Opinion: Rural America wondering if POTUS is their (Ag) guy

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Dave Dickey

There’s this iconic moment in the movie “Animal House” — FOOD FIGHT!

That sums up the first unsettling weeks of the new U.S. administration.

In so many ways, agricultural middle American has got to be wondering what the heck is going on.

Think about it.

Here are the particulars:

First, the POTUS signed an executive order “officially” withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal that USDA number crunchers thought could boost U.S. exports by more than $7 billion annually. Replacing that sure thing are a few promises to work out some bilateral deals that will “Make America Great Again.”

Second, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered up a proposal to tax imports from deficit countries “like Mexico” in order to build the president’s promised impenetrable shield (i.e. wall) with our southern neighbor (what President Trump says are the “bad hombres”).

The Spicer announcement has since morphed into the much grander Paul Ryan GOP House border adjustment tax plan – a massive tax overhaul that will change the trade balance nation by nation with the U.S. in order to fund lower U.S. corporate tax rates.

And, oh-by-the-way, has the potential to disproportionately hurt U.S. farmers who get about 20 percent of their annual revenue from trade. The U.S. ag industry currently enjoys a $5 billion trade surplus with the rest of the world. That’s a lot of soybeans, grains, dairy, meat nuts, fruit, vegetables, wine, hay – well you get the idea.

U.S. consumers would also likely pay more for their favorite foreign foods.

Third, the prez was so appreciative of Red Ag Nation handing him an Electoral College victory that he took 71 days to get around to naming Sonny Perdue as his USDA secretary nominee.

Fourth, President Trump reportedly is getting tough (and offending) two of American’s biggest trade partners, Mexico and China.

Fifth, the U.S. is signaling that it’s not out of the question to tear up the North America Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico because it’s a bad deal.

U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada totaled $42 billion in 2015.

Renegotiating NAFTA will take negotiating skills of the highest order. If history is any indication, Mexico will have no problem with retaliatory action if trade talks get rocky.

Exhibit A: Back in 2009, Mexico instituted tariffs against dozens of U.S. ag products because the U.S. failed to honor NAFTA rules on Mexican trucks.

And if that’s not enough, this week Mexico threatened to sucker punch the U.S. right in its grain belt by terminating corn purchases in favor of doing business with Brazil and Argentina.

Sixth, middle ag America simply does not have multiple seats on the president’s cabinet nor appear to have a voice in the president’s inner circle of advisers.

It remains to be seen if U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary nominee Sonny Perdue’s heart lies with ag producers or corporate ag America.

Seventh, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the U.S. is charting a new course on the issue of climate change, scrubbing federal websites of research on the issue and suggesting that more study is needed to tie human action to global warming.

Eighth, the president put a delay on new Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration rules that would make it easier for individual producers to seek relief in the courts for unfair treatment.

Ninth (and certainly not least) POTUS policy toward undocumented immigrants threatens to totally destabilize the U.S. fruit industry.

OK – big breath.

It may all work out well for U.S. agriculture in the end.

But I got to think there’s plenty of concern over the Trump administration roll out and what it portends for the nation’s farm community. It’s a mixed bag for sure.

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 dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch

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