In the wake of the Republican Party’s lukewarm 2016 campaign platform to help the nation’s agricultural sector get a leg up, it looked like there was an opportunity for Democrats to capitalize.
After all, the GOP positions on agriculture and trade probably didn’t bring much love to the nation’s heartland — the farmers and ranchers who are largely responsible for our food security.
The GOP, the historic party of free trade deals, and its standard bearer Donald Trump roundly rejected the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations. That rejection came despite the American Farm Bureau Federation’s enthusiastic support for the deal.
The GOP all but declared economic war on China, which the party says unfairly manipulates its own currency to gain trade advantage over the U.S.
Trump minces no words:
“We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing.”
But I imagine American soybean producers are not too keen to see a trade war with China, which imports roughly one out of every four U.S. soybean bushels and is at least partially responsible for profitable futures prices at the Chicago Board of Trade.
The GOP promised to overhaul Title 1 of the Farm Bill, which contains safety-net provisions should a producer’s crop fails for reasons beyond their control.
Just what Republicans would replace the current system with is a mystery.
That alone should give farmers pause, but even more disconcerting is that in the last farm bill negotiations GOP hawks looked to decimate the system to save government a few bucks.
So, Democrats had an opportunity recently at its national convention to step into the breach and make some political hay by offering a nuanced vision for farmers that would resonate in battleground red states.
But the Dems largely whiffed with the national platform.
The 55-page document – offering detailed and sometimes even inspiring policy on a wide range of issues – was mostly MIA when it came to agriculture. Some of it was boilerplate:
“We will work to build a stronger rural and agricultural economy. Democrats will increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers with particular attention given to promoting environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. We will encourage programs to protect and enhance family farms, a cherished way of life for millions of Americans.”
But the Democrat National Platform also rejected the TPP, a function of primary rival Bernie Sanders pulling Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to the left on a trade deal she once supported.
And the Dems spent significant language defending climate change:
“Democrats share a deep commitment to tackling the climate challenge; creating millions of good paying middle class jobs; reducing greenhouse gas emissions more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050; and meeting the pledge President Obama put forward in the landmark Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases to “well below” two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
That probably won’t play well among long standing GOP farmers and ranchers who have heard for years from Republican leadership that climate change is a hoax.
Are there things in the Democrat’s platform for the nation’s agricultural producers to rally around?
It calls for the first time increased funding for beginning farmers and more farm-worker protections, as well as expanding local food markets and regional food systems.
However, the lack of specifics is leaving Clinton speaker-bees sounding a little hollow.
Read what USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (who was reportedly in the running for the Vice President job until it went to Virginia Senator Tim Kaine) had to say in Politico:
“She listens. And that is extra important to agriculture… There are going to be circumstances that arise over the next four years where you are going to want someone who listens.”
Perhaps the Clinton campaign has done electoral map calculations and decided it doesn’t need largely red rural states to win.
Perhaps we’ll learn that Democrats care more about farmers and ranchers then they are letting on between now and November.
Perhaps we’ll come to learn that a Clinton administration has no real passion for agriculture beyond hunger programs.
But the Democrat’s agricultural platform is a lost opportunity to let the nation’s agricultural sector know that it gets it and it cares.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.