Inside D.C.

Ag talks priorities to White House aspirants

This was the week agriculture – organized and individual – emerged from the political closet and started laying down markers for the November 3 election. 

The Ag CEO Council, comprised of the heads of 21 of the nation’s largest ag groups, including the American Farm Bureau (AFBF) and the National Farmers Union (NFU), released its “Presidential Campaign Briefing,” while lists of ag leaders supporting President Trump versus those supporting former Vice President Biden hit the wires as well.

It used to be ag groups, like their members, were silent onlookers in presidential elections.  This had nothing to do with lack of interest in the election outcome.  It had everything to do with seeming to play both ends against the middle so as not to rile the winner should an organization back the wrong candidate, i.e. the loser, in a race for the White House.

Aggies stress to politicians of all stripes the economic importance of agriculture, as in 23 million jobs, 15% of total U.S. employment and $7 trillion in total economic contribution.  The CEOs also stress that right now, the “economic health of agriculture is poor and deteriorating.” Trump discovered in 2016 that giving a voice to rural voters’ concerns attracted votes – lots of votes.  The bipartisan ag group honchos rightly point out, “Farmers are deeply patriotic and politically active…and drive outcomes at the local, state and national levels.”

Endorsing the Biden-Harris ticket this week was a list of nearly 100 aggie/foodie Democrats, including former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, former Obama U.S. Special Trade Representative (USTR) for agriculture Darci Vetter, and Roger Johnson, former commissioner, North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the former president of the NFU, along with several former Democrat administration appointees, restaurant owners and straight-out farmers and ranchers.   

Interestingly, if you search the web for a those GOPers endorsing Biden or those Democrats supporting Trump, the results unearthed make for interesting reading. 

Ultimately, not only should Trump and Biden pay heed to these ag CEOs, but members of Congress up for reelection – the entire House and one-third of the Senate – would do well to hear what agriculture is saying. 

The ag executives provide both Biden and Trump camps a list of 10 “priorities for the next four years and beyond.  These priorities – designed to provide “predictability, consistency and reliability of policy” – include the challenge of and coping with COVID 19; farm policy and its links to food, feed, fiber and national security; trade agreements and a “functioning WTO” are critical to ag; a recognition of the importance of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and biofuels manufacture; increased research funding; actions to ensure an adequate trained workforce; an ongoing need to enhance rural broadband service; greater federal investment  in infrastructure and action to ensure competition among transport modes; climate and sustainability policy must recognize ag’s contribution to mitigating climate control, but must be wed to economic growth, and continued attention to nutrition and health and ag’s role in feeding the world.

Calling the 10 priorities “critically important to the future of American agriculture and the food security of our nation,” the 21 CEOs said, “Congress and the Administration must move expeditiously in a bipartisan way to address (these priorities)…American farmers will help elect and stand by those leaders who understand their challenges and share their vision for solutions.” 

Ignoring those “fly-over states” is never a smart move.

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