Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, seeking votes in Iowa, on Tuesday offered a plan to aid smaller farms, expand the renewable fuels industry and establish incentives for organic production.
The Illinois senator called for a goal of producing 2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol by 2013 while ensuring that such an expansion doesn't increase pollution. Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production.
"We must be vigilant to ensure that we do this in a sustainable fashion so that land and water resources are conserved," Obama said.
Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards are in a close fight in Iowa, which starts the nomination process with caucuses. Edwards also focused on rural issues as he campaigned in Dunlap, Iowa, arguing that his rural upbringing in South Carolina makes him unique among the candidates.
"None of the other candidates come from small towns in rural America, and I do, and because of that, I spend a lot of time and energy on what we need to do to strengthen rural America," Edwards told a crowd of about 150 in a cattle auction cafeteria.
Edwards called for enforcing antitrust laws to thwart corporate farming operations from monopolizing the business, capping farm subsidy payments at $250,000 and establishing a national fund to increase investments in rural communities. He also favors improving Internet access and offering bonuses of up to $15,000 to bring in top teachers to needy rural areas.
Campaigning with Edwards was former Georgia Rep. Ben Jones, who played Cooter in the popular 1980s show, "The Dukes of Hazzard." Jones criticized former President Clinton in touting Edwards' candidacy.
"Let me put it this way, I think the world of Barack Obama and he is the future of this party. Hillary Clinton and Slick Willie and those people, they are the past," Jones said. "John Edwards is the present for the Democratic Party."
Obama told voters that if elected president, he would hold a rural policy summit in Iowa and submit a package of proposals to Congress within the first 100 days in office.
"Real leadership for rural America starts with one simple principle: listening," Obama said. "You know when you get out and talk to folks you are reminded there is a lot that all of America can learn from rural America."
Obama outlined his plan at an eastern Iowa farm to a small group of supporters and reporters, who stood outside in a cold drizzle. His proposal, parts of which had been offered before, included:
_ A $250,000 limit on subsidy payments to farmers as well as strict environmental rules and enforcement for large livestock operations.
_ Creation of new cost-sharing programs to help farmers get certification as organic farmers, and revamping crop insurance programs to avoid penalizing organic producers.
_ A goal of a 50 percent increase in the economy's energy efficiency by 2030.
_ A change to allow small businesses to pool together to offer health insurance for workers, with subsidies for those who can't afford it. Also, overhaul the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement system that can penalize rural areas.
_ Loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses who practice in rural areas. Also, revamp community college programs to "reflect the increasingly dynamic and technical skills required for rural America to respond to a globalizing workforce."