Sitting in the middle of America’s breadbasket, Missouri’s farmers often look to their politicians for help and representation concerning agricultural issues.
Candidates for Missouri’s 9th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives — Republican incumbent Kenny Hulshof, Democrat Duane Burghard, Progressive Party candidate Bill Hastings and Libertarian Steven Hedrick — understand this responsibility, but each approaches agricultural matters differently.
Burghard wants to protect farmers’ profit margins.
“I’m a businessman; I’m all about the spreadsheet,” Burghard said. “When I travel around in the rural United States, I see a shrinking number of family farms, fewer young people in farming and the use of aging equipment.”
When he goes to farmers’ meetings, he said, he notices that few people who attend are young.
“We need to find new products and new markets,” Burghard said. “You’re not going to get young people to farm if there’s no money.”
Burghard also said that current agricultural legislation is tied up with World Trade Organization negotiations, which is slowing progress.
“There’s not enough certainty for farmers,” he said. “U.S. agriculture can remain competitive and profitable, and family farms can continue to exist.”
The current Farm Bill is scheduled for renewal in the next congressional term. Burghard said it should provide government compensation to farmers who need it.
Hastings, however, favors reliance on a free enterprise system.
“We need to ween agricultural interests from legislation,” he said. “Laws holding up crop prices and cutting back agriculture subsidies don’t help people. We need to either pay more for food or more in taxes. We should remember an increase in income for farm interests typically means a decrease in income for other people like firemen, nurses and truck drivers.”
Hastings said that although it might seem like there are problems with agriculture, most farms in the nation are owned by large corporations and wealthy individuals.
“There aren’t very many fifth-generation farmers anymore, with mud on their boots and dirt under their nails,” Hastings said.
Hulshof is an independent family farmer with a 474-acre farm in southeast Missouri that he inherited from his parents. He said the renewal of the Farm Bill is one of his primary concerns. He calls for continued commitment to commodities support, rural development and conservation programs and supports the creation of value-added programs such as ethanol to help farmers prosper.
He said the government should improve Missouri’s infrastructure to make it easier for farmers and ranchers to get products to market and should open markets abroad “so that our farmers can compete,” Hulshof said.
Worries about the estate tax also weigh heavily on the minds of Missouri’s farmers, Hulshof said. The inheritance tax is 46 percent on estates valued at more than $2 million. It’s scheduled to drop to 45 percent in 2007. Hulshof, however, wants it permanently repealed.
Hedrick, meanwhile, had little to offer on agricultural issues. The current Farm Bill, he said, is sufficient, and he had no recommendations for changes or additions.