President Barack Obama delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress and the nation on Tuesday. Below are some themes of importance to the agriculture industry, in order of their appearance in the speech and with notes on NAWG’s related policy.
The word “research” appeared nine times in Obama’s speech, during which he noted that the government has long filled the need for basic research private industry largely doesn’t support. He said his forthcoming budget will make investments in research to “strengthen our security, protect our planet and create countless new jobs for our people.”
This issue of particular importance to the wheat industry, which has been historically reliant on public funding for basic agronomic research underlying the development of new varieties that help farmers fight drought, pests and diseases like Ug99.
Even as new, private investments in wheat research have been announced in the past few years following the industry’s support for the eventual introduction of biotechnology, basic research and localized variety development remains largely the domain of public, USDA- and university-based programs historically supported by the federal government, state governments and wheat producers’ checkoff dollars.
If potential discretionary budget cuts hit USDA programs, progress achieved in ongoing wheat research and intellectual capital built up in wheat breeders around the country could be lost.
NAWG has taken the lead in organizing a fly-in for the week of Feb. 7 to allow the wheat industry, including researchers, growers, millers and bakers, to encourage Members of Congress and Administration officials to not diminish vital investments the federal government makes in basic and applied wheat research.
Obama called for investment in new energy sources and challenged Congress to set a goal of getting 80 percent of America’s electricity from “clean energy sources” by 2035. He also urged both parties to work together on all new sources of energy, specifically citing wind, solar, nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.
NAWG is an active supporter of investment in research and commercialization of renewable fuels, particularly second-generation ethanol products that could use wheat straw as a feedstock. NAWG supports the renewable fuels standard and other similar policies, like a recent announcement on E15, to expand the use of conventional ethanol as efforts to incentivize the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol.
Citing past projects like the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system, Obama asked Congress to “redouble” efforts to rebuild America’s infrastructure through fully paid-for programs.
NAWG works with state associations and commissions and other industry partners to educate Members of Congress and the Obama Administration about the importance of rail, road and waterway infrastructure to America’s agricultural competitiveness. These assets make U.S. agricultural products competitive all around the world and must be maintained and improved on a regular basis.
Obama referenced the goal set in his 2010 State of the Union address to double exports by 2014 and touted his Administration’s work on the pending free trade agreement with South Korea. He pledged to work under similar guidelines to complete pending agreements with Colombia and Panama and negotiate new agreements in the trans-Pacific region and at the World Trade Organization.
NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates are long-standing advocates of the pending free trade agreements, the Pacific region talks and the ongoing Doha Round. The industry is particularly supportive of the pending FTA with Colombia, which could prevent the loss of up to $100 million in sales of wheat per year and allow increased market share in a country that is growing in affluence and influence.
Obama renewed a recent call for a full review of government regulations, saying, “When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.” Later, in a passage about simplifying and modernizing the federal government, he cited the multiple agencies that deal with every major topic before federal agencies.
NAWG is pleased to see Obama and others increasingly recognizing the burden government regulations exact on small businesses, including family farms. NAWG strongly supports efforts to reevaluate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that are duplicative of existing laws; efforts to simplify the administration of farm and conservation programs; and efforts to tackle burdensome and inefficient regulations like new 1099 requirements.
The full State of the Union text is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-state-union-address.