For the past 8 years, many in agriculture have felt the federal government was at war with the American farmer. During his first few days at the USDA, Secretary Vilsack ruffled feathers in mainline ag circles by saying rural development would be the top priority of his administration not commodity programs. Then, the EPA tried to ban atrazine, regulate dust and water in ditches, used drones to spy on livestock operations, released farmer data to activist groups, reduced ethanol blend levels, and enacted a host of restrictive and burdensome regulations aimed at changing how farmers farm. Then, the Labor Department tried to keep kids from working on the farm. The White House itself got in on the act as the first lady took a personal hand in rewriting school lunch menus across the nation. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress pushed through mandatory County of Origin legislation, a re-write of FDA food safety rules, and mandatory GMO labeling. All of this played no small part in the rural revolt that put Donald Trump in the White House.
Thus, it is not surprising that since day one of his administration, President Trump has been aggressively and systematically dismantling many of the policy changes made by President Obama. One of his first actions was to do away with WOTUS . The latest is to do away with the core of the Obama climate change program: restriction on coal burning power plants. Now the EPA has decided to continue allowing the use of the insecticide chlorpyrifos, stating that the science surrounding human health effects is too uncertain to justify its own proposed ban on food tolerances. This is a sign of the new philosophy at the agency.
Even the rhetoric has changed. EPA head Scott Pruitt told cattlemen recently that he will “Return the rule of law to EPA.” Things are changing at the Interior department where the land management and conservation efforts of farmers and ranchers are now being praised and seen as valued. With this as a backdrop, one can only imagine what will happen once we finally get a new Secretary of Agriculture. The protracted confirmation process of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has kept the USDA in a holding pattern.
Like the workout gurus say, “No pain no gain.” While we are likely to gain some much-needed reform, there is going to be some pain. We have already seen the likelihood of big budget cuts at many federal agencies. This is going to mean someone’s ox gets gored. In addition, the Trump agenda on other issues like trade, immigration, and tax reform will have an impact on agriculture, with the exact direction and consequences still unknown. Over the next few months, the undoing will continue; but soon the new Congress and the new Administration will have to start doing or in some cases re-doing U.S. Agriculture and food policy and regulations.
By Gary Truitt