CHICAGO, Ill. — U.S. farmers can expect favourable farm policies coming out of Washington under a Donald Trump presidency, says an insider.
“The president of the United States, the most powerful man in America and perhaps the most powerful man in the world, owes his fate to the people of rural America,” Chuck Conner told delegates attending the 2016 DTN Ag Summit.
Conner is on the short list to be the next secretary of agriculture. He served as deputy secretary and acting secretary under George W. Bush. He has also served as both the majority and minority staff director of the Senate agriculture committee.
Trump became president largely because 84.6 percent of the rural voters in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin voted for him.
“Those people who thought they had lost their political influence suddenly stepped up and had a tremendous voice,” said Conner.
Trump beat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by 26 percentage points among voters residing in non-metropolitan areas.
“In raw political terms folks, this represents opportunity for American agriculture,” he said.
Connor said their reward will be the 2018 farm bill, which will fund U.S. farm programs for five years.
Curt Hudnutt, chief commercial officer of Rabo Agrifinance, also believes a Trump presidency will be a net positive for agriculture.
“When it all settles out, it will be favourable for agriculture,” he said.
Hudnutt said Trump has been labelled anti-trade, but his concerns are about the manufacturing sector rather than agriculture.
He believes a Trump government will eliminate burdensome environmental regulations. The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) clean water rule will be one of the first regulations to go, he added.
Conner said farmers feel under siege from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“There’s a sense they’re in full takeover mode in rural America,” he said. “Being involved in the Trump campaign, I believe that message was heard.”
However, the real benefit for farmers will happen when policymakers begin hashing out details of the next farm bill starting in 2017.
Conner said there will be a number of battle lines in those negotiations. Large, influential farmers want to do away with program payment limits.
There is a push by some politicians for farmers to cover more of the crop insurance premiums.
“Crop insurance has become the key risk management tool available for producers. We need to make sure we don’t screw that up,” said Conner.
There is likely going to be a fight over how the money gets divvied up within the bill. Nutrition programs account for 80 percent of the spending in the 2014 bill compared to eight percent for crop insurance and five percent for commodity subsidy payments.
Trump has proposed $6 trillion in tax cuts, which means more money for the next farm bill is unlikely.
Conner said agriculture might instead have to fight for some of the money going to nutrition programs.
One delegate asked if it would be worthwhile decoupling the nutrition side of the farm bill from the agriculture side.
Conner said there are 38 to 40 agricultural congressional districts out of 435, but many non-agricultural districts have plenty of food stamp recipients.
“I don’t see a formula by which you ever pass a farm bill if we separate out the nutrition assistance.”
Some have proposed extending the 2014 farm bill rather than writing a new one. Conner said that will not happen because the dairy and cotton sectors are unhappy with the existing bill, and some corn and soybean farmers think the Agriculture Risk Coverage program is unfair.