Donald Trump’s election to the presidency and Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress mean more than a simple change of scenery. Producers can expect policies of a far different nature than those of President Obama’s administration, and those policies could have major implications for farming, says Jim Wiesemeyer, senior vice president, Washington Bureau, Informa Economics and consultant to Pro Farmer.
“We’ll have far fewer new regulations, and the ones that do come out will have more cost-benefit analysis to them,” Wiesemeyer says.
Trump, during his first two years in the White House, will face the task of making good on commitments he made to the voters who put him in office, especially residents of rural America. Members of Congress will have to decide whether they work in tandem with the president or take an opportunity, in the case of those Wiesemeyer deems “arch-conservative Republicans,” to contest him. Here are some of the key takeaways about issues farmers can expect Washington to take up in the months ahead as projected by Wiesemeyer and Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.
#1. Trade remains a wild card. Trump has taken an “aggressive anti-trade policy stance” relative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Wiesemeyer says. He’s called out China for currency manipulation and has threatened to walk away from NAFTA, so it’s unlikely he’ll back away from that tenor, Wiesemeyer says. Yet agriculture depends on trade, so that stance is something farmers should watch, he adds. Roughly 65% of U.S. soybeans are exported to China, and Wiesemeyer thinks Trump has picked cabinet and subcabinet officials who will coach him on these realities. “I think reason will prevail eventually on that topic,” he says.
#2. Biofuels policy will be supportive of corn producers. The state of Iowa cast its Electoral College votes in favor of Trump, who will reward the state with continuing support for ethanol and biodiesel, Wiesemeyer says. The Renewable Fuels Standard will still be up for “major debate” by energy panels in both houses of Congress in 2017, and while some tweaks are likely, they won’t be draconian.
#3. Farm bill will balance out with more livestock and better safety nets. As the leader of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) will bring a new tone to discussions on the next farm bill, Wiesemeyer predicts. A cowboy at heart, Roberts understands livestock interests, which will likely include more money for disease indemnity payments and serum in the event of a disease outbreak. He’s also very supportive of crop insurance. Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) will retain leadership of the House Agriculture Committee. During the lame-duck session this winter, he’ll push in a must-pass funding bill to require USDA to recognize cottonseed as a commodity eligible for Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage, Wiesemeyer says. Budget offsets will be needed to pay for that feature. Next year, he’ll also advocate for improving safety nets and increasing reference prices (with the exception of peanuts) in a low commodity-price environment.
#4. USDA transition is in good hands. The Trump transition team includes Michael Torrey, who is heading up the changing of the guard at USDA. That’s good news for farmers, Wiesemeyer says, because he comes from the crop insurance industry and has worked at USDA and for former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). “He’s very well balanced and not an ideologue,” Wiesemeyer says.
#5. Infrastructure is tangible and necessary, but funding is uncertain. In his acceptance speech after the election, Trump specifically called out his plans to “rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels” among other policy plans, Steenhoek notes. That signals he gravitates toward projects that are tangible and concrete such as infrastructure. At the same time, “the beguiling questions will be how to pay for new investment,” Steenhoek cautions. “President-elect Trump throughout the campaign offered little insight into the potential sources of funding. The willingness, or lack thereof, of Congress to collaborate with him remains to be seen.”
#6. Food policy activism will move from D.C. to the states. A food-stamp reform bill will likely be in the works in the House, even though it’s unlikely the Senate would have the necessary 60 votes to move forward to Trump. Congress won’t retrench from support for food-safety measures but will back away from food policy activism, Wiesemeyer says. That will leave issues such as soda taxes—approved in several cities this election cycle—to the states.
#7. Trump’s disposition will be a deciding factor. There are two sides to Donald Trump, if his performance during the election cycle is any guide, Wiesemeyer says. “Good Trump” shone through in the wee hours after he became president-election and revealed he can, in fact, speak and act presidentially, he says. “Bad Trump” appears to punish those who cross him, and he will use the bully pulpit. “Trump will use it and come out against his own party people for the good of the party if he needs to,” says Wiesemeyer, particularly ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections when the ruling party typically loses congressional seats.