By Dan Kelley: Normal, Illinois
Here’s the thing that a lot of people misunderstand about farmers and President Trump: As much as farmers like me are worried about trade wars, we’ve done really well with this White House.
“I like farmers,” said President Trump on Monday, as he addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation in New Orleans.
We like the tax reforms that will make it easier for us to pass on our farms to our children and grandchildren. We like his support of biofuels. We like his emphasis on border security, especially if key agricultural sectors can maintain a legal system of temporary migration during this time of labor shortages.
Best of all, we like what he called “the biggest cuts in regulations in the history of our country.” He says that the Department of Agriculture alone has rolled back nearly $400 million in regulatory burdens last year. “And this year,” he added, “they’re projected to more than double those savings.”
From my farm here in rural Illinois, where we grow corn and soybeans, let me assure you: The Trump administration’s commitment to deregulation is making a positive difference in my ability to grow food and make a living.
Consider the so-called “Waters of the United States” rule, imposed in 2015 by President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency. It sought to redefine tens of millions of acres of land in a way that would have put them under federal micromanagement—including, it seemed at the time, many of my own fields.
This was an astonishing example of administrative overreach, but nobody in Washington seemed able to do anything to stop it.
Then came President Trump, who on Monday labeled this bureaucratic land grab as “one of the most ridiculous regulations ever imposed on anybody in our nation.” He pointed to the example of Val Wagner, a North Dakota farmer. She and her husband wanted to expand their farm, but the EPA’s rule threatened them with tens of thousands of dollars in fines because of “prairie potholes” on their land
“It was a total kill on farmers,” Trump said of the regulations.
These aren’t just words. The president his taken deliberate action. Last month, his EPA proposed a new set of regulations that make much more sense for farmers, builders, and everybody.
This is an enormous relief—and we’re grateful for it.
Trade disputes continue to pose challenges. We’ve lost a big market in China, after having spent a generation trying to create it. The future of our trade ties with the European Union is up in the air. We’re not even sure about our connections right here in North America, with Canada and Mexico. The proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is at best a modest improvement over NAFTA, and yet we’re about to enter a season of high-stakes congressional politics over its passage.
All of this uncertainty has made farmers anxious. As export opportunities dry up, we’ve watched our incomes drop. Last fall, the administration responded with a Market Facilitation Program to provide $12 billion in payments to farmers who suffered the most.
My own farm benefitted from this subsidy, as we received an extra $1.65 per bushel of soybean production. I appreciate the help, but trade is much better than aid. We should sell what we grow to customers in the United States and around the world, not receive paychecks from a president who feels sorry for us.
President Trump seems to know this and offered an upbeat message: “It’s only going to get better because we’re doing trade deals that are going to get you so much business, you’re not even going to believe it,” he said.
Farmers trust Trump because he has kept so many of his promises. Our prospects are better because of him. Now we’re hopeful that he’ll keep his promises about trade as well. Toward the end of his comments, he made the biggest promise of all: “The greatest harvest is yet to come.”
A year from now, when the farmers gather again at this annual convention, we’ll know more—both about the president’s abilities as a dealmaker as well as our economic prospects.
That’s the thing about a harvest: After you’ve brought it in, you know exactly how well you’ve done.
*This column first appeared at The Hill.