Hello, Mr. President

President Barack Obama visited campus Friday to sign farm bill

Following an address that covered agriculture and the economy, President Barack Obama signed the farm bill into law Friday afternoon on MSU’s campus.

MSU students, faculty and alumni rubbed shoulders with local elected officials and other dignitaries in the tightly-packed Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center.

Veterinary student Chelsea Render spent 15 months in Washington, D.C. working on the legislation and was on hand for the bill signing Friday. To her, it felt like things had come full circle.

Julia Nagy / The State News

“I couldn’t have created in my head a better way to see it come to fruition,” Render said.

She said she hopes she’ll see the effects of the legislation when she begins work on farms as a veterinarian after graduation.

In front of a backdrop of artifacts from pastoral America, including a tractor and hay bales, Obama’s remarks before the signing highlighted agriculture’s importance to the economy and emphasized ways the legislation would benefit farmers throughout the country.

Obama began his remarks with a declaration of “Go green,” to which the audience replied heartily. He joked that he also was in East Lansing “to do some scouting on my brackets,” and praised MSU’s football and basketball teams.

Obama touted the economy’s positive outlook, but addressed economic inequality.

“We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just a few,” Obama said.

He said the country must “guarantee access to a world-class education for every child, not just some.”

Agriculture is Michigan’s second-largest industry and makes up almost one in four jobs in the state. Obama also made special mention in his remarks that at MSU “some students are even raising their own piglets on an organic farm.”

Psychology junior Alexis Hinson works in the Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment and is active in education efforts on the Student Organic Farm. Although she was not one of the two RISE students at the bill signing, Hinson said she was ecstatic when she heard the president mentioned the program.

“It was incredible one person who can make such a huge change acknowledged the work that we’re doing out there,” Hinson said.

The president arrived at Capital Region International Airport aboard Air Force One in frigid weather and toured the Michigan Biotechnology Institute in Lansing before traveling to MSU.

The institute has been owned by the Michigan State University Foundation since 2005 and works to implement biotechnologies on a larger scale. MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon accompanied Obama on a tour of the plant, where he viewed technologies being developed to convert agricultural byproducts and biofuels into fuel and animal feed.

When the president arrived at the equine performance center, a small group of protesters had gathered outside to voice their opposition to the policies of the Obama administration.

Several dozen MSU students were seated in bleachers to the left of the stage at the Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center. A few hundred invited guests were seated around the stage and as seating became scarce, attendees perched along the walls to get a better glimpse of the president.

MSU Acting Provost June Youatt opened the event and said “many MSU programs, and also Michigan farms and citizens,” would benefit from the legislation. Youatt introduced U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

An MSU alumna, Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and worked to get the farm bill through Congress, a process that took three years. MSU political science professor Paul Abramson said the president’s decision to sign the legislation at MSU might have been made as a favor to the senator.

She hailed the legislation as a bipartisan effort and espoused a multitude of the bill’s positive benefits. Stabenow said the farm bill would increase jobs and promote use of biofuels, increase conservation efforts and promote economic development.

“Michigan State is incredibly important here,” Stabenow said. “As a premier agricultural research facility, they’re going to benefit from a new research foundation that we’ve established in the bill that will give permanent ongoing funding for research.”

The farm bill, officially known as the Agriculture Act of 2014, will bring sweeping changes that the Michigan Farm Bureau has said “marks a paradigm shift in farm policy.”

The legislation’s largest impact will be the ending of direct payment subsidies to farmers — cash directly paid to farmers to raise the price of the crops they grow, regardless of circumstance. Ending the subsidies will cut spending by $23.3 billion.

The president was introduced by a farmer from Leelanau County, Mich., whose cherry crops would be insured under the new act.

The farm bill will institute a new type of financial safety net for farmers, expanding crop insurance to specialty fruit and vegetable crops that are widely grown in Michigan. Unlike subsidies, the insurance would only be disbursed because of events such as natural disasters and crop price drops.

The president said the farm bill has a reach that extends beyond agriculture.

“It’s creating more good jobs, and gives more Americans a shot at opportunity,” Obama said.

The government’s food stamp program also received a cut under the new legislation of about $9 billion — smaller cuts than many Republicans desired — but Obama said the legislation would help more vulnerable Americans.

Obama used his remarks before the bill signing to announce a “Made in Rural America” initiative.

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