After voting heavily for Trump, rural America wants to change his mind

President-elect Donald Trump carried almost all of the farm states, from the Carolinas across the Midwest into the Plains, rolling up a 2-to-1 margin against Democrat Hillary Clinton with promises of lower taxes and less regulation. Farm groups, with a politically conservative membership, said they hoped to educate him on the importance of exports for farm prosperity.

Perhaps as a hedge against Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and threats to renegotiate NAFTA, groups speaking for U.S. corn and soybean farmers urged Congress to pass TPP during the post-election session opening next week. “Campaign rhetoric has set America’s trade agenda back years. Let’s take a big step back in the right direction and pass TPP,” said John Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association.

Twenty cents of every $1 in net farm income is generated by agricultural exports.

From the launch of the general election campaign in July, Trump officials said they aimed to roll up large margins in rural areas by attacking over-regulation. Trump’s support for corn ethanol, ending the estate tax and rolling back regulations such as the Waters of the United States rule outweighed rural concerns about ag exports and his hardline stance on immigration: Anyone illegally in the country would be subject to deportation. Trump adviser Sam Clovis said the New York businessman would use a light hand on agriculture on trade rules and immigration.

Exit polls showed Trump taking two-thirds of the vote in rural areas, which was key to his victory; he edged Clinton in U.S. suburbs and got nearly two of five votes in urban areas. His performance in rural areas was in line with polling ahead of Election Day that gave him a 3-to-1 lead among farmers and 2-to-1 among rural Americans.

Republicans will hold smaller majorities in the Senate and House in the two-year session that opens in January, which could fuel new attempts by conservative Republicans to split food stamps from the rest of the farm bill, said Pat Westhoff of the think tank Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute. That approach nearly killed the farm bill in 2013.

“Some aggressive budget-cutters could play a big role within the Republican caucus and could effectively veto a more-of-the-same farm bill,” said Westhoff. Cotton, dairy and grain farmers are unhappy with aspects of the 2014 farm law. The proposed “fixes” would require additional funding or cuts in other areas of the USDA budget. No one is volunteering for a financial haircut. “I have a hard time believing that farm legislation would be at the top of the to-do list in 2017.”

“Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration will likely be filled with people who will benefit financially from more fracking, more industrial agriculture and factory farms, and expanded deregulation masquerading as trade policy,” said Wenonah Hauter of Food and Water Watch, a consumer and environmental group. “Since agriculture policy was deregulated in the mid-1990s, rural areas of our country have been devastated.”

Zippy Duvall, president of the largest U.S. farm group, said, “[R]ural America clearly made a difference in this election. Now it’s time for our newly elected leaders to turn up for rural America and keep their campaign promises.” He said the Trump administration and Congress should focus on the upcoming farm bill, tax reform, expanding exports, “ensuring we have an adequate workforce” and “promoting innovation,” a phrase sometimes used as code for support of agricultural biotechnology. “We need regulatory reform that boosts farm businesses rather than shutting them down,” said the American Farm Bureau Federation president.

The American Soybean Association said it looked forward “to a constructive dialogue on President-elect Trump’s stance on trade.” China is the No. 1 market for U.S. soy exports and Mexico is No. 2, said ASA president Ron Moore. Trump has accused both nations of taking advantage of the United States through unfair activity. China, Canada and Mexico are the top three markets for U.S. farm exports.

“We applaud [Trump’s] pro-farmer stance on the Renewable Fuels Standard, on reducing the burden of regulations like the EPA’s Waters of the United States rule, on investing in our nation’s supply-chain infrastructure and on protecting farm and food programs in the farm bill,” said Moore.

If China and Mexico take umbrage to Trump’s demands, U.S. farmers might face “a monumental effort of finding alternative buyers to avoid a back-up of agricultural commodities on the domestic market and a collapse in prices,” said Agrimoney, based in London. Disruption in trade also could hand market share permanently to U.S. competitors on the world market, it said, advising U.S. farmers to “lobby hard for U.S. agricultural exports not to become a victim of the trade battles which appear more likely following Mr. Trump’s elections.”

Trade experts say the election of Trump “has killed any chance” that Congress will vote on TPP during the lame-duck congressional session, said Politico.