Feb 27, 2009
COMMENTS Micro-management

Right now, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by our government’s actions. Last week was about the budget deficit; the week prior was about the housing and bank bailout.

The week before that, it was a nearly $800 billion spending bill. The irony is that our lawmakers are urged to pass all these spending issues at a rapid pace. Rarely do quick decisions on issues of this magnitude result in positive changes. I suppose you just have to have faith. But, simply throwing money at a problem isn’t responsible management.

Faith is difficult when it comes to the federal government and particularly the new Obama administration. Much of what we pay attention to is the USDA and the Interior Department which affect our industry the most. The first 40 days of this administration could accurately be described as tumultuous and there appears to be no end in sight. It would appear that President Obama should revisit his speech about personal responsibility.

Many of the issues that concern agriculture and land use have already been written in to bills which are already coming out of committees in both houses. It appears that none of them are focused on making anything easier for agriculture.

Obama’s choice for secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has already turned things upside down with his call for packers to improve their Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) efforts. USDA is not attempting to make it easier for the meat industry to produce and distribute their products. And, for the most part, consumers don’t really care where the meat comes from. The only reason to push forward on COOL is to satisfy a handful of interest groups. I call them the “five percenters,” because it is only 5 percent of the population that cares. It’s a minority.

What ever happened to governing for the masses? The Canadians appear to be ready to take their COOL case to the World Trade Organization (WTO) after Vilsack’s plan for COOL was announced. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said Vilsack’s guidelines, if implemented, would prompt U.S. meatpackers and processors to stop buying Canadian livestock and beef to avoid the extra cost involved in complying with the new law. Canadian Ag Minister Gerry Ritz said they are watching the progress of the law and, if Vilsack attempts to make changes to the rule, they will go forward with their WTO complaint. Mexico will also support that claim. The beef industry’s two best customers may walk away from the table.

Next, Obama nominated his choice for deputy secretary of agriculture, a lady named Kathleen Merrigan. This is a completely perplexing appointment to me. It appears that Merrigan’s qualifications for this position are her ties to organic farming and sustainable agriculture. She got her start in agriculture when she was a legislative aid for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and was on the subcommittee that wrote the Organic Food Policy Act in 1990. Then she was a senior analyst for the Henry Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture and was also a consultant for food and agriculture for the United Nations’ food meeting last summer in Rome, Italy. Most recently, she was a professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, MA. It doesn’t appear that she has much interest in working with production agriculture or making it easier for agriculture to produce food. Again, this appointment looks, from the outside, like it was made to satisfy the 5 percent of those special interest groups that are pushing the organic agenda.

In the Department of the Interior, secretary Ken Salazar recently announced plans to put Bush administration plans to develop oil shale in the West on hold. These projects would be mostly on public land and could potentially yield 800 billion barrels of oil. Again, this project was canned because of outcry from the five percenters.

With the pace at which this administration is moving, I’m not sure that agriculture, mining or any other production industry can get in there and get them on track. Our industry must take a prompt and definitive role in persuading the administration.

America can’t stand much more micro-managing and the administration needs to listen to the majority for guidance, not the five percent or the special interest groups that currently have our lawmakers’ ears. Instead of making commerce easier for America, they are indeed making it harder on a multitude of issues. This isn’t the change I was hoping for. — PETE CROW