Presumptive presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain spoke to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Council of Presidents meeting on July 16 by teleconference, both pledging their continued support for American agriculture.

Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.), first to speak, pledged to support trade agreements that will open markets to U.S. agriculture.

“I believe the American agricultural worker is the most efficient and productive in the world and one of my jobs is to open every market in the world to your products,” McCain said.

Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) followed McCain and emphasized his support of the recently passed farm bill.

“I would have liked to have seen some additional reforms in the bill, but on balance the bill did a lot more good than bad because it dramatically increased the funding to fight hunger, it increased funding for conservation, and it provided farmers with stability in an increasingly volatile market,” Obama said.

“Rural America stands at a crossroads. Now more than ever we need a strong agricultural sector. We rely on the farmers of America to produce safe, plentiful food at a reasonable price. And even with the increase in food prices, Americans only spend 10 percent of their income on food which is the lowest of any country in the world,” Obama said. “America is also looking to agriculture to help make us energy independent.”

Both McCain and Obama emphasized the need of agriculture to meet America’s energy needs. McCain heralded his “Lexington Project” to make America energy independent which includes alternative fuels, ethanol, nuclear, and offshore drilling.

Both candidates touched on two key issues for American agriculture: the estate tax and immigration reform.

McCain said the first $10 million of an estate should be exempt from the estate tax with anything above the $10 million level taxed at a 15 percent rate. “It’s outrageous that you can’t pass onto your children and grandchildren the hard-won fruits of your labor,” McCain told the farm leaders.

Obama said he would keep the estate tax exemption at the 2009 rate, $3.5 million for single filers and $7 million for married couples, but pledged to not raise it above that level. He said the $7 million level will exempt 99.7 percent of all taxpayers.

“The truth is a complete repeal of the estate tax would cost the government $1 trillion over the first 10 years at a time when our country has some huge priorities,” Obama said. “To finance that repeal, we’d either have to borrow money or we’d have to raise taxes on families who never even benefit from the estate tax or slash $1 trillion in public services.”

Both McCain and Obama emphasized the need for immigration reform to meet the current labor crisis facing agriculture.

McCain highlighted the need for a temporary worker program.

“We need a temporary worker program associated with tamper-proof biometric documents so that you as an employer will know that the person is a temporary worker and you won’t have to worry about a Social Security card or a birth certificate,” McCain said. “We can solve this immigration problem. We have to fix our broken borders.”

Obama pledged to have comprehensive immigration reform done in his first year of office.

“Without immigrant workers, a lot of farms in America would shut down. My commitment to you is that at a minimum we would have the Ag Jobs section of the immigration reform package done hopefully by the first year,” Obama said.