Capture it. Noon of a cool autumn Saturday. The sun filters through the falling leaves, dazzling gold and brown. You settle into the sofa, sipping hot caramel cider. You grab the remote and turn to your favorite team’s football game.
And then you start seeing them. Campaign advertisements. The candidate so and so approves this message. This guy doesn’t like this lady. A political fund invites you to vote on a ballot proposal as if your life depended on it.
Build. This. Stop.
Fortunately, it will stop. On Wednesday morning, the midterm elections will be over. We’ll see where the dust settles and if there’s a change in power at different levels (many expectations suggest a split chamber). But before we get to that, most of us have to vote. I probably say this every cycle, but I’m really, really, really serious this time: the 2022 midterms are crucial.
So here’s a look at the issues that have the most direct impact on farmers and hopefully influence their vote – and yours.
Let’s start with the most obvious: inflation. Most Americans are well aware of how rapidly prices have risen over the past year. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the grocery store. Farmers are people too, and they also buy food to feed their families. They are therefore just as sensitive to higher prices as everyone else.
But they also see it on the production side. By some estimates, the 2022 crop cost 40% more to grow, making the national inflation rate of 8.2% look like child’s play. Limited supply, rising costs and uncertain markets are creating a perfect economic storm that some say could rival the agricultural crisis of the 1980s.
Inflation is certainly a global phenomenon, and caused by a variety of factors. And where the United States ranks against other countries in the world depends on how you define the relevant terms. What is clear though, is that all Americans are feeling the pinch, and this question will guide many voters, rural and urban alike.
Yeah, I know. Fuel prices are technically a part of the inflation chart. But having stocked up the other day, I can assure you that the exorbitant prices deserve their own mention.
Forget gasoline, let’s focus on diesel. It is unquestionably expensive. Right now, the national average price for a gallon of diesel is around $5.32. In 2021, the average diesel price was $3.29 per gallon. And in 2019, it was $3.06.
That’s okay because none of us fill our vehicles with diesel, right? Not enough. Most consumer goods are shipped on diesel-powered tractor-trailers. Our agricultural equipment is entirely diesel fueled. This fuel affects many different parts of our economy. And those higher prices are ultimately passed on to consumers, meaning prices will continue to rise.
At present, the national reserves of the United States are exhausted. We have less than a month’s supply (the lowest since 1945). And some people talk about continuous fuel starvation.
Like everything else, the problem is complicated. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hasn’t helped, especially with the tariffs piled on that country’s oil exports. Europeans are also reducing their production in response to climate change. And there’s no question that the current administration – and some states, like California – have an anti-oil agenda, even though most of us have no choice but to consume it. These initiatives have merit, but right now they are driving up prices.
The 2023 Farm Bill
This bill is like a bad penny. This. Keep. Coming. Return.
All kidding aside, the farm bill and its issues are revamped every five years when its predecessor expires. And it always seems like the stakes are getting higher and higher. This is most likely because there are so many groups, industries, and activists trying to influence how the final bill looks and acts. The forecast for this farm bill is that it could reach $1.3 trillion.
As you may know, the farm bill is split between farm programs and nutritional supports (think food stamps). Both pieces are essential for Congress and the White House to actually pass the new law, if the previous three or four iterations are any guide. While Republicans tend to support the agricultural side, Democrats tend to push food aid.
However, the balance of power seems important. Remarkably, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee tends to do a damn good job of crafting a compromise bill that satisfies both parties. It’s something Washington, DC can truly rally around, even with a divided government. Because President Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office, it’s probably best for Republicans to control Congress.
Incidentally, the committee launched its Farm Bill 2023 process in April 2022 at Michigan State University (go green!). The plan was to have the bill ready by October 2023, but ask any political expert, and they’ll tell you that lawmakers are highly unlikely to actually achieve that goal.
This is a question that worries me more and more. For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has successfully regulated pesticide use under the federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. But now we are witnessing an all-out attack on pesticides that threatens to leave farmers with few options to protect their crops.
The steps taken by the EPA to severely limit the future use of atrazine stand out. So are efforts by activist groups to force the EPA to conduct unnecessary and rushed assessments of new and old pesticides. We are seeing social media misinformation turn into bad policy that takes pesticides off the market. It is very possible that we will encounter more restrictions on dicamba. And states are increasingly passing their own legislation that limits or reduces the availability of pesticides and, in many cases, could contradict federal guidelines and thus confuse people’s understanding of what to follow.
I can’t end an article on the 2022 midterm elections without mentioning one of the biggest elephants in the room: Mehmet Oz. He is running in Pennsylvania as a Republican candidate for the US Senate. When I list the people who have fueled the most fear and misinformation around our modern food system (think “superfood” claims and many anti-GMO stances), Oz always tops the list.
I admit that I fell asleep on his candidacy. I remember vaguely hearing that he was running for primary school. But, I said to myself, he will never have the nomination! Here we are several months later and he is tied with his Democratic opponent. Seriously, he could pull this off!
Is John Fetterman the best choice? I also have concerns about him, including his health. I don’t envy the voters of Pennsylvania. But I can’t imagine Oz using his platform of lies to propel himself through the halls of Congress. Then again, I guess that’s how most candidates get to Congress…
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs as The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Its goal is to promote farmers and combat the misinformation that circulates in the American food industry.