US PRESIDENT George W Bush has promised further tax breaks for farmers, extra funds for conservation and greater incentives for biofuel if he wins next week‘s presidential election.
Responding to questions posed by the American Farms Bureau Federation, Mr Bush pointed out that, since his 2002 Farm Bill, US farm incomes had risen to record levels, while the use of emergency aid was shrinking.
But there was more to do, and one of his priorities was to repeal the federal death tax “to make it easier for farmers to pass their land on to their children”.
He also pointed to other tax improvements he had introduced over the past four years, including doubling the child tax credit and quadrupling investment relief for small businesses.
On conservation, Mr Bush said he preferred voluntary measures and was trying to encourage farmers to extend their contracts under the “conservation reserve programme”. He also proposed a conservation tax credit.
The Republican said he was committed to encouraging bioethanol production and was seeking an extension of the tax credit for electricity generated from biomass.
He wanted to see 5bn gallons a year of ethanol and biodiesel blended with motor fuel.
But equally green and farmer-friendly policies have been put forward by Democrat and presidential rival John Kerry.
He has promised immediate death tax relief and called for the elimination of capital gains tax for long-term investments in start-up businesses.
Mr Kerry said there was a need to expand the voluntary, incentive-based conservation programme “to provide more support for our farmers, ranchers and rural communities”.
And he proposed a new “clean fuels partnership” so that 20% of motor fuel and electricity came from non-fossil sources by 2020.
On trade, both candidates promised to extend the US Trade Promotion Authority.
Mr Bush said he was “deeply committed to opening up markets overseas for US farmers”, while Mr Kerry criticised the EU for closing its markets to “safe” products derived from biotechnology.
The USA goes to the polls on Nov 2 and, given how close the race for the White House is, the rural vote has assumed unprecedented importance.
“The rural vote accounted for 23% of the electorate in the last presidential election,” said Bob Stallman of the AFBF.
“It seems that candidates realise that attention must be paid to that percentage when the election outcome could ride on less than 1%.”