RAPID CITY, S.D. — The South Dakota Farm Bureau thinks there could be challenges ahead in the ag policy field, as President-elect Joe Biden may appoint people to key positions whose agendas differ from the Farm Bureau's.
“But we’ll address those as we go along,” said Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal.
VanderWal shared some of his insights with the membership at the Farm Bureau's 103rd annual convention in Rapid City Nov. 20-21. He said Farm Bureau officials are trying to learn all they can about the next president.
Agriculture has had some positive developments under the Trump administration, according to VanderWal. “Rolling back regulations and the trade deals and those kinds of things,” he said.
While on the campaign trail Biden shared few details about his vision for ag industry, except for brief references to a more aggressive climate change policy, which includes renewable energy sources. However, VanderWal emphasized Farm Bureau officials are already starting to work on their relationship with Biden and his staff.
“But we’re certainly interested in working with them on ag issues wherever we can. The biggest thing is to position our organization so we’re the most influential we can be on behalf of our members,” he said.
The Farm Bureau will be weighing in on several key cabinet positions that relate to agriculture and food production, but especially secretary of agriculture. So far, several names have been circulating as possible candidates, including U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Krysta Harden, who worked in USDA under the Obama administration. VanderWal said at this point they aren’t sure if there are any individuals who are front-runners.
Other key positions, according to VanderWal, include EPA administrator and the secretary of the interior. He said the Farm Bureau has had a good working relationship with the EPA under the current administration and has gotten a lot of things done that are beneficial to agriculture. That, he remarked, has been unusual compared to the EPA under the last several presidents.
“These are crucial to agriculture and really affects what we do, especially from a regulatory standpoint. It’s a financial burden in cases, and with the Trump administration they lifted some of that. So we’ll be looking to also minimize those,” he said.
He indicated regulations are necessary, but overregulation is something the Farm Bureau is very much opposed to.
Looking ahead at the agricultural agenda with the new Congress, VanderWal said the Farm Bureau will be focused on immigration reform.
“We haven’t been successful in getting that through the last few Congresses yet; maybe in this next one we’ll find some receptive people,” he said.
The good news is there have been early indications the Biden administration may also be willing to support legislation to help solve the ag labor crisis. Another top priority includes expanding broadband across the nation, but especially in rural areas.
“We’ve had numerous virtual meetings over the last few months, and it has accentuated the fact that we really need access across the nation,” VanderWal said.
Plus, he said the organization wants to see some reform within the Natural Resources Conservation Service regarding how the agency treats landowners looking at wetland regulations and determinations.
“We’ve had a couple of court cases and a national appeal decision that says that NRCS was not following their own rules and not being fair to landowners,” he said.
He said they haven’t gotten anywhere asking NRCS how the agency is going to comply with those rules, so they are working with Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., on a bill that would help change that culture.
The hope with a new Congress is that there will be more cooperation among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
“We hope that the Senate can remain in Republican control to buffer some of the real radical agenda items that some people have. A balance and differing opinions in the decision-making bodies is a good thing,” VanderWal said.
Farm Bureau members also passed grassroots policy during the annual meeting. Plus, they heard updates from state officials, including Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, about the coming state legislative session and the proposal to merge the state Department of Agriculture with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.