By DOUG GRAVES
PIQUA, Ohio — The annual Farm Forum hosted by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is always well attended. But this year, with a national financial sequester and looming spending cuts, there wasn’t an open seat at last week’s gathering at Edison State Community College.
Less than 24 hours after meeting with President Obama about the automatic spending cuts Obama proposed and Congress approved in 2011, Boehner, an Ohio Republican, answered questions from the state’s farmers, agricultural experts and members of his district.
Boehner also replied to questions about the budget deficit, defense cuts, the Keystone XL Pipeline project and the proposed farm bill. Sequestration and the politics behind it is what dominated the first of this day’s comments from Boehner and his panel.
“The President never offered a plan, the Senate never offered or passed a plan, to deal the sequester,” Boehner said. “It wasn’t like we didn’t know this was coming; we’ve known for 16 months that the sequester was hanging out there, unless Congress acted.”
Sequestration brings deep budget cuts to agencies relying on federal dollars, including the military and programs such as Meals on Wheels and Head Start. Boehner added the federal government has more revenue than ever before, yet the deficit remains, and the efforts to reduce government spending still has a long way to go.
“These cuts are going to be harmful, they’re going to have unintended consequences,” Boehner said.
Midway through the talk the attention turned to other areas impacting Ohio agriculture, which is the state’s leading industry. And this year, more than 250 people were in attendance to hear about international trade, food security and biotechnology.
Leading these discussions were Michael Scuse, USDA under secretary for Farm and Foreign Ag Services, John Campbell, senior vice president with the Ag Processing, Inc. cooperative, Jerry Flint with Pioneer and Bill Hoffman with the National Corn Grower Assoc. The panel was moderated by Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer.
Campbell told attendees he would rather see 80 cents of every dollar spent on renewable fuels rather than the farm bill because it would do more for farm income. Some livestock producers in attendance disagreed.
All of the panelists were concerned about the amount of time it takes for genetically modified products to get through the system. In addition, the growing world middle class (particularly in Asian countries) was discussed.
“The increased demand for food as a result of an increasing global middle class will set the stage for positive agricultural demand, but also will create global food challenges,” Scuse said.
The cost and preservation of farmland, along with making improvements in urban planning, were also hot topics at this year’s Farm Forum.
When Boehner was asked about the farm bill and if it will take another year to pass, he replied, “I hope not. I’ve spoken to the chairman and the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee and I’m very hopeful we’ll get the farm bill finished this year.”
The Keystone Pipeline was discussed at length. Boehner said the State Department issued a report last week about the concerns and benefits of the project, which didn’t give its position on the crude oil pipeline from Canada through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Montana and Oklahoma to Texas, Missouri and Illinois.
“The environmentalists went crazy on this because it wasn’t strong enough,” Boehner said. “The fact is that we have studied this, and studied this and studied this. It’s time to get it done. We know how to do this and we know how to do this safely.
“It’s time for the President to get out of the way and say yes to something that will create American jobs and more North American energy.”
The keynote speaker this year was Ed Schafer, who served as the 29th secretary of the USDA under former President George W. Bush from 2008-09. Schafer said the pipeline will reduce the oil industry’s carbon footprint.
“About 100,000 barrels of North Dakota crude oil moved through that pipe every day and that takes 500 trucks off the roads,” Schafer said.
Ohio’s 8th Congressional District is one of the state’s largest agricultural districts, with more than 5,400 farms on nearly one million acres.