From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine
By MARC HELLER
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s ride to victory went straight through rural America — but not the rural America many Northern New Yorkers know.
The question for agriculture policy, farm groups and others close to the issues say, is which farm interests have his administration’s ear.
Trump had one representative of the dairy industry on his agriculture advisory committee, the chairman of Fair Oaks Farm, a 30,000-cow dairy farm in Ohio that covers 30 square miles. Others represent large livestock operations, the pesticide industry group CropLife America, and one of the biggest egg farms in the country.
That suggests Trump is keeping closest to groups that are less concerned about government safety nets and more worried about regulations from federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We feel like we’re going to get some real relief where it’s needed,” said Ethan Lane, public lands council executive director at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
That could include a quick reversal on the Obama administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rules as part of the Clean Water Act, which are already stalled in court, as well as an easing of laws such as the Endangered Species Act as they affect farmers and ranchers, he said.
Trump’s campaign didn’t have much to say about dairy policy, and a spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation, Christopher Galen, said his organization — which represents farmer-owned bargaining cooperatives — hasn’t taken a deep look at the implications yet.
That is true as well of the International Dairy Foods Association, representing milk processors.
“The impact of the election on dairy policy is the question of the hour; I think everyone is struggling with it,” said IDFA Vice President for Communications Peggy Armstrong.
The NMPF continues to focus on a strong safety net for dairy farmers as well as expanded trade and “pro-farmer policies” in labor, environmental regulation and taxes, Galen said.
Trade policy is likely to change under Trump. The NMPF has often supported free trade agreements, including the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, to which Trump has been hostile.
Many of the policies that affect dairy farmers most directly, such as federal milk pricing programs, won’t change soon. Those are dictated by the five-year farm bill, due for its next rewrite in 2018, and Congress — not the administration — will lead the way.
Dairy groups and some Northeast lawmakers have called for adjustments to the margin protection program that helps farmers when milk prices are low and feed prices high, to tailor the program more toward farmers outside the Midwest. A chief proponent of that cause, Rep. Christopher Gibson (R-Kinderhook), is retiring from Congress and will be replaced by Republican John Faso.
It’s also unclear who might lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among Trump allies from the campaign, Mike McCloskey — the Fair Oaks Farm executive — has been mentioned, as has Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Kansas Gov. and former U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and a host of others.
More important, farm groups say, the congressional agriculture committees won’t change much. Democratic hopes of taking control of the Senate didn’t materialize, meaning Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are poised to hold on to their chairman and ranking Democrat roles on the Senate committee that writes the farm bill.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will likely remain a senior member of that panel, giving New York a voice on the farm bill. A spokesman said her office wouldn’t have any comment yet on the implications of Trump’s presidency on the farm bill.
Budget realities will probably dictate the farm bill’s shape as much as policy priorities, said Vincent Smith, an agricultural economist at Montana State University and policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. If Trump pushes deep tax cuts through Congress, that would set the stage for a smaller farm bill that more sharply pits various farm interests against each other, he said.
The political map will shape discussions as well, Smith said. Gillibrand is up for re-election in 2018, just as the agriculture committees are trying to pass a farm bill. She likely wouldn’t face an uphill climb, but six others of the nine Democrats on the committee will also face voters.
Those include Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), whose state just helped Trump win election, and Stabenow, who has worked closely with Gillibrand on expanding programs for fruit and vegetable growers.
“Michigan is a farm state, and Stabenow isn’t going to want to lose the seat,” Smith said.