State of the Union Kicks Off 2024 Race

In Rowdy Speech, President Details Some Ag and Food Issues, But Fails to Tout a Farm Bill

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
President Joe Biden gave his State of the Union speech Thursday night before a rowdy Congress. He pushed on several areas, including border security, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. Biden tried to make a distinction between himself and his predecessor, who he will face in the general election. (DTN image from C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- In a State of the Union speech Thursday night, amounting to the opening of the 2024 presidential election campaign, which analysts described as forceful and feisty, President Joe Biden addressed several issues of interest to the agriculture and food industries.

The president's speech included a long list of legislation and while he gave a nod to family farmers and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Biden did not call on Congress to pass a farm bill this year. At least one farm group noted that omission and cited some of the challenges facing producers.

Highlighting the war in Gaza, Biden said the United States will build a pier on the Gaza coast to receive humanitarian aid, including food, and called on Congress to pass a bill sponsored by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., to stop "shrinkflation" in food packages.

"Tonight, I'm directing the U.S. military to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast that can receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters," Biden said.

"No U.S. boots will be on the ground. This temporary pier would enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day."

But amid criticism for the strong support his administration has provided to Israel since Hamas invaded in October and Israel has responded, Biden said, "But Israel must also do its part. Israel must allow more aid into Gaza and ensure that humanitarian workers aren't caught in the crossfire. . . . Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip."

Food aid delivered to the Gaza pier could potentially relieve the near-famine conditions there.


In a separate section of the speech dealing with inflation and the economy, Biden said, "Too many corporations raise their prices to pad their profits, charging you more and more for less and less. That's why we're cracking down on corporations that engage in price gouging or deceptive pricing from food to health care to housing."

"In fact, snack companies think you won't notice when they charge you just as much for the same size bag but with fewer chips in it," he added.

Diverting from his prepared text, Biden said, "Pass Bobby Casey's bill and stop this" -- a reference to a bill sponsored by the Pennsylvania senator to direct the Federal Trade Commission to promulgate regulations to establish "shrinkflation" as an unfair or deceptive act or practice and prohibiting manufacturers from engaging in it.

In a news release, Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI -- The Food Industry Association, said, "The food industry continues to face headwinds and economic hurdles, such as persistently high labor costs, ever increasing interchange fees for credit card payments, fees our pharmacies pay on every prescription to pharmacy benefit managers, and an increasingly burdensome regulatory framework."

"If the president is truly committed to reducing food inflation, reeling in excessive credit card swipe fees through support for legislation like the bipartisan, bicameral Credit Card Competition Act should be at the top of his agenda," Sarasin said. That bill was introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The Republican staff of the Senate Agriculture Committee uploaded a blog post late Thursday that said "shrinkflation" is "on average accounting for less than 2 percentage points of the overall price increases."

Instead, the blog says, "The historic and persistent inflation that continues to plague the U.S. economy, and food prices in particular, is driven by trillions of dollars in federal spending championed by the president. Bidenomics overheated an economy recovering from COVID-19 supply chain disruptions and is chiefly responsible for the record-high food costs that continue to sap earnings from hardworking Americans."


In another diversion from his prepared text, Biden praised Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack without mentioning him by name.

The reference came after Biden said his policies are "providing affordable high-speed internet for every American no matter where you live. Urban, suburban, and rural communities -- in red states and blue states. Record investments in tribal communities."

Biden's text then read, "Because of my investments, family farms are better be able to stay in the family and children and grandchildren won't have to leave home to make a living. It's transformative."

He then said, "Because of my investments in the family farm led by my secretary of Agriculture who knows more about this than anybody I know, we're better able to stay on those farms so their children and grandchildren won't have to leave home, leave home to make a living. It's transformative."

The National Association of Wheat Growers, responding to the speech, noted the president missed a chance to advocate for passing a farm bill.

"While the president addressed many issues of importance to the American people -- such as inflation, food prices, and food security -- the costs of on-farm inputs and equipment remain high and concern many farmers," said Chandler Goule, CEO of NAWG. "Currently, we are operating under a one-year farm bill extension, and coming off NAWG's annual meeting, passing a long-term farm bill that supports farmers is one of our priorities and is at the top of our wheat growers' minds."

Goule also pointed to the need for bipartisanship. "The 2018 farm bill was a high watermark for bipartisanship. As Congress and the Biden Administration continue to work on a long-term farm bill, we must build upon the 2018 Farm Bill by strengthening the farm safety net, enhancing our trade promotion programs, and supporting the voluntary conservation programs that work for wheat growers."


In more general comments, Biden said the story of the American economy under his administration is "the greatest comeback story never told."

He noted, "Thanks to our Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, 46,000 new projects have been announced across your communities -- modernizing our roads and bridges, ports and airports, and public transit systems."

In a discussion about public trust, he said he has directed his cabinet to review the federal classification of marijuana, and expunge thousands of convictions for mere possession, "because no one should be jailed for using or possessing marijuana."

In one of his many references to "my predecessor," as he called President Donald Trump, Biden said he "will not demonize immigrants saying they 'poison the blood of our country' as he [Trump] said in his own words."

Biden continued, "Unlike my predecessor, on my first day in office I introduced a comprehensive plan to fix our immigration system, secure the border, and provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and so much more."

"We can fight about the border, or we can fix it. I'm ready to fix it.

"Send me the border bill now!"

On climate change, Biden said, "We are also making history by confronting the climate crisis, not denying it."

"I'm taking the most significant action on climate ever in the history of the world. I am cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030," he said.

"And patterned after the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, I've launched a Climate Corps to put 20,000 young people to work at the forefront of our clean energy future."

Biden noted, "And our trade deficit with China is down to the lowest point in over a decade. We're standing up against China's unfair economic practices. We want competition with China, but not conflict."

Biden also made the point that every president must make in a State of the Union speech: "Tonight we can proudly say the State of our Union is strong and getting stronger."

Democrats said after the speech they believed Biden had performed well and overcame concerns about his age.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, did not mention agriculture or food in his reaction to the speech.

Hoeven said, "President Biden and his administration continue to take our country in the wrong direction with their big government policies. Families are being challenged every day by rising costs, with paychecks that don't go as far as they used to everywhere from the grocery store to the gas pump."

"The president has failed to enforce our laws, which has led to the crisis at our southern border with record numbers of illegal crossings. Our adversaries, like Russia, China and Iran, are becoming more aggressive. Our nation is less safe, the dollar doesn't stretch as far as it used to, and the policies of this administration are making things worse.

"Instead, we need to focus on the fundamentals that have made our nation strong and empowered the American people to innovate and succeed. We can do that by controlling spending and cutting burdensome regulations to grow the economy."

Hoeven added, "We need to take the handcuffs off our domestic energy producers and utilize our abundant energy resources here in this country to lower costs for American families. We need to secure our border and enforce our laws. With security challenges around the world, we must continue to invest in our military and support our men and women in uniform.

"We'll continue to push back on President Biden's broken policies and work to advance these priorities for the good of the American people."

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at

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Jerry Hagstrom