From Politico’s Morning Ag
TRUMP’S FIRST 100 DAYS ON THE FARM: Tomorrow marks 100 days in the White House for President Donald Trump, and it took 95 of them to get Sonny Perdue confirmed as Agriculture secretary. Perdue was announced as Trump’s pick on the eve of Inauguration Day, so for agriculture, the story of the first 100 days has really been about waiting for Trump’s rural representative to be seated in his Cabinet. The other top takeaways for ag weren’t positive – Trump withdrew from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership in his first week in office, depriving farmers of potential access to new markets, and the budget outline his administration released last month marked USDA for a 21-percent cut, the third largest of any agency. Trump’s plan also calls for cuts to rural airport service and hospitals.
But there were bright spots, to be sure. Perdue is widely supported by industry. He’s said he’ll prioritize expanding ag exports and promoting technological innovation. MA thinks he’s hit the right notes in his early days, going back to his confirmation hearing, and we see his get-comfortable-in-work-clothes approach as … well … perfect. And Trump has an ag-friendly EPA administrator, who has moved quickly to reverse the long and rocky relationship between the agency and farmers. Trump has made good on his pledge to target burdensome regulations, though the big-ticket efforts on that front will take time. We’ve prepared a rundown on all things ag over the first 100 days, so let MA say hello first and please read on!
WOTUS rewind. Most farmers would say this was good – or more like fantastic. Trump followed through on a campaign promise to scrap his predecessor’s Waters of the U.S. rule, signing an executive order to start the process in late February. The rule is loathed by farmers, but reversing it is a long, complicated process that will require several years of proposals and public comment – giving environmentalists ample opportunity to fight a rearguard action. The effort is complicated by the Supreme Court’s insistence that it weigh in. SCOTUS has denied a request by EPA to stay the case over jurisdictional questions raised in the suit. Of course, vague language from SCOTUS led to the rule in the first place.
Ag’s friend in the EPA. When EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spoke to members of the right-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation in late February, he got a standing “O.” A similar reception came from the ranks of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in March. Such approbation was unheard of when Obama-era EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was in office, but it reflects what many farmers view as Trump’s quick turnaround of the agency, which has shifted its relationship with agriculture to consider business interests and job creation in the context of environmental stewardship.
Pruitt, aside from the WOTUS play, has denied a long-standing petition from environmental groups to prohibit the insecticide chlorpyrifos for agricultural uses; McCarthy supported establishing a ban. Agricultural groups are hoping this bodes well for a slew of other chemicals being reviewed by the agency, including the widely used herbicide glyphosate, which some scientific research has indicated could cause cancer. A draft risk assessment for the chemical EPA is expected to release later this spring is expected to find that glyphosate is not a human carcinogen.
Task force-ification. The White House has had the same response to both the opioid crisis and the slumping rural economy: Let’s study it. With much hoopla, Trump signed executive orders to empower a pair of task forces to come up with solutions to the biggest issues affecting rural America. While the measures put a spotlight on those problems, it remains to be seen what will come. The Obama administration did its own study on the opioid abuse epidemic, and health advocates are urging action from Trump, not more research. The task force on rural America, which Perdue will lead, will seek to root out burdensome regulations as part of its effort to find ways to spur economic prosperity. Its mission is a sound one, but farmers can only hope Perdue’s panel can plant the right seeds.
A not-so-friendly trade agenda. Here’s where things have started to go south for farmers in the new administration. Trump’s pullback from TPP, which was in its final stages, means that farmers coping with falling crop prices must have faith that his plan of striking more favorable nation-to-nation trade deals will open new markets for their products. None of those hoped-for deals are anywhere close to getting off the ground. And then there’s Trump’s threat to withdraw from NAFTA unless Canada and Mexico agree to renegotiate the Clinton-era deal, which provided the industry with a monumental boost, allowing it to benefit from freely moving crops and livestock across the nation’s northern and southern boundaries. The best farmers can hope for now is that Trump’s dealmaking prowess will shine through, but marshalling NAFTA 2.0 and a spate of bilateral deals through Congress – assuming other nations are willing to dance – will be a challenge.
Deep budget cuts for rural America? If Trump has his way, USDA’s rural programs would take a huge cut to fund a military buildup and a wall along the border with Mexico. The administration’s budget outline has rankled Democrats and Republicans alike by calling for slashing funding for rural water and wastewater infrastructure grants, among other proposed cuts. It does not preclude broader cuts to rural programs, and also calls for decimating foreign food aid, which is generally a reliable source of income for farmers. Perdue promised lawmakers in questions for the record that he will “press for consideration of rural needs in the infrastructure package the administration is formulating,” but cuts may be a reality unless Congress fights for rural America.