Former congressman Charlie Stenholm and retired agricultural economics professor Barry Flinchbaugh joked that they have agreed to disagree on most agricultural policies – and other things political. But there seemed to be more agreement between the old friends on Sunday than disagreement.
In what was billed as “The Great Debate,” Stenholm and Flinchbaugh spent two hours talking about ag policy – and ribbing one another – in front of an estimated 300 agricultural journalists gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, for the annual Ag Media Summit.
Stenholm served 26 years in the U.S. Congress as a representative from the Abiliene-based 17th district, Texas, and for six years was the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee. Flinchbaugh, who described himself as an Independent, is the out-spoken retired professor of agricultural economics from Kansas State University.
Flinchbaugh outlined four topics of discussion for the two men to address: Renewable fuels and climate change; World trade Organization bilateral trade agreement; farm programs; and the cultural wars affecting agriculture.
Flinchbaugh said that it is “stupid” for farmers to argue that climate change is a hoax because “the political system worldwide has decided that it’s for real.” Better, he says, for farmers and farm organizations to get involved in the debate about renewable fuels, cap-and-trade, and other legislation that will affect them.
Addressing the issue of renewable fuels, Stenholm said our goals must be “realistic.” Specifically, he predicted that by the year 2030 the world will still depend on fossil fuels for 85 percent of its energy needs. Therefore, he said, the discussion should be about supplemental fuels rather than renewable fuels.
Flinchbaugh emphatically stated that the Doha round – the current trade-negotiation round of the World Trade Organization – needs to be settled. Settling that agreement would help American farmers, he said, because ag trade is down this year by 17 percent.
Addressing what he called the cultural wars, Flinchbaugh called “conventional agriculture versus organics a damned stupid argument.” He noted that one-third of the world goes hungry or malnourished, and that “only large-scale commercial farmers can feed the world.”
Stenholm agreed with those remarks, and noted that the animal rights/welfare movement has become very emotional, and that many people in that movement don’t “know what we (in agriculture) are doing.”
Answering a question from the audience about country-of-origin labeling, professor Flinchbaugh called it “pure crap,” and said, “COOL has no place in global trade. The typical American will have to pay 11 percent more for American food,” under COOL regulations.
Stenholm was known during his career in Congress as a blue-dog Democrat, with a moderate to conservative voting record. Flinchbaugh has famously stated his views on ag policy for decades, many of them conservative, but always colorful.