THE UNWAVERING support of the so-called ‘Flyover States’ in the central United States for US president Donald Trump has meant the agriculture sector has a strong hand in setting government policy according to a veteran US agricultural journalist.
Speaking at the Australian Grains Industry Conference (AGIC) last week Sara Wyant, editor and founder of Agri-Pulse, said agriculture was enjoying near-unprecedented access to the president and had strong influence in terms of key issues such as trade policy.
“The map of where his voters sit has been critical, his position on trade policy has made agricultural people nervous, but you see with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), he nearly threw it out but the opinions of the farmers, those that elected him, were considered.”
“The map of the country and the vote from the flyover country has been critical in convincing the president on trade policy issues, he knows who helped elect him.”
There are other areas where agriculture’s new-found clout is being felt.
Ms Wyant said signs were strong that the Trump administration would keep the renewable fuel standard in place.
“It is slightly surprising, given there are people in his cabinet from oil producing states, but it is felt he will maintain the standard, which is obviously good for farmers.”
Ms Wyant said the farm lobby was exerting a significant influence in Washington at present, in spite of representing just 2pc of the American population.
“They were strong supporters during the campaign and now Mr Trump wants to let them know he has their back.”
She said Mr Trump had a special advisor on agriculture, Ray Starling and that the farmer community was generally pleased thus far.
“We need to see some substance, but the talking points are loud and clear – the administration supports ag,” she said.
“There have been a few things that have been a home run with farmers, such as his plan to repeal the Waters of America act, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”
“Lessening of regulation and the freedom to operate are big issues for US farmers.”
On the other hand she said there was unease in Mr Trump’s much-publicised approach to illegal immigrants.
“Farmers don’t have a lot of ways to check on legalities of their workforce and they have also seen some of their workers just heading home, not wanting to risk trouble, which has led to labour shortages in some sectors.”
She said the agriculture sector in the US was facing similar issues to Australia.
“People are closely monitoring the consolidation in plant technology, such as the Chem China takeover of Syngenta and the Bayer – Monsanto deal, they are looking at consumers’ increased focus on traceability and provenance of their food and wondering what it means for them.”
“We’ve seen Amazon purchase organic grower Whole Foods and we’re seeing big brands like Safeway and Kroger weighing into the debate about food, there is a lot of disruption in agriculture at present.”
“People within agriculture are asking ‘are we thinking big enough, are we investing sufficient in research and supply systems?’,” she said.