President Donald Trump’s performance for agriculture during his first six months in office is a mixed bag, according to Barry Flinchbaugh, professor emeritus, agricultural economics at Kansas State University. Flinchbaugh, an expert on agricultural policy who has contributed to the development of each farm bill since joining the KSU faculty in 1974, says Trump deserves an A for the appointment of Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture because of his intelligence and “he knows agriculture very well.”
Flinchbaugh, speaking at the Cattle Feeders Business Summit sponsored by Merck Animal Health in Denver, CO, said Perdue deserves credit for shaping the Trump administration’s view on issues such as trade and immigration.
“It would have been an absolute disaster to withdraw from NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement),” Flinchbaugh says. “The U.S., Mexico and Canada have all benefitted. NAFTA has resulted in a net job increase for the U.S., and Mexico and Canada are our top two customers. If we screw up NAFTA we run the risk of losing those customers to Brazil, Argentina and other countries.”
With Perdue’s influence, Flinchbaugh says the Trump policy shifted from abolish NAFTA to renegotiate. On the four top issues facing agriculture, Flinchbaugh assigned the following grades to President Trump: farm bill, B; trade, D; immigration, D; deregulation, A.
Flinchbaugh told the cattle feeders he doesn’t expect any big changes in the farm bill because the “agricultural power structure in Congress is in very good hands.” He noted the chairmen of and minority leaders of both the House and Senate Ag Committees have worked on previous farm bills and work in a “somewhat bipartisan way.”
However, Flinchbaugh delivered a warning regarding farm bill policy. “If we remove food stamps and nutrition policy from the farm bill, it will be the last farm bill,” he predicts. That’s because agriculture is in the minority with only 35 rural districts left out of 435 congressional seats. He predicts USDA would disappear if food stamps and nutrition – which account for 80% of the USDA budget – were separated from commodity programs and crop insurance.
Regarding trade, Flinchbaugh was encouraged by the reopening of the Chinese market to beef last month, but was disappointed that Trump rejected the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) agreement early in his presidency.
“The rejection of TTP played right into the hands of China,” Finchbaugh said.
Trump’s other low grade was on immigration, which Flinchbaugh argued agriculture “needs a permanent legal immigrant work force. Seventy-five percent of the fruits and vegetables are harvested by immigrants, and half the cows in the U.S. are milked by immigrants. The beef, pork and dairy industries need a permanent work force, not a seasonal one.”
On deregulation, Flinchbaugh praised Trump’s executive orders that reduced regulations on business and industry. It was the lone issue earning an A from Flinchbaugh.