By Mary Boote: Des Moines, Iowa
At the dawn of 2017, it’s time to make America great again by making America competitive again—and the Global Farmer Network spent much of the last 12 months offering suggestions on how to meet this goal, from the perspective of the people who work the land.
President-elect Trump has promised to promote competition through regulatory relief, and his most important service to agriculture could come from a simple source: letting sound science determine government policy.
His administration can start by consulting a new report from the National Academy of Sciences. Vermont farmer Joanna Lidback hailed its release in May: “The debate is over,” she wrote. “Genetically modified crops are safe.”
Lawmakers appear to agree with this expert consensus. Last summer, President Obama and Congress settled a contentious debate over food labeling and GMOs. Months before they did, New Jersey farmer John Rigolizzo, Jr. warned of the risks: “These labels have no scientific justification and they threaten to boost food prices.” Washington state farmer Mark Wagoner also urged members of Congress to embrace science: “I hope they’ll defend the interests of farmers like me as well as consumers everywhere.”
Then came a creative compromise, as a bipartisan coalition called for mandatory disclosure via digital codes. Lidback welcomed the solution: “What we have here, however, is an actual compromise—and one that ought to satisfy everyone who supports safe and affordable food,” she wrote in June.
Keeping food safe and affordable should be a top concern of the Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, which farmers would like to work with as a partner rather than worry about as a threat. In May, GFN chairman Bill Horan encouraged the EPA to ignore an activist’s dubious claim based on a single study that was determined by noted research scientists to not meet the scientific standards required for regulatory counsel: “I’ll try to sum it up in farmer-speak: Allowing this study to inform policy is like using a harvester to plant seeds. It’s the wrong tool for the job.”
Problems often begin in Washington and work their way into the states. In February, California farmer Ted Sheely sounded an alarm: “Now state regulators are trying to deny us the right to use one of the best and safest crop-protection products in the world.”
When American farmers enjoy the freedom to farm, which includes choosing safe ways to protect their harvests from weeds and pests, they become wildly productive. In September, Illinois farmer Dan Kelley pointed out that it takes only about 1 percent of our country’s workforce to grow our country’s food. “We should be grateful that they’re laboring on farms because it means the rest of us don’t have to,” he wrote.
Throughout the year, we’ve shared the voices and perspectives of our international partners—the men and women who make the Global Farmer Network what it is through their powerful advocacy. In January, Benjamin Olumuyiwa Adewumi of Nigeria explained how access to technology helps farmers in developing countries.
Week after week, others added their voices and views. Annechien ten Have Mellema of the Netherlands called for more debate and dialogue over GMOs in Europe. Rosalie Ellasus of the Philippines highlighted an emerging legal threat to GMOs. Nyasha Mudukuti of Zimbabwe objected to a ban on GM food aid for her drought-ravaged country. Balwinder Singh Kang of India explained how GM crops have improved his life. Gilbert Arap Bor of Kenya asked Europe’s politicians to stop preventing Africa’s embrace of GMOs. Maria Beatriz Giraudo Gaviglio of Argentina told how GMOs encourage soil health when used in conjunction with no-till technology. Sudhindra Kulkarni of India pressed his country to approve GM mustard seeds. Aman Mann of India warned about the lies of anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva. Pierre Kamere Munyura of Rwanda described how your cup of coffee may have originated in his country because of trade and good market access—and how technology can make it even better.
In the United States, of course, the 2016 presidential election dominated the headlines. In January, Iowa farmer Tim Burrack raised concerns about a rising tide of protectionism in the Hawkeye State’s caucuses: “It looks like the top finishers in both parties will be trade protectionists,” he wrote. “This is astonishing—and disappointing.” By August, when both Democrats and Republicans had nominated their candidates, Oklahoma rancher Hope Pjesky worried about the choice: “On the issue of free trade, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are almost indistinguishable. They’re both against it.”
In this challenging political environment, we explained over and over again why U.S. farmers need access to global markets. Terry Wanzek of North Dakota described how he sells pinto beans to Mexico and other products elsewhere: “Like so many American farmers, my family depends on the ability to export what we grow, whether it’s corn, soybeans, wheat, or pinto beans. Without customers in other countries, we’d have to cut our production by about a third. This would devastate our ability to make a living, and it would wreck the economy of our nation’s farm belt.”
Carol Keiser made the best-case scenario for eventual winner: “Donald Trump sounds like a protectionist,” she wrote in September. “So what’s a free trader like me to do?” She chose optimism: “When candidate Trump talks about trade, perhaps he’s making an opening bid—but not a final offer. He’s trying to startle other countries into taking American interests more seriously.”
As we approach a new year, the Global Farmer Network chooses optimism as well—and resolves to keep on showing how trade and technology can make everyone greater and more competitive.
Mary Boote is a Northwest Iowa farm girl who serves as CEO for the Global Farmer Network.