WASHINGTON — “For agriculture, our new president represents a kind of ‘best of times, worst of times’ situation,” Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in an address before the US Dept. of Agriculture’s 93rd Agricultural Outlook Forum on Feb. 23. Duvall said the Farm Bureau was eager to work with the Trump administration on regulatory and tax reform but was concerned there may be points of differences over immigration and trade policy.
Duvall applauded President Trump’s selection of former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture.
“I have known Governor Perdue for many years,” Duvall said. “You couldn’t ask for a finer gentleman or a stronger champion for our farmers and ranchers. I believe he could be one of the all-time great secretaries of agriculture. And we need him confirmed so he can get to work.”
The Farm Bureau also was optimistic there will be regulatory reform under the Trump administration.
“I don’t have to tell the people in this room that many of our farmers are at a breaking point in terms of generating income to cover the cost of production,” Duvall said. “Increased regulation raises that cost of production, and farmers and ranchers simply cannot bear that burden in today’s ag economy. We need a certain level of regulation, of course. But we should not allow regulations to strangle our economy, strangle the innovation and optimism our nation needs.”
Duvall said at the top of the list of the Farm Bureau’s regulatory concerns was the effort under the Obama administration to expand federal control under the Waters of the US rule.
“That rule will require farmers to get permits on millions of acres that previously were exempt,” Duvall asserted. “Farmers already face overzealous enforcement of the Clean Water Act. I believe the new administration will bring a more commonsense view to regulations.”
The Farm Bureau also was hopeful about prospects for tax reform.
“Lowering the business tax rate will go a long way toward helping our economy,” Duvall said. “But we can’t stop there. We need a tax code that recognizes the financial challenges farmers and ranchers face, a tax code that encourages the next generation to stay in agriculture.”
In particular, Duvall said the Farm Bureau would like to see the elimination of the estate tax “so we can pass our farms on the next generation without a big tax bill that forces them to sell the assets needed for farming.”
Duvall indicated there may be differences between the Farm Bureau and the Trump administration over immigration and trade policies.
“If we can’t get the labor to harvest our crops here in the United States, we will be importing more fruits and vegetables and other commodities from other countries,” Duvall said. “We at Farm Bureau have estimated the United States could lose as much as $60 billion in ag production to other countries if we lose access to all currently undocumented workers. An enforcement-only approach would cause food prices to go up 5 percent to 6 percent. These are not good outcomes for agriculture. They are not good for consumers. And they are not good for other areas of our economy that thrive and provide jobs because of agriculture.
“Farm Bureau supports protecting our borders. But we can’t just do enforcement and leave our farmers holding the bag. We also need a way for the workers who have been on our farms for years and know their way around a farm to get an adjustment in status and stay here, helping us feed America with American-grown food.”
Duvall said the Farm Bureau also was concerned the new administration may pull back on trade.
“As a nation, we’ve had some harsh words, lately, toward some of our most important trading partners,” he said. “I want to give a special mention to our Mexican customers. We in US agriculture appreciate you. Without question, there are areas of disagreement — just as with any important trading partner. But let me go on the record as saying that the American Farm Bureau appreciates the agricultural business relationship our two countries have.”
Duvall recalled a discussion the Farm Bureau’s board of directors had with Trump during the presidential campaign when Trump said he recognized the importance of trade to agriculture and wanted to expand markets.
“We are looking forward to working with the president’s trade team, in particular with Secretary-designate Sonny Perdue, to carry out those commitments,” Duvall said.
Duvall said should the North American Free Trade Agreement be renegotiated, there were areas where access for US exports could be improved.
“And Farm Bureau intends to work with other agricultural organizations to outline how we might address these issues without losing the progress we’ve made,” he said.
Duvall noted the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would have addressed at least one of the trade issues with Canada. He pointed out TPP would have reduced tariff protections on dairy and poultry. Duvall explained the Farm Bureau estimated that the TPP agreement would have boosted US farm income by $4.4 billion a year largely because tariffs in the other 11 countries that would have been reduced to be more in line already-low tariffs in the United States.
“Again, this is why we need Governor Perdue in place as agriculture secretary,” Duvall said. “He understands the importance of trade for agriculture. He worked hard to promote Georgia’s ag products around the world, and I am confident that he will be able to influence the administration’s trade policy in a way that is positive for our farmers and ranchers.”