Well, three months have come and gone with a new administration in the White House and new leadership on Capitol Hill. So what kind of job have they done in addressing the problems and issues impacting rural America, the large voting block that put many of them in their jobs? My assessment is they deserve a C. While progress has been made on some things, many others have been ignored or relegated to the bottom of the To Do List.
Let’s start with the accomplishments. When it comes to unwinding some of the worst abuses of the previous administration, the White House and Congress are off to a good start. Dismantling WOTUS, ending the war on coal, nixing the new GIPSA rules, and several other burdensome regulations and policies have been reversed. In addition, both the President and the new head of the EPA have taken strong stands in support of renewable fuels and the RFS.
Congress also gets high marks for aggressively working on a new Farm Bill. Both House and Senate leaders are holding hearings, taking input, and tackling tough issues like nutrition. While we still have a long way to go, the writing of a new Farm Bill looks to be off to a good start.
The same cannot be said for the Secretary of Agriculture. Not only was Sonny Perdue the last cabinet officer picked, it looks like he may be one of the last to be confirmed. While agriculture is solidly behind the selection of the former Georgia Governor, the leaders of the Senate are too busy playing politics to take 10 minutes to confirm him. It is possible that the confirmation vote may not come until sometime in late April, a totally ridiculous turn of events and a demonstration on just how little the leadership of both parties care about rural America. “Those gutless wonders back there in Washington cannot make a decision,“ said well-known Kansas University ag economist Berry Flinchbaugh in a recent speech on ag policy.
Known for his candor, Flinchbaugh also had sharp words for the Trump administration on the issues of trade and immigration. “It’s rather simple, at least when you look at the economics,” Flinchbaugh said. “Agriculture needs a permanent, legal, immigrant workforce. End of story.” Seventy percent of the agricultural industry’s workforce is in the country illegally and about half of the cows milked in the U.S. are milked by immigrants who came to the country illegally, according to Flinchbaugh.
“And guess what?” Flinchbaugh asked. “You have to milk those cows every day. A seasonal workforce doesn’t work. That is so simple, I can even teach that to KU students.” Thus far, most of the activity on immigration has centered around kicking people out or not letting them in, not on solving the problem of our current illegal workforce.
The issue that has caused the most concern in agriculture is trade. The President dumped TPP and has indicated he wants to re-write the NAFTA deal. While he has committed the U.S. to a course of bi-lateral trade agreements, no trade initiatives have been undertaken, thus uncertainty remains high. At a time when U.S. farmers have massive surpluses of grain and soybeans that are keeping prices low, there is no leadership from Washington directed at stimulating demand for our products.
Seemingly the leaders in Congress and the Trump administration are out of touch with what is happening in agriculture today. Land prices, crop prices, and farm income are all falling. Yet, there is no sense of urgency to address the issue. Even the few who are trying to get some action taken are blocked by the myopic obsession with social issues. Unless things change next quarter, Washington will get a failing grade.
By Gary Truitt