Editor's note: This article is one of an eight-part series that examines where U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-St. Louis, and Libertarian candidate Jonathan Dine stand on some of the issues important to Missouri voters.
Agricultural and Rural Policies
McCaskill has expressed her focus on rural Missouri. She supports the Senate’s 2012 five-year farm bill, which would eliminate direct payments to farmers and instead create a protection program to aid farmers suffering from short-term losses because of poor harvests. The bill also would create insurance programs to protect farmers from deeper, long-term losses. The House will vote on the bill after the Nov. 6 election.
Akin has voiced his support for Missouri farmers by saying he will work to stop federal regulations that might affect their operations. He wants to help struggling farmers but has opposed past farm bills because he thinks the legislation should not include spending on social programs such as food stamps.
Dine has not publicly stated any specific policies regarding farming policies.
What experts said
The Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, which advocates and lobbies for agricultural interests, said the farm bill recognizes that something needs to be done to ensure that the future of agriculture is viable and includes significant measures to address the aging farmers demographic. The federation said the future of American agriculture depends on the next generation of farmers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture census said that the fastest growing group of farm operators is those 65 and older and the average age of the American farmer is 57. The federation says the farm bill provides retiring farmers extra benefits for passing their farms on to beginning farmers.
The bill continues the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which offers education training, outreach and mentoring programs for new farmers. The bill also expands access to crop insurance for beginning farmers. This will lower the cost of crop insurance for beginning farmers and provide additional assistance when faced with natural disasters, according to the federation.
Brian Dabson, founding director of the Rural Futures Lab, said the farm bill is complex and includes a range of specifics. He said that with the bill’s inclusion of a nutrition title, 80 percent of the money goes to supporting food programs, particularly, food stamps.
“Historically, it was seen as an advantage to support farm communities, but in this economic climate, the pact between rural and urban communities has been fractured,” Dabson said. “There has been a clear need for providing food support for families in distress, but there’s an argument whether those types of entitlements should be in a farm bill. The policy issue is whether or not the nutritional programs should be put in a different bill, but to have no bill is not the answer.”
Regarding rural development, Dabson said there has been a historically structural difference in how much has been spent per capita on rural versus urban communities.
“If we’re going to see thriving rural areas, there has to be increased investment,” he said. “One investment that is critical at the moment is for rural areas to have access to high-speed Internet. It used to be luxury but is now a necessity.”
Dabson said anyone who is trying to make sure that rural areas have the best possible Internet speeds is laying down the foundation for the best development going forward.
“If we don’t continue to invest in wastewater management, access to health care, schools, post offices and local road improvements rural communities are going to struggle," Dabson said. "There is a case for careful, structured government and private investment in rural communities. Our food, energy and clean water come from rural areas. If we’re not prepared to pay for that, then everybody loses.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.