Thank you very much.
I've spent a lot of time here in Iowa over the past year.
When I began campaigning for president, I did so because I wanted to talk about the issues I cared about -- health care, early childhood development and balanced budgets.
Since then, I've spoken with many Americans across the country and across Iowa I've been in 72 counties in Iowa - I've ended up being far more affected by Iowans than they have by me.
I've seen how our country has gone from a place where we value community and we look out for our neighbors to a country where our leaders say to the American people, "fend for yourselves."
I've seen how our country has gone from historic prosperity to losing 3 million jobs over two-and-a-half years.
We've all seen the way farmers who work in the field all day can't get a decent price for their crops anymore.
We've all seen the way so many rural communities have been losing good young workers because the opportunity just isn't there for them anymore.
We've all watched as rural America is hollowed out and left behind.
I understand how important agriculture is not just to the fabric of our rural communities but to the economy of our nation as a whole.
So when a study came out in 2000 saying that in much of the Great Plains rural workers don't even earn half of what people in metropolitan areas earn, those numbers told a story we already knew.
The truth is, the foundation of our rural economy is crumbling. The United States lost over 160,000 farms during George Bush's first year in office. That's the largest drop since the first George Bush was in office. In Iowa alone, over 2500 farms have disappeared over the last two years. We can do better than this.
In rural communities across the country, unemployment has jumped over 50% and there are now 600,000 more people looking for work. We can do better than this.
Opportunity is lower across the board. Poverty rates are shameful -- in rural America, the number of families living in poverty is 50% higher than everywhere else in this country and almost 500,000 rural American fell below the poverty line in George Bush's first year in the White House. We can do better.
What Senator Tom Harkin understands, but too many people in Washington do not, is that you can't revitalize rural America unless you preserve and protect the family farm. And you can't preserve and protect the family farm unless you revitalize rural America. The two issues go hand-in-hand.
Restoring Rural Communities
We have the power to foster an economic revival in our rural communities. We need to make this revival a national priority.
We can start by ensuring that small businesses have access to equity capital. Senator Harkin fought to include the Rural Business Investment Program in the 2002 farm bill to provide the venture capital that small rural businesses need. The Bush administration has talked about the importance of providing venture capital to rural businesses but it's been over a year since Congress authorized this program and the Bush administration had not moved to implement it. I will provide the leadership on this that the President has not.
We must act to reverse the vicious cycle of out-migration that has decimated many of our rural communities. Senator Dorgan of North Dakota has proposed a thoughtful, bipartisan bill to address this problem. As president, I will work to enact two important elements of this bill. First: government matched savings accounts that modest income families in rural areas can use to buy a first home, pay back educational debt or start a business; second: micro-enterprise tax credits to help create or expand businesses with fewer than five employees because these types of business are responsible for as much as 50% of job growth in rural America.
We need to boost rural economic development by requiring 10% ethanol in our gasoline and boosting demand and production of soy-diesel. Ethanol and biodiesel are good for our environment, good for our national security and great for rural economies. An E10 requirement could reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 30%. It would reduce our dependence on Middle East oil. And every billion dollars of oil imports we replace with domestic ethanol would mean 10-20,000 new American jobs. The ethanol and biodiesel industry in Iowa has already contributed over 13,000 jobs and $1.7 billion to the state's economy and added $730 million in value to the corn crop.
Iowa imports 97% of its energy. That means it is exporting 97% of the jobs that an Iowa-based energy industry could create. With such great potential to produce bio-based -and wind -energy right here, there's no reason Iowa can't produce more of its energy at home, and reap all the economic benefits that come with it.
We need to improve rural medicine and bring health care to every man, woman and child in this country. Small businesses will be able to afford insurance for their employees, and no family will worry about finding the money to go to the doctor. And we need to fix the Medicare reimbursement rate so that states like Iowa aren't penalized for running their health care programs efficiently.
We also need to address the digital divide in rural America. So much of the economic boom of the 90's didn't reach our rural communities. Not only that, but the House Republicans have tried to keep rural America in the dark by proposing funding cuts in the Rural Broadband Loan Program.
We can't afford to leave the heartland behind any longer. We need a dramatic investment in broadband technologies that will reach Americans all across the country.
Preserving Family Farmers
In addition to this broad effort to revitalize rural communities, we need to take aggressive action to protect our family farmers. Farmers want to make their living from the market, not from farm programs.
