land ( many several thousand ) and they get large subsidy checks to keep farming and growing.... They've driven up the cost of land... machinery and farm supplies. I see all of the small family farms being gobbled up by these huge corporate farms...There are people in my community who own land, have never participated in farming, and who get large subsidy checks every year. I believe the only reason farm subsidies still exist the way they do, is because politicians, the rich, and powerful are robbing the federal piggy bank... and to put a stop to this will only hurt themselves.

M. Clague

Posted by: M. Clague | August 19, 2007 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Espi, most of those subsidies (as measured by dollar amounts) go to bigger farmers. I'd cut those first, and keep supporting the smaller ones.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 19, 2007 3:34 PM | Report abuse

The "small" farmer is politically important even though a mere 3% of the population is engaged in farming. "Red" states have most of them - hence their courting by all politicians, to wean away or hold! From the consumer's view, the question is can the small farmer deliver his produce at competitive costs when compared with large corporates like Cargill or Archer Daniels. The US Government has always supported the small farmer through generous subsidies which need to wind down. It is best to give the unviable small farmer direct cash subsidy provided he moves out to another vocation.

Posted by: Espi | August 19, 2007 11:14 AM | Report abuse

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