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Trade, ag workers questionable under Trump regime

WASHINGTON — American agriculture is likely to get a lot of what it wants out of President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, but not the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement or more farm workers. 

Farmers and ranchers who oppose the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule, are likely to see it and other regulations rescinded by Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency or Congress.

But farmers want to keep the Renewable Fuel Standard, which determines how much ethanol and other renewable fuels the country uses, and they may face a battle over that.

Trump campaigned on the RFS during the Iowa caucuses, but then took on Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., an RFS critic, as his energy adviser. When Trump was asked about the implications of relying on Cramer, he said he wouldn’t do anything until he discussed it with Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who is a big supporter of the RFS. The question for agriculture will be whether Trump appoints an EPA administrator who is both pro-RFS and anti-regulation.

Trump has put Washington lobbyist Mike Torrey in charge of the transition at the Agriculture Department. Torrey, a Kansan who once worked for then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., is a well known lobbyist with mainstream connections. The most likely appointee for Agriculture secretary would be a governor or former governor.

On the Food and Drug Administration, a lot of people in the food industry are hoping for a softening of regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act that was passed during the Obama years. But Trump’s obsession with cleanliness means he is unlikely to pull back on food safety regulation. He says he prefers to eat in fast food restaurants because he believes the cleanliness standards are higher there.

The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Feed the Future program within it could be important. During the Obama years USAID has promoted agricultural development in poor countries rather than food aid. Support for developing agriculture in other countries grew during the years of high commodity prices. Feed the Future has split agriculture because the equipment and irrigation companies and to a degree the seed companies have favored it while farm groups have not been thrilled about it. Until this year Feed the Future had been cobbled together by taking money and personnel from other USDA programs. This year Congress finally passed the Global Food Security Act, which authorizes the program. Trump can’t get rid of it. The question is how it is managed. In a period of low commodity prices, sending U.S. commodities as food aid may be more important to farmers than in the years when prices were high and there were shortages.

The current farm bill will expire on Sept. 30, 2018, and there are pressures to finish it early because crop, dairy and livestock prices are low.

The agenda for the farm bill has not really emerged so it’s hard to tell how Trump and his team would think about the farmers demands. The best news for the farm bill about Trump’s re-election is that his agriculture advisers believe reauthorization of the food stamp program, which is key to getting urban members of the House to vote for the bill, needs to stay in the farm bill. Sam Clovis, the college professor who has been a campaign co-chairs, made that statement at a recent the Farm Foundation event in Washington. House conservatives will want to separate the farm bill and food stamps in hopes of destroying both problems, but the prospects are good that the farm program and food stamps will stay together.

The election results, with the Republicans maintaining control of the Senate and the House, means that there will be no changes to congressional agricultural leadership. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will stay in place and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., will remain the top Democrat. There are also likely to be few changes to committee membership. If the Democrats had won, Stabenow would have pushed to finish the farm bill before the 2018 election when she is running for re-election. But now that Michigan voted for Trump, Republicans may hope to elect a Republican senator from that state and not want to give Stabenow that a farm bill feather in her cap.

On the House side, Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, will remain chairman and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., will remain the ranking Democrat. Reps. Rick Nolan and Tim Walz, Minnesota Democrats who also serve on the committee, were re-elected. But there are likely to be changes to the membership of the House Agriculture Committee as lower-ranking members move to other committees they consider more prestigious and powerful.

Farm groups including the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and the National Potato Council have begun a push to convince Congress to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement during the lame duck session of Congress that begins next week, but the prospects are not good.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, have both said there should be no vote until after Trump, who is vigorously opposed to the agreement, takes office.

NAWG noted that, since February, wheat growers have seen their average cash prices drop from an already unprofitable $4.90 per bushel to a devastating $3.50 per bushel.

“Wheat growers depend on export markets like those in South Asia and Latin America that are growing, but highly competitive,” said NAWG President Gordon Stoner, a wheat farmer from Outlook, Mont. “When implemented, TPP will help ease the pain of low prices by expanding demand for our wheat in those markets. Now more than ever, we cannot afford to lose even more momentum in these markets from Congress letting this opportunity to ratify TPP slip by.”

TPP could also help potato producers with tariff reductions in Japan and Vietnam, the National Potato Council said. “The time is now to finally approve this historic agreement. Let’s not allow the work done to this point to fade away,” said NPC Executive Vice President and CEO John Keeling.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, have both said there should be no vote until after Trump, who is vigorously opposed to the agreement, takes office.

The biggest economic improvement that rural America and the rest of the country could get out of a Trump administration might be a rehabilitation of the nation’s infrastructure, which would also create jobs. But rural America is likely to have to fight for its fair share of that money. Sixty-two percent of rural Americans voted for Trump and the claim can be made that Trump owes rural America and farming big time. But of course, the big numbers of Trump voters came from the towns and particularly the manufacturing workers or former manufacturing workers

Mike Steenhoek,the executive director of the Iowa-based Soy Transportation Coalition said this week that it was "notable" that President-elect Donald Trump included infrastructure in his post-election acceptance speech, but that there will be several challenges if Trump decides to push his infrastructure program.

“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it," Trump said.

Steenhoek noted that an infrastructure program offers a way for a new administration to show the voters something tangible. But he added, “The beguiling question will be how to pay for new investment. President-elect Trump throughout the campaign offered little insight into the potential sources of funding. The willingness, or lack thereof, of Congress to collaborate with him remains to be seen."