The Value Added Producer Grants program is a great way to help farmers develop new value-added products and techniques. This results in both more manufacturing jobs in rural areas and greater income for farmers. George Bush and the House Republicans don't see it in the same way they slashed funding for value added grants in order to make room for 3 trillion dollars' worth of tax cuts.
In 2002, 29 different Iowa farms, cooperatives and processors used over $5.5 million in value added grants to help create or expand such diverse value-added programs like a farmer owned beef processing co-op in Ames, a production and marketing program for high-grade soybeans in Oskaloosa, a farmer owned ethanol processing co-op in Mediapolis and a program to export and market pork stomachs to China in Clive. All of these programs will die if The President and his House allies have their way. We not only need to restore the value added grants program but we should expand it by 50%.
George Bush talks about patriotism, but he doesn't ask it from our packers and processors -- the Bush administration has been delaying mandatory country-of-origin labeling called for in the farm bill. America consumers should have the ability to buy American if they want to and farmers should be able to enjoy the premiums that consumers are willing to pay for quality American products. The Bush administration doesn't agree and neither do House Republicans who actually voted to eliminate funding for COOL altogether.
Tom Harkin fought for the Conservation Security Program -- a great program that would help family farmers and protect the environment -- but the Bush administration has yet to implement the program and House Republicans, again, voted to eliminate funding entirely.
George Bush and his Administration have neglected the needs of American farmers when negotiating trade deals around the world. We need a fair trade policy that keeps the needs of our farmers in mind; a trade policy that expands their access to foreign markets but doesn't expose them to unfair foreign competition that will push domestic prices down even further. What we don't need is an Administration that sees agricultural issues as nothing more than a bargaining chip.
This is no accident. It's not a coincidence that everything the President has done to hurt rural families has benefited corporate packers and processors. His loyalty is to his contributors; not once has he favored rural America over big business.
He won't even require everyone play by the same rules. The Bush EPA has negotiated behind closed doors to make sure that big packers and processors don't have to follow the Clean Air Act or worry about Superfund enforcement.
The bottom line is, George Bush chooses his words to appeal to America's heartland, but his actions are starving it. He's clearing his ranch down in Crawford this month, but he's been clearing everyone else's ranch for two-and-a-half years.
In Vermont, we did business a lot differently.
Dairy farming accounts for 70% of our gross state product, and that industry has been suffering some of the toughest times in its history.
That's why I worked to find innovative solutions for our dairy farmers in the form of a regional program to provide direct counter-cyclical payments from processors to producers. I know there are people here in Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest who question the program's relevance to farming in this part of the country. But our farmers were facing the same problems many of Iowa's farmers face they couldn't get a fair price for their product from processors. Our farmers were going under while processors and retailers rolled up huge profits. Our program made sure that the money consumers paid went directly to farmers and that our farmers' hard work wouldn't go unrewarded.
Protecting Vermont's family farmers was one of my top priorities and I knew we needed innovative solutions. The program we established brought over $60 million to Vermont farmers and over $180 million to our agriculture economy overall. The average farm in my state received over ten thousand dollars in additional annual income. While it wasn't perfect, the effort was a lifesaver for many of our farms.
As president, I will work to find the same kinds of innovative solutions for all our farmers.
We also created the Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation in 1999, which gave farmers access to millions of dollars in new capital and credit. Nearly 800 Vermont farms have taken advantage of this opportunity, using the credit to improve their farms and restructure debt.
And I supported land conservation, so that farmers had access to the land and were able to expand their farms. We were able to protect over 300 farms and 100,000 acres of land from development through our Farmland Preservation Program.
During my tenure, we created an Agriculture Pollution Reduction Program which is similar to Tom Harkin's Conservation Security Program. Our voluntary program helped farmers eliminate runoff and reduced the amount of phosphorus in our Lake Champlain basin.
We were hit hard by flooding in 1998 and 1999, and our farmers felt the worst of it. I made sure that the farmers who suffered feed losses from those floods had the relief they needed when federal aid fell short of covering the losses. As President, I will make sure that disaster relief is there for our rural communities, rather than fighting against disaster relief the way George Bush fought Tom Daschle earlier this year.
We were able to do all this while providing health care to 92% of adults and virtually every child in our state. And we did it while balancing the budget, raising the minimum wage twice and creating 56,000 new jobs. Health insurance for all Americans is a critical part of reviving rural America.
Investment in rural America also means a real conservation program.
We can start by implementing and restoring funding for Tom Harkin's Conservation Security Program which will make more projects like one here at Grundy County Lake possible. The CSP should be a centerpiece of our farm policy.
