October 9, 2017
By Paul Penner
Do you like keeping score? That depends on what the score is about, right?
I have no problem tallying crop yields, or tracking rainfall totals on an app. I definitely keep tabs on fuel levels in my vehicles, as failure to do so might become a costly lesson and unplanned exercise.
In agriculture, as the year begins to wind down, and as we begin to evaluate the year’s pluses and minuses, we owe it to ourselves to take stock of the state of American agriculture as it relates to the political landscape.
For the sake of brevity, this report card will be on President Donald Trump’s performance as it relates to agriculture.
Global trade: I give Mr. Trump an F. He immediately canceled the United States’ participation in the nearly completed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement upon assuming office. Mr. Trump diminished America’s leading role as a dominant player in the discussions, wasting an incredible investment in manpower and taxpayer funds, not to mention damaging relationships forged over time.
Post-TPP withdrawal, China, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the EU, not to mention a host of other countries, are already forging ahead with discussions that will effectively place the United States at a competitive disadvantage.
Though China has agreed to import beef once again, this pales in comparison to what all commodities lost when TPP went away.
NAFTA: I give Mr. Trump a C. Canada and Mexico are undoubtedly our most important trading partners in the world. They are our allies and friends. Though the current North American Free Trade Agreement needs updating and some issues addressed, it is imperative that ongoing negotiations shall do no harm to agricultural interests.
Trump needs to be reminded that Congress approved this agreement, and only Congress has the power to withdraw from it. Any subsequent agreements, therefore, require an additional investment in time and money to conclude with each trading partner, time which agriculture does not have the luxury to spare.
Immigration and the wall: I give Mr. Trump a C+.
It goes without saying, safe and secure borders are essential for national security. That said, once again, we also need to be reminded that nearly all current legal citizens of this country were immigrants, or descendants of immigrants from an earlier time.
Our president gets an average grade for this reason; According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the current guest worker program amounts to legalized slavery. The H2A program is in dire need of revision. Mr. Trump is not taking enough initiative to improve the programs. That said, agriculture requires immigrant labor to fill the jobs required to do the work on farms, and better leadership in this area is a must.
Climate change accord: I give Mr. Trump an F.
An old saying rings true: If you aren’t at the table, you will be on the menu. It is much better to participate and affect the outcome, rather than to stand outside complaining about the rules. Having withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accord, the United States is isolated and will find itself outside of the discussion of how to address the challenges of climate change, regardless of their origins.
The EPA: I give Mr. Trump a B. Waters of the United States (WOTUS) is in the stages of undergoing drastic revision, which is good. It is on track to restoring the direction originally intended by Congress regarding water quality, by restoring the term “navigable waters” in determining the U.S. EPA’s regulatory authority.
My guarded optimism is tempered by concern that some folks in the president’s inner circle and elsewhere may push to eliminate the EPA entirely.
There you have it. If I were assigning points on this report card, it would be a D+ average.
If time and space were not in short supply, I would have included other categories, like national health care policy, rural economic development and research funding. All are critically important to agriculture and vital for a healthy, vibrant rural economy.
Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is [email protected].
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