Rural America: The Road Ahead

Rural America still counts. We still have a voice. Our opinion matters.

Rural America still counts. We still have a voice. Our opinion matters. There were some who didn’t put much stock in that belief before the election of President Donald Trump last November, but his presidency has turned the political world on its head. It was largely rural voters who elected him to the highest office in the land.

I will admit that even I was not expecting the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. However, hearing the news took me back to December of 2012 when U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told us that rural America was “becoming less and less relevant.” His message was that rural America needed to be more proactive and less reactive on the issues that affect many of us in agriculture.

In my opinion he wanted us to toe the line as President Obama and his administration imposed their will against our very way of life. No longer was American agriculture capable of opposing added regulatory fiat by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Labor or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Rural America was expected to acquiesce as our way of life was changed from what we knew.

On election night, rural America said, “Not so fast.”

So, we now have Trump and a U.S. Congress controlled by the Republican party. What does this mean for agriculture in New York and the Northeast? It is going to be a mixed bag. When it comes to immigration reform, we will be looking at border enforcement, perhaps a wall, and identification verification before we get any comprehensive reform. Farm Bureau has long said an enforcement-only approach would cost American agriculture tens of billions of dollars and would raise food prices for consumers. Along with border enforcement, we need a workable guest worker program that will allow for greater legal access to seasonal and yearround farm labor.

On the trade front, Trump has been very clear on his disdain for free trade agreements, and it is certain that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead as we knew it last year. This is concerning because greater access to world markets and a fair trade system that doesn’t allow for tariff retaliation on U.S. exports are essential for growing the farm economy. If TPP alone had passed, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that it would have increased cash receipts and net exports from New York by $111.4 million and $66.2 million per year, respectively. It also estimated that the increased marketing opportunities for New York’s farmers and ranchers would have added more than 500 jobs to the New York economy. These are economic opportunities that we still must push for with the new president.

On the positive side, we should see a slowdown and pullback on the many burdensome regulations that have affected businesses of all types. Hopefully, we will say goodbye to the expansion of the Waters of the U.S. that looked to regulate dry farmland under the guise of the Clean Water Act.

It is early in his administration, but we are hopeful officials will be friendlier to rural America and agriculture in general. Hopefully, the new administrator of the EPA will work with agriculture and rural America to establish open lines of communication and allow us to partner with the agency on issues to benefit the environment instead of dictating to us what the rules will be. Tax reform is also on the list as both Trump and congressional leaders have announced plans to reform the current tax code.

We in agriculture have much to gain and lose with the incoming administration. It is imperative that Farm Bureau, at all levels, remains vigilant on our positions and advocates for our rural way of life.

I encourage everyone in farming communities across the region to keep reminding Trump and our elected leaders at every level of government that to ignore rural America has consequences.