I understand that large farms will forever be a part of our agricultural landscape. That was true in Vermont and it is true in Iowa and elsewhere. Many Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are run by families or individual farmers who want to be responsible stewards to the environment and their neighbors. But many are run by corporations whose only motive is profit. It's important to give farmers who run large operations the means to protect the environment, but it's also important to hold CAFOs to existing environmental standards and it simply doesn't make sense to lavish millions of dollars in aid to huge corporate CAFOs simply to help them dig manure pits. We should not be subsidizing the expansion of huge corporate CAFOs that harm our environment and force family farmers out of business.
It is telling that since Congress expanded limits on funds for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, in the farm bill that EQIP spending has exploded but the number of farms receiving EQIP funds has remained constant. We are simply funneling more money to corporate agribusiness.
We need to close the EQIP loopholes that the Republicans and their agribusiness allies passed in 2002, and implement meaningful payment limitations on EQIP.
We also need strong federal regulation of CAFO pollution by the Environmental Protection Agency. CAFOs should not be exempt from Superfund, Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act enforcement. The states also need resources from the federal government so that the EPA rules can actually be enforced for a change.
And we need more local control over this issue, as well. Communities should have the ability, if they so choose, to restrict new or expanding CAFOs in their neighborhoods.
One of the biggest threats to the success of family farmers and rural development is concentration. Studies have shown that as farm size and absentee ownership increase in a community, so do poverty and unemployment.
Since 1982, the United States has lost 84% of its hog producers; 38% in the last five years. Iowa alone has lost over 40,000 hog producers over the past twenty years.
Four firms control 80% of the soybean crushing market.
Four firms control 81% of the beef packing market.
Just one company alone, Smithfield Farms, has now increased its market share to almost 30% of the pork packing market with the purchase of Farmland Inc.'s pork processing division.
The federal government is doing its part to make matters worse. Two-thirds of all farm program payments go to the largest 10% of farms. This drives up land rents and production costs while encouraging overproduction and driving down commodity prices a combination that squeezes family farmers out of business.
The farm bill created a commission to study the issue of payment limitation; they are due to report their findings to Congress in the next month. I hope they will agree with me that we need meaningful payment limitations that reduce the amount of federal subsidies to corporate megafarms, and we need to close the loopholes that megafarms use to avoid even these higher limits.
We also need a Justice Department that will enforce antitrust laws, instead of spying on our public libraries. John Ashcroft should give Smithfield's purchase of Farmland Foods the close scrutiny it deserves.
This sale represents everything that is wrong with American agriculture today. As Smithfield gets bigger and bigger, family farms in Iowa and all over the heartland are squeezed out.
Not only is Smithfield the nation's biggest pork packer; it's also by far the biggest corporate hog producer. It fills its plants with its own hogs or hogs acquired through sweetheart deals with other giant pork producers.
It is especially ironic that the plants built largely by a cooperative of family farmers to ensure that they had access to markets are now being acquired by the company that is the biggest threat to family farmers' access to fair markets; the same company that filed suit to overturn Iowa's packer ban. Smithfield is the epitome of what Neil Harl calls the "deadly combination" of concentration and integration.
This combination leaves little hope for farmers. Big packers like Smithfield can easily manipulate markets and drive down the price they pay family farmers. And the deals that huge packers and processors cut the largest producers leave little room for independent producers who are all too often faced with a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum from their only potential buyers. This is not competition and this is not capitalism.
As president, I will make sure that a national packer ban becomes law.
I will also use the authority the president already holds under the Packers and Stockyards Act to take aggressive action to stop price discrimination by packers against small and medium sized livestock producers.
It's time to decide what kind of country we will be.
I believe that we cannot give up on our nation's ranching and farming communities. We've got to engage the entire country in this effort, because the entire country's future is at stake.
There's so much we have to do to restore our rural communities. It won't happen overnight. But we have to start now. We can't afford four more years of a president who treats rural America like it's nothing more than a campaign prop. We need a president who will make the investment in our rural communities that America deserves.
The biggest lie that people like me tell people like you is, "Elect me and I'll solve all your problems. "The truth is, the future of rural America lies in your hands, not mine.
Abraham Lincoln said that a government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
But this president has forgotten ordinary people.
You have the power to reclaim our nation's destiny.
You have the power to bring hope back to rural America.
You have the power to make agriculture a business where the family farmer is welcome again.
You have the power to take our country back.
And we have the power to take the White House back in 2004.