Forceful Trump to press regulatory relief first, say farm policy hands

The Trump administration will focus on regulatory relief in its early days in office, said two farm-policy hands, who pointed to EPA’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule as a prime example of federal over-reach. Chuck Conner, of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said President-elect Trump will be forceful in rolling back regulations, and Dale Moore, of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the regulatory burden saps farmers’ bottom lines.

“President Trump is not shy,” said Conner, a former deputy agriculture secretary. “President Trump is going to drive the agenda of his cabinet.” Speaking at a Politico event, Conner said the Trump team recognizes the importance of farm exports; 20 cents of every $1 of farm income comes from exports. “President Trump is going to do everything he can to expand those exports.”

Like Conner, Moore said the incoming administration will work from its first day in office to relieve the agricultural sector of over-regulation. He said the House and Senate Agriculture committees were likely to begin farm-bill hearings by spring, although the farm-policy overhaul will occur in 2018.

“Everything is up in the air,” said Joshua Sewell, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, in calling for a robust debate over the farm and nutrition safety nets. “There is a real danger in the debate of spiking the football” because rural America was key in Trump’s electoral victory.

“Sometimes, we feel there are folks who come to the party who really don’t care about what happens to farmers and ranchers,” responded Moore.

Anne MacMillan, from the consulting firm Heather Podesta and Associates, said, “I think you’re going to see a very similar farm bill to what we have now.” Commodity prices are far below the levels seen in the 2006-13 boom and farm income is down sharply, but analysts say the farm economy is strong.

Separately, Moore rattled off half a dozen areas where the Trump administration should provide regulatory relief in its first months in office: WOTUS; restrictions on land use under the Endangered Species Act; treatment of wild horses, grazing and “the whole suite of federal land issues”; the so-called GIPSA revisions to livestock-marketing rules; proposed rules on treatment of livestock on organic farms; and implementation of the GMO-disclosure law enacted in July.

“We want something that is going to work,” Moore said, referring to the law that will require foodmakers to disclose when GMO ingredients are used. The law allows use of a symbol, a bar code or wording on the package, and it pre-empts state GMO food-label laws.

Conner told the Politico audience that he is not worried that agricultural trade will be damaged by Trump’s tough talk against Chinese policies or his plan to renegotiate NAFTA. Trump is concerned about keeping manufacturing jobs in the United States, he said: “Who can be against that?”

Agriculture is promised a seat at the table when the new administration works on immigration reform, said Conner, “which should give us some hope” of fair treatment. Sixty percent of farm workers are undocumented, he said.

Formulation of farm policy will take a back seat to the nomination and confirmation of Trump’s policymakers, said Moore and Conner. Only a skeleton crew will be on hand when Trump takes office, said Moore. “He needs to get his team in place,” said Conner. “Hundreds of political appointees will follow [the nomination of the agriculture secretary]. You have to give policy a little time to mature.”

Conner, the chief executive of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and a prominent member of Trump’s agriculture advisory team, twice declined to say if he was seeking nomination for agriculture secretary. He said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat reportedly at the top of Trump’s list to lead USDA, was a good friend of ag co-ops.