Joel Crews
Joel Crews

During the first two major industry events of the year (the International Production & Processing Expo and the Annual Meat Conference) the sentiment about the industry outlook among suppliers and processors in a time of political uncertainty has been surprisingly optimistic and bullish. Based mostly on anecdotal evidence stemming from dozens of conversations with industry suppliers, retailers, marketers and processors, the consensus among most is that continued success depends on developing and maintaining a unified front and clearly communicating the fact-based reasons for the industry’s stance on important issues. Some of those issues and stances came up in the first days of the Donald Trump presidency, including immigration reform and US trade policy. In January, President Trump announced plans to sign an executive order that would target illegal immigrants for deportation. He also announced plans to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and renegotiate its role in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), opting instead for bilateral trade agreements with individual countries. The two issues have some overlapping implications, which were addressed this past month when the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City hosted a forum of agriculture and trade officials to spell out the importance of trade to US agriculture. Not only has NAFTA solidified lucrative trade of US agriculture with Canada and Mexico since being implemented in 1994, its success has been possible in part to the jobs linked to it.

“Everyone has their own opinion about immigration,” said Bill Krueger, CEO of Lansing Trade Group LLC, Overland Park, Kansas, during a panel discussion on the topic. “But we do have to understand, in general, we are dependent on immigrants to work in the meat industry, in the grain industry, in the processing industry in order to be competitive,” he said.

Just after President Trump announced the decision to withdraw the US from the TPP, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) iterated the importance of exports to the meat industry.

“Trade is vital to the economic health of the US meat and poultry sector and the local American communities in which meat and poultry companies operate,” Barry Carpenter, NAMI president and CEO, said in a statement. “Export opportunities allow us to continue to grow our domestic industry,” he said.

During the Annual Meat Conference, Ron Elving, senior Washington editor and correspondent with National Public Radio immediately took on the uneasiness over the agenda being pushed by the Tweet-happy president.

“It is largely what we chose in November,” Elving said. “We wanted something unusual; we did not want what Washington had been.”

Elving stressed the vital role Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia who was nominated as the secretary of agriculture, will play in representing the industry in the future.

“He has your basic interests at heart and he is the kind of person that theoretically, you can always talk to,” according to Elving, adding that Perdue’s ability to be the voice of the industry is key in avoiding trade wars and labor shortages in the agricultural industry.

Perdue, who grew up on a farm and has developed Congressional ties during his political career, is known for being able to speak the language of Capital Hill and should be an effective bridge between Congress and the White House, Elving said.

Perhaps never has clear communication and understanding between government officials and agriculture been so critical in an era when optimists are hopeful that cooler heads will prevail.