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State of the Union address skirts front-burner ag issues

By Jeremy Bernfeld
Harvest Public Media

Got milk? President Obama does.
American dairy farmers got a shoutout from President Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but it wasn’t when Obama spoke about agriculture issues.
That’s because the president largely ignored burning political potatoes like the 2012 Farm Bill, direct payments and ethanol in the key policy speech that many observers say is the kickoff to the president’s re-election campaign.
In a section of the speech describing un-needed regulations that Obama has directed his Cabinet to repeal, Obama cited a now-cancelled statute that mandated dairy farmers build expensive containment facilities in case of a milk spill.
“With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk,” the president said, looking for laughs. (They were sparing.)
“I’m confident a farmer can contain a milk spill without a federal agency looking over his shoulder,” he went on.
Obama did briefly touch on a few ag issues, but largely stayed away from many important agriculture policy matters.
In the wake of his rejection of the plans for the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run through ranching land in Nebraska and may have impacted the vital Ogalalla Aquifer, Obama made sure to stress his support for domestic energy production. But he didn’t turn his back on the environmental activists that, generally, are part of his voting base.
“I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use,” Obama said. “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”
Obama also endorsed the creation of a clean energy standard, something that has long had a place in his stump speeches.
“I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” Obama said.
Obama said he would direct his administration to create sustainable energy on public lands and said the Defense Department would up its purchase of renewable energy. Ethanol, though, didn’t merit a single mention, apparently.
One person not at the State of the Union: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He was the designated “survivor” — the Cabinet official kept away from the speech in the event of a catastrophe on the Capitol, which would affect the president; vice president; members of the Cabinet; Supreme Court; chiefs of staff; and legislature.
Obviously, ag issues – whether they’re addressed or not – are  vital to any president’s domestic policies. Check out our look at the agriculture issue positions of the politicians vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Surely, farm country would have liked to see the president shine a little light on on some of these pressing issues.

The author is Harvest Public Media’s multimedia editor.

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