Expectations for Obama Administration

As I've read and listened to various spokespersons and political analysts provide opinions about President Obama's leadership on agricultural issues, it has hit me that people certainly do like to speculate.

Matter of fact, many journalists make a living getting people to speculate and issue challenges about what should be done-not react to what is happening but what might happen.

And there always are people quick with advice who want to be first to make a recommendation. We cannot forget those expressing "hopeful" expectations, too. For example, the CEO of Syngenta, Mike Mack, provided Newsweek with an editorial expressing hope for Obama's agricultural leadership. (Portions of the editorial are on page 66 of this issue.)

Obama has been painted as a liberal, and that is bad for agriculture, according to many outspoken critics. The Democratic Party also has a reputation expressed by one Indiana farmer having served on the U.S. Trade Advisory Council. The farmer was quoted as saying, "Usually when the party of the President gets in, they look at environmental and labor issues and that slows down our free trade."

Tom Vilsack, who is now the Secretary of Agriculture, also has a reputation from being governor of Iowa, one of the major agricultural states. But he has done nothing to show what he'll do over the long haul for the best interests of national agriculture. Most Republicans in the Senate and House have said they hope he listens to concerns from all parts of the country.

As we all know, in agriculture there never is a unanimous opinion. Someone is going to be happy and someone is going to be unhappy no matter what occurs. Yes, Vilsack has said he wants to boost the economies of rural communities, promote nutritious food consumption and help poor families put meals on their tables. He has also said he is supportive of more locally grown food plus environmentally friendly and sustainable production. How does this translate?

Some interpret this as anti-farmer and anti-agribusiness, but on the other hand, Vilsack wasn't the choice of activists who would like the overhaul of government farm programs and who don't like that he appears to be "friendly with corporate agriculture."

Legislation and regulatory rules control agriculture in this country much the same as they do in every developed country of the world. It was interesting to see comments from the California Farm Bureau Federation's president written about Obama's administration. We should remember that California agriculture is perhaps the most regulated in the nation.

CFBF President Doug Mosebar said he doesn't expect an "upheaval" in U.S. farm policy because he classified Obama's Cabinet as centrist, including Vilsack. "We expect subtle changes for agriculture," he said.

Mosebar foresees a strong role for the Secretary of Agriculture and expects Obama to listen to advisors from within the government's departments. Again, all this is speculation of what will happen, but Mosebar basically is in a wait and see mode that in my way of thinking makes a lot of sense.

"There's no question that with any administration, leadership comes from the top. President Obama will create the broad outline for issues to be addressed and set the tone and timing for when those issues will be considered," Mosebar said. "But as we've learned in all previous administrations, the decisions and directions put together by Cabinet secretaries are crucial for agriculture."