Preview policy under a non-politician president
In the new Washington, all bets are off. That’s appropriate given that President Donald Trump, who built his business credentials with casinos, is setting the tone with a fast-paced if controversial style.
Trump’s political inexperience likely spells a new way of crafting policy.
Senate Democrats want to approve a farm bill before 2018 reelection bids.
Consider commodity sales as a policy hedge amid trade uncertainty.
“Trump is not a politician. He is going to become one,” says Jim Wiesemeyer, senior policy analyst at Informa Economics and a regular “AgriTalk” radio guest. “He’s going to tell it like he sees it. If he makes a mistake, I hope it’s not a big one in trade. He is a trader, and it won’t take him long to adjust. The key is he’s going to enforce existing deals and revise some other ones.”
Although plenty of observers and the mainstream media have criticized Trump and his policies, Wiesemeyer says, some claims miss the mark. “A lot of people call him a protectionist,” points out Wiesemeyer, who has covered Washington politics for 40 years. “[His advisers] say he is not a protectionist, he is protecting. There is a big difference.”
Some have argued Trump’s delayed appointment of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary suggests he has put farming on the back burner. Yet it’s unlikely agriculture will remain in the dark.
“Although the agricultural sector maintains a relatively low political profile and is seldom a target of partisan bickering, there are several policy issues that will likely arise in the coming year,” predicts John Dillard, an attorney with OFW Law and a Farm Journal columnist.
Here are a few of the key issues Wiesemeyer and Dillard will monitor in the year ahead.
Congressional Leverage. Big wins by Republican lawmakers in November follow eight years of Republican gains in both houses of Congress, in state houses and among governors, Wiesemeyer says. The 2018 Senate elections will likely “skew some policy issues,” he says, but likely in Trump’s favor: Of the 25 Democrats up for reelection, 10 saw Trump win their state, half by margins of 60% or more.
Farm Bill Factors. Seven of nine Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee are among those up for reelection in two years, and they are pushing for a farm bill before then. “They want a check mark to show their constituents they did something,” Wiesemeyer says. Many producers want more programs for livestock, fruits and vegetables, and more funding allocated for research.
Trade Tumult. On the one hand, a Trump presidency could bring needed reassessment of existing trade deals, benefiting agriculture. Yet it could stymie existing relationships on which producers depend. One major misstep could have “very negative” repercussions, Wiesemeyer says. “China has a history of reacting very significantly,” he cautions. “Make sales as a policy hedge if you can do so above cost of production.”
Immigration Overhaul. The late January decision by President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico to call off a meeting at the White House, coupled with Trump’s continued pursuit of a border wall, suggests farmers should evaluate labor needs going forward. “Your advocates with farm and commodity organizations should carry the message to Congress about the role migrant labor plays in the domestic food system,” Dillard says.