By Michele F. Mihaljevich
OAK BROOK, Ill. – Representatives chosen by the Trump and Biden campaigns discussed the agriculture-related views of the presidential candidates during a virtual forum hosted by the Farm Foundation.
Samuel H. Clovis Jr., a member of the Farmers and Ranchers for Trump Campaign Coalition, spoke for President Donald Trump. Pam Johnson, a farmer and former president of the National Corn Growers Association, represented former Vice President Joe Biden. Clovis and Johnson touched on several topics during the Oct. 13 forum, including trade, estate taxes and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
Clovis said it was “a great honor and a great opportunity” to help Trump get elected four years ago.
“A lot of the issues related to agriculture have been extremely difficult,” he noted. “We came into the office in January of 2017 and were immediately met by people in the Department of Agriculture who were so anxious to see us that it became very apparent that there had been a disconnect between those people in the executive suites and the rest of the department. We had been looking at the opportunity to do our best to undo a lot of the regulations that had been hindering farming for a long time and also, in the process of going forward, to continue to support our farmers as we have done since we took office.”
Johnson said the economy – not Wall Street, but Main Street – is the number one concern of rural Americans. “There are three intractable issues that cause raw pain and economic hardship in rural America right now – the trade war with China, the gutting of the RFS (Renewable Fuels Standard) and supporting fossil fuels rather than renewable home-grown fuels, and the mismanagement of the COVID crisis. These are the issues that keep farmers like me up at night. President Trump’s policies led to an economic crisis in rural America with long-term consequences. Farmers want to make our income from the marketplace. We say trade, not aid. We now get 40 percent of our income from the government. This is not sustainable nor desired.”
Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was disappointing because the market potential is huge in the other countries involved in the deal, Johnson said. His threat to remove the country from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – before the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was settled – caused a great deal of uncertainty, she stated. “I am ready for us to get back to a place where we have certainty in our trade markets. Joe Biden will restore U.S. global leadership and competitiveness by re-engaging our allies. He would stand up to China but he would do it differently. He would negotiate with our allies from the strongest position so that our trade policy works for American farmers.”
The United States has been in a trade war the last 40 years and finally has a president who’s willing to fight back, Clovis said. “We were in TPP and that was a bad situation for us. We decided that we had to go forward on our own to be able to get the best possible trade deal for Americans. Before we would have been involved in trade agreements that were disadvantageous to the United States and that’s one of the reasons we withdrew from the TPP.”
NAFTA was a bad trade agreement, he said, and the United States gained the advantage by withdrawing early, and it paid off with the USMCA.
The 2017 tax plan has been a huge boon to the family farmer, Clovis said. “I think that what it has really allowed is the ability of farms to be transferred to the next generation. Now we have the ability to pass farms from one generation to the next.”
He said he’s concerned about what he’s heard about tax increases from the Democrat side, noting he worries how those possible increases could impact the ability to pass farms to the next generation.
A tax policy that would make it easier for farmers to retire and for new farmers to begin is needed, Johnson said, adding farmers would be paying attention to and advocating for all of those positions.
“What I do know is that Trump says Joe Biden will raise taxes on everybody from day one and that is not true. None of us like to pay taxes but we know that we have to pay taxes in order for us to have schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, fire departments. That’s just a fact of life.”
The next farm bill
Access to crop insurance is the cornerstone of the farm bill, Johnson said. Conservation programs are another key area, she explained. Biden has promised to expand and develop conservation programs that are needed as farmers are challenged to have continual improvement on their farms and to grow more with less, Johnson said.
Biden also supports research, especially public-private research, she said. That research is important so that “we can have better options for cover crops and so that we can have precision farming where we have better spray nozzles and only put the right amount of fertilizer in the right place at the right time.”
Clovis said he thinks a lot is working well in the current farm bill, passed in 2018. He’s hoping for a tripling of the research budget, noting it has stayed flat for 30 years. He said he’d like to see the USDA move more departments out of Washington, D.C., as the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Research Service did in 2019. Clovis said it’s important to have those operations near where their customers are.
He would also like to see more efforts on watershed retention and management, and more emphasis on strip-till and no-till and an expansion of conservation programs. “Those are the things I would like to see going forward and I think the Trump administration would advocate for in the next farm bill.”
The Trump administration supports ethanol and approved year round E15 last year, Clovis said. The administration will continue to support biofuels. “We haven’t abandoned the RFS and we’re not going to. We’re going to keep our commitment to keep it in place.”
Johnson called the RFS “an issue that I and a lot of farmers would die on the sword for. Joe Biden would re-establish the integrity of the RFS and invest in the future of renewable, affordable, low-cost carbon energy options for consumers. He believes renewable fuels are vital to the future of rural America.”