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2020 Hindsight: A look back at ag policy

Where were the wins and losses from an unpredictable year we now hope to put behind us.

No one could have predicted a 2020 like we had. If only we had 20/20 vision, we could have seen it coming. But hindsight is 2020, and we can take a look back at some of the top policy stories from the year and take a look forward.

In January, there was plenty of optimism with the recently penned China trade deal. But as I pointed out initially, and we now know, there were 6 shortfalls in hailed China phase one deal. For a year we thought would bring great news on the trade front, we fell considerably short.

The U.S. ag is seeing 'fruits of labor' from recent trade deals but the Trade approach will change under a Biden Administration. The signing of the updated U.S. Mexico-Canada Agreement offered security for ag exports, it did not really offer new market opportunities. And it will be important to watch how enforcement is carried through going forward.

After two years of Market Facilitation Program payments to farmers from the trade war, many had wondered if 2020 would offer more support. President Donald Trump was unwavering in his support for farmers, and I’ll never forget sitting at the USDA Ag Outlook press conference in February with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue downplaying another round of aid in 2020, and then Trump’s trade aid tweet raised alarms.

Farmers didn’t get MFP, but they got something even more – the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. I think Congress’ and USDA’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was amazing at how quickly dollars ended up in the bank accounts of farmers who quickly saw their markets crash this spring. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act at the end of March, with USDA rolling out the CFAP program and Farmers to Families Food Box Program in just three weeks.

Be sure to re-read from our print coverage on A farmer’s guide to surviving 2020: Part One and Part Two.

One silver lining from the pandemic and impact on livestock and grain prices was a renewed focus on the cattle industry offering the right Time to look at packer consolidation. The question now becomes: Can cattle industry capitalize on momentum for change? There is definitely a push for action in 2021 if some further evaluation solidifies the ongoing concerns with transparency and fairness in the cattle markets. In response, NCBA rolls out voluntary cattle market fix.

For me one of the most important policy stories of the year was seeing Unlikely bedfellows unite on ag climate policy. If President-elect Biden is to have his way (Climate change emerges as major 2020 election platform), we’re going to see a much greater focus on climate policy and it’s important that agriculture has a seat at the table. Climate policy is coming and one to certainly watch in the year ahead.

Trump Administration still missing mark on biofuels was one headline of many this year expressing the frustration with those in farm country on the handling of the Renewable Fuel Standard. In the same week Trump denied RFS gap-year waivers, reports surfaced he could give some refiners money from the CCC, as farmers began to question: Would Trump use $300m from USDA for oil refiners? We’ll never know if Trump’s action on biofuels impacted the outcome on Election Day, but I do know there were plenty of farmers talking about it ahead of November.

Hidden in these final days of the year, the Trump administration looks to have found a way to take on the oversight of animal biotechnology, as USDA looks to end FDA turf war on gene-editing livestock oversight. This has been a major headache to the livestock sector and feared could leave U.S. producers behind world competitors.

USDA finalizes its GIPSA livestock marketing rule, something that former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack tried to wrap up in his final days ahead of the 2017 turnover to the Trump Administration. The new rule under the direction of Perdue tries to offer a different approach.

And speaking of Vilsack, NO ONE could have foreseen his return to USDA under President-elect Biden’s administration. Here’s An early look at Vilsack’s likely USDA priorities.

This year’s elections showed us the Rural vs. urban divide deepening and a major impact on the makeup of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees going forward. Georgia native David Scott gets nod for House Ag Committee chairmanship and will bring a new leadership approach.

As we look to 2021, I think what I wrote in October ahead of the elections - Senate elections hold fate of future democracy - will be crucial as the Senate’s power balance remains in the hands of Georgian voters.

Hindsight truly is 2020, but I’m ready for 2021.

TAGS: Farm Policy
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