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On Campaign Tour of Rural Missouri, McCaskill Calls on Akin to Support Farm Bill

Cattle farmer Bill Stancer, left, of Cabool, shares his concerns with Senator Claire McCaskill at the West Plains Regional

US Senator Claire McCaskill is on a six-day campaign tour of rural Missouri, visiting with farmers and ranchers. KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson saw McCaskill at the salebarn in West Plains this week, and files this report on the Farm Bill that has stalled in Washington.

[Sound:  Auctioneer in salebarn]

The auctioneer’s voice is going a mile a minute in front of about 70 ranchers and cattle farmers. Many of them are here to cull their herds—that’s rancher lingo for get rid of a few.

Jerry Strain of Thayer owns about 100 head of beef cattle.

He says he’s already cleaned out five of his ponds to maximize their water supply, and others have run dry because of the drought.

Strain: “And if I didn’t have wells with water, I’d have to sell everything.  And we’ve bought two trailer-loads of hay from the South, and we’re probably gonna have to have two more...we didn’t grow anything. No water.”

Davidson: “So, you’re having the extra expense of hay—of having to pay for hay—that normally, probably, you would grow?”

Strain: “Yeah.  I never buy hay. I can usually sell hay if I want to. But not this year.”

In the salebarn restaurant, Senator McCaskill sat and chatted with another cattle rancher, Bill Stancer, of Cabool.

[Sound:  conversation between Stancer and McCaskill]

McCaskill’s here to campaign for her re-election in November, and knows she will need rural voters to beat her opponent, conservative Congressman Todd Akin.

At the salebarn, McCaskill touted her own rural Missouri roots, but spoke mostly about the Farm Bill, which is usually renewed every five years. The Farm Bill is a massive, comprehensive bill that deals with agriculture and food policy…and its price tag is about $100 Billion a year.

The Senate passed the bill—both McCaskill and Missouri’s Republican Senator, Roy Blunt, voted for it. But GOP conservatives in the US House have prevented it from coming to a vote there so far.

McCaskill criticized Akin and other Republicans in the House for blocking the bill, which would pay for crop insurance for farmers and other assistance programs. Akin has voted against two Farm Bills in the past.  

A spokesman for the Akin campaign, Ryan Hite, said the reason Akin voted against those farm bills was that a majority of the farm bill’s funding goes to pay for food stamp programs. Hite said Akin is looking forward to getting back to Washington to see if he can vote on the issues separately—food stamps and assistance for farmers.

McCaskill, however, says the food stamp program was cut significantly in this year’s Farm Bill.

“So, this is a huge part of our economy.  And to have this rigid, outside of the mainstream notion that we can let the Farm Bill blow up over an argument as to how much we can cut food stamps just seems to me to be…while we’re arguing about that, these guys are up here liquidating their herds,” she said.

Akin recently won the endorsement of the Missouri Farm Bureau’s Political Action Committee, which said it was endorsing the Republican because he wants to cut spending and repeal President Obama’s federal healthcare act.

The US House passed a disaster relief package for farmers and ranchers, but that didn’t get anywhere in the Senate.

Lawmakers have until the end of September to pass a Farm Bill.  

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.