As President Donald Trump enters his final days in office, the House of Representative’s last minute move to impeach him for a second time is stealing headlines. And with the loss of social media access, Trump’s response has been muted. While the final weeks of Trump’s presidency have been a whirlwind, the impact he’s had on agriculture the past four years isn’t going unnoticed.
“I think in the last four years, ag has gotten a lot of recognition,” Kentucky farmer Ryan Bivens told AgriTalk’s Chip Flory during the farmer forum. “Agriculture has been at the forefront. We had trade issues that were going on. And, at the end of the day, I think we’re going to look back and realize how much we truly have gained.”
While farmers like Biven say the Trump Administration is leaving its mark on agriculture, Farm Journal Washington correspondent Jim Wiesemeyer says one of the positives from the outgoing Administration was the President’s focus on farmers.
“He communicated to different groups, especially to agriculture. And no president- in my over 40 years of covering the business of agriculture from Washington- have I ever seen a president talk about agriculture and trade policy as much as our president,” says Wiesemeyer.
Looking back at the past four years, that attention is mixed.
“There’s both good and bad in Trump, and that goes along so many different topics,” says Wiesemeyer.
From Trump ‘s stance on trade, to the easing of regulations, those in Washington say the past four years have been a whirlwind because you never knew what the end result would be. Tyson Redpath works with The Russell Group in Washington, D.C. He says the Trump Administration may be remembered for many things, but one may be a trademark of this administration.
“I think the tumult and the unpredictability, the uncertainty,” says Redpath. “I’ve probably uttered that word more in the last four years – ‘uncertainty’ – than i ever have previously in my career and not knowing what was coming next.”
Trump and Trade
The unpredictability was also a product of one of the President’s pinnacle policy priorities: trade.
“The president was very clear about his desire to change NAFTA and to renegotiate NAFTA,” says Redpath.
While the end result was the new U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), the negotiations seemed like a rollercoaster, with talk of the Trump Administration completely withdrawing form trade negotiations.
“I think it was in April or the springtime of 2017, when we heard we were pulling out of NAFTA, it was absolutely decided,” remembers Redpath. “And in short of some important members of Congress and the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue himself talking to the President about why withdrawing from NAFTA would be harmful and explaining how potentially deleterious and catastrophic for those largest trading markets [it would be], we might have found ourselves in that situation.”
From renegotiating NAFTA to taking a tough stance on China, Wiesemeyer says the impact of Trump’s trade policy on agriculture is mixed.
“That’s because he was both the arsonist and the fireman when it came to China,” says Wiesemeyer. “Not that he shouldn’t have taken China on. It’s a mixture when it comes to trade policy. He should have taken China on; he should have made Americans first and he did on trade. He negotiated some pretty good bilateral trade agreements. But again, he’s got a mixture of negatives and positives.”
And while Trump built some trade relationships, others may need time to heal, as the impacts of the trade war with China continue to play out.
“We now see the end product of that campaign promise with the Phase One agreement, that now it looks like it’s proven to be something of a positive for American farm sales to China, now totaling somewhere between $26 and $27 billion,” says Redpath. “That’s up 62% from last year, but of course, that’s coming off at relatively low point.
Purdue and CME’s Ag Economy Barometer shows the highs and lows farmers experienced over the past four years. While commodity prices drove some of the fluctuations in farmer sentiments, so did the uncertainty on trade.
However, in the beginning, farmer optimism rose on Trump’s election, a sentiment shift driven solely by the thought a Trump presidency would ease regulations.
“One of the signature issues is regulations, that he put more common sense to regulations,” says Wiesemeyer. “He really did them on a cost-benefit analysis that if the costs were not overtaken by benefits, then he didn’t do them.”
USDA’s Focus on Farmers
Another positive for Wiesemeyer is the team Trump and others put together at USDA; a team who oversaw not just the implementation of the Farm Bill, but the distribution of a record amount of ad hoc aid for farmers and ranchers.
“He got a very good USDA team,” says Wiesemeyer. “You look from the under secretaries to the deputy secretary, I think they were one of the best groups that I’ve dealt with in my career. Several of them were farmers, and I think that that helped. And Trump let him alone. And he didn’t do that with every department, so, I think they facilitated what was needed throughout his four years.”
One of those key team members is Undersecretary Bill Northey, who told AgriTalk’s Chip Flory he’s proud of how USDA worked to help farmers the past four years.
“Our effort was to be able to understand the impacts and try to bridge those to help a producer get past those impacts that are caused from off their farm,” says Northey. “Whether it’s trade disruptions with China, and especially for commodities that are impacted by China, or whether it was coronavirus and the impact to some of the producers because of that.”
For farmers like Bivens, those actions didn’t go unnoticed.
“I think we had some true friends in this administration to agriculture,” Bivens told AgriTalk.
As the verdict is still out on just how big of a mark President Trump and his team will have on agriculture in the years ahead, those in Washington say it will take years to know what Trump meant for trade and other agricultural policy.
“So much of what happened the last four years, certainly shapes and dictates what happens the next four years,” says Redpath. “I think at times, it’s important that we all remember you can’t make an honest assessment of the last four years until you see what comes in the subsequent years.”