State Farm Bureau presidents hold second panel discussion at the 2017 National Farm Machinery Show
(First Appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of The Farmer’s Pride)
By Ray Bowman
For the second straight year, Kentucky Farm Bureau used the National Farm Machinery Show as a backdrop for its Farm Bureau Presidents Panel discussion, moderated this year by AgriTalk radio’s Mike Adams.
Kentucky president Mark Haney was on hand to field policy questions, as was Richard Guebert of Illinois Farm Bureau and Jeff Aiken of the Tennessee Farm Bureau. Kendall Culp of Indiana was also scheduled for the summit but was forced to cancel due to a detached retina.
As the panelists came to the stage, word arrived that Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt had received Senate confirmation as new head of the Environmental Protection Agency by a narrow vote of 52 to 46.
During the Obama administration, much of the agriculture community saw the EPA as their enemy due to policies that, the farmers felt, constituted egregious overreach.
“I think it’s great news for agriculture,” Aiken said, leading off the discussion. “Maybe we’ll get a little more common sense approach to the laws that the EPA is enforcing and hopefully get some relief for our farmers on some of the regulations that have been strangling us.”
Guebert then weighed in, saying that the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule imposed by the EPA is a big issue, not only for agriculture but for small businesses and rural communities.
The Renewable Fuels Standard is also an EPA matter that Guebert says his constituency are anxious to see addressed.
Kentucky’s Haney said that expectations are high regarding the course Scott Pruett will set for the EPA, but he feels the agency “is in good hands.”
Another of President Donald J. Trump’s choices, Agriculture secretary designee Sonny Perdue received approval from the trio. “With his background in agriculture and his understanding of the issues, as well as having served as Governor of Georgia, he’s a great choice to head USDA,” Aiken reflected.
“He really checks all the boxes,” agreed Haney. “He has an administration background, he has a science background as a veterinarian and he is certainly a good businessman who understands agriculture. I feel pretty comfortable about it.”
Even with his ag-friendly cabinet choices, President Trump’s first month on the job has left the Farm Bureau leaders with mixed emotions.
With the U.S. exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the potential of a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA,) there is concern that some agricultural markets may suffer.
“We know that trade is the answer to low commodity prices,” observed Haney. He notes that any long-term arrangement, such as NAFTA, should be revisited occasionally. “If we can get a better deal, then we’ve got to look at that.”
“We look back over the years, the NAFTA agreement has done well for agriculture,” Guebert said. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ll have a better agreement but there will be anxiety until we get there.”
Immigration is another area where agriculture is at odds with the new President. “Our members are really looking forward to a good H2A visa program so that they can get the workers when they need them,” Guebert said. “Nothing is more disappointing than putting blood, sweat, and tears into a crop and then watching it rot in the fields because you can’t get the workers to harvest it.”
The Farm Bill expires September 30th, 2018, so talks will soon begin on the next one. That’s an area Farm Bureau is watching closely. “When the last Farm Bill was written, we were experiencing record corn prices, record bean prices, cattle prices were on the rise, everything looked good,” Aiken reflected. “This time, we’re looking at a totally different situation and it’s critical that we get a good Farm Bill.” Conservation issues seem to be a central rallying point as talks move forward.
“We have a lot of urban legislators that aren’t going to be familiar with ag issues,” Guebert observed. “We need to tell them our point of view and our concerns.