President Donald Trump shows executive order bearing his signature. 1540x800 Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images

Is Trump hearing those in ag?

Agriculture needs plenty of people on their side when it comes to Trump’s trade agenda, immigration and regulations.

Every new administration has that period of transition that leaves everyone wondering if they’ve got the ear of the President. However, with the first week under President Donald Trump’s belt, agriculture is doing their best to continue to make their voices heard.

Dr. Sam Clovis, who was the puppet master of Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, has officially been named the Senior White House Advisor for USDA. This should be a welcome sign as the Iowa native seemed to have a firm grasp on everything ranging from crop insurance, overregulation and the need for a united farm bill approach with agricultural and nutrition groups. He spoke on behalf of the Trump camp at a Farm Foundation Forum last October and seemed knowledgeable and comfortable in his understanding of U.S. farm policy and market conditions.

Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue continues to get high marks from those in agriculture, but Trump’s long delay in officially naming Perdue has set up what may be a nomination hearing at the end of February to allow Perdue to be vetted by those in Congress and file proper paperwork.

Without Perdue confirmed and running the show, it is career staff and Trump’s USDA transition team that are trying to pick up the pieces and keep the department rolling. Clovis will be instrumental likely in picking additional members of Perdue’s team, and I would expect to continue to see members of the advisory committee surface on the final USDA landing team.

Any new administration brings with it a certain momentum. Trump is not backing down from his campaign promises and we’re going to continue to see in the days and weeks ahead how that all impacts agriculture.

The hope is that agriculture’s voice can continue to be heard. Already letters are being sent out on trade, food aid and what regulatory freezes are included.

Trade agenda

Trump already followed through with key campaign promises related to trade policy - moves that have rightfully caused concern among farmers whose price is being supported by robust export sales.

Earlier in the week, the Administration announced it would aim to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Monday, the president signed an executive order to withdraw the United States from participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement negotiated with 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Trade is the one area agriculture had hoped he would take a more calculated approach before he burned all of his bridges from the start. But with Monday’s announcement that he would be withdrawing from TPP and instead pursue bilateral trade agreements, agricultural groups were in full force making their statements to the ag press, but is anyone carrying that message to the White House?

A coalition of 133 organizations and companies from the food and agriculture sector sent a letter to Trump this week “eager to work with the new administration.” The letter pointed out the many positive attributes of U.S. agriculture to help balance the lopsided trade balance between Mexico and Canada.

But as one Washington lobbyist said, this is part of the “in between fog part” of watching decisions being made that are going to have real world impacts but not having any one those in agriculture can really talk to right now. The letter is important, but without Perdue or anyone else really making sure Trump is hearing from agriculture, everyone is bracing for what might happen ahead.

The lobbyist added the latest twist about Trump looking to put a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for the wall likely could set up an unwanted trade war with one of our most significant trading partners.

“We have built our industry in agriculture at large on the importance of market access and opening markets and breaking down non-tariff barriers,” he noted. The tit for tat that comes from trade conflicts can unfold in a number of ways that can put U.S. agriculture at risk.

Agricultural groups have put together an excellent run-down of what the trading relationship with Mexico and Canada means to agriculture, and without it, U.S. farmers surely will suffer.

Immigration actions

Trump also quickly jumped into action with his immigration executive orders. The first action addresses funding issues to begin the construction of the border wall as well as construction of detention facilities near the southern border. It also ends the “catch and release” policy currently being used by border patrol agents.  A detailed study of the southern border is targeted to be completed in the next 180 days as well as greatly increasing the number of Border Patrol and ICE officers. Finally this action will begin the deportation effort of undocumented, criminal aliens.     

The second executive action will strip “sanctuary cities” of federal grants and facilitate repatriation of immigrants being deported.  Also a report on all federal aid that has been provided to the Mexican government in the last 5 years and an analysis of alien apprehensions at the border will be completed.   

The American Dairy Coalition said the recent executive orders shows that it is vital for the industry to “pull together and push forward” their reform legislation to ensure a viable labor workforce. They’ve been advocating a state-based visa program and said they expect their reform bill to be introduced “in the near future.”

Regulatory freeze

In one of his first actions, Trump's Chief of Staff Reince Priebus issued a notification to government agencies to "freeze" regulatory actions. This action will require that rules that have been published but have yet to be implemented to be delayed for 60 days.  Additionally, rules that have been recently submitted, but that have not yet been published, are to be entirely withdrawn. This delay will allow for incoming political staff appointed by the Trump Administration to review the regulations.

Among the regulations put on hold are two released just days before the inauguration: The Farm Fair Practices Rules and the organic livestock and poultry rule. One of the regulations in the Farm Fair Practices Rules – also known as the GIPSA Rule (after USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration) – would broaden the scope of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) of 1921 related to the use of “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive practices” and “undue or unreasonable preferences or advantages.” Specifically, it would deem such actions inherent violations of federal law even if they didn’t harm competition or cause competitive injury, prerequisites for winning PSA cases.

Livestock groups are concerned that the regulation would restrict the buying and selling of livestock, lead to consolidation of the livestock industry and increase consumer prices for meat. It was set to take effect Feb. 21.

The organic rule adds animal welfare standards to the nation’s organic food production law. It would strictly dictate how organic producers must raise livestock and poultry, including during transport and slaughter, and specify, without scientific justification, which common practices are allowed and prohibited in organic livestock and poultry production. It also would establish indoor and outdoor space requirements for animals. The regulation was set to take effect March 20.

While details are unclear, legal counsel has advised they do not believe this regulatory freeze will affect Section 18 pesticide exemption applications.

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