Outside Influences

Farmers Fret Over Trump’s Early Moves

The new administration’s opposition to trade deals and its immigration stances make agriculture groups nervous.

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Jerry Hagstrom
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Jerry Hagstrom
Jan. 31, 2017, 8 p.m.

OR­LANDO—Farm­ers, ranch­ers, and ag­ribusi­ness ex­ec­ut­ives un­doubtedly loved Pres­id­ent Trump’s state­ment on his first day in of­fice that he wants to elim­in­ate the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Cli­mate Ac­tion Plan and the Wa­ters of the United States rule they so bit­terly op­posed.

But it’s been rough since then. At winter meet­ings such as the ones held here this week by the Amer­ic­an Seed Trade As­so­ci­ation and the In­ter­na­tion­al Dairy Foods As­so­ci­ation, the con­cern, if not out­right fear, about Trump’s trade, im­mig­ra­tion, and reg­u­lat­ory policies has been ap­par­ent.

Ag­ri­cul­ture was the biggest sup­port­er of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship and has be­nefited migh­tily from the North Amer­ic­an Free Trade Agree­ment with Canada and Mex­ico. When Trump an­nounced he would ac­tu­ally with­draw from the TPP and rene­go­ti­ate NAF­TA, ag groups is­sued a series of tor­tured state­ments in which they stood up for the TPP prin­ciples and tried to avoid cri­ti­ciz­ing a pres­id­ent who won two-thirds of the vote in rur­al Amer­ica.

But when a Trump spokes­man said the pres­id­ent may go along with a con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­an pro­pos­al for a 20 per­cent tax on im­ports from Mex­ico, alarm bells went off. Tom Sten­zel, pres­id­ent and CEO of the United Fresh Pro­duce As­so­ci­ation, whose mem­bers grow fruits and ve­get­ables in the United States and Mex­ico, said, “It is very troub­ling for world food and ag­ri­cul­tur­al mar­kets for ad­min­is­tra­tion spokes­per­sons to bandy about terms like a 20 per­cent tax on all im­ports from Mex­ico or oth­er coun­tries.” Ap­ply­ing the tax would amount to a “food tax” on Amer­ic­ans and could pro­voke a trade war, Sten­zel ad­ded.

In an in­ter­view here, Andy LaV­igne, the pres­id­ent and CEO of the Amer­ic­an Seed Trade As­so­ci­ation, said his group is con­cerned about the tax be­cause U.S. com­pan­ies send seeds to Mex­ico to be “mul­ti­plied” in­to volumes that are sold to U.S. farm­ers. And Mi­chael Dykes, the pres­id­ent and CEO of the In­ter­na­tion­al Dairy Foods As­so­ci­ation, poin­ted out that U.S. food com­pan­ies have had great suc­cess in ex­port­ing to Mex­ico un­der NAF­TA and fear that their products could be­come a tar­get for re­tali­ation in any con­flict or rene­go­ti­ation between the United States and Mex­ico.

On Tues­day, former Ag­ri­cul­ture Sec­ret­ary Tom Vil­sack, who has just be­come pres­id­ent and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Ex­port Coun­cil, told in­dustry lead­ers that they should call their Mex­ic­an im­port­ers and re­as­sure them that they still want to do busi­ness with them. Those calls could “over­come” Trump’s com­ments on Mex­ico, Vil­sack said, without men­tion­ing Trump’s name.

“It’s im­port­ant for every­one to un­der­stand the im­pact that lan­guage can have on sens­it­ive is­sues such as trade,” Vil­sack said. He said he has urged Sonny Per­due, Trump’s nom­in­ee for Ag­ri­cul­ture sec­ret­ary, to speak up loudly for ag­ri­cul­tur­al trade with­in the ad­min­is­tra­tion so it doesn’t get hurt in the at­tempt to help U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing.

Vil­sack also noted that Trump’s strong an­ti­reg­u­lat­ory rhet­or­ic could in­ter­fere with im­ple­ment­a­tion of the fed­er­al law on la­beling ge­net­ic­ally mod­i­fied foods that the food in­dustry and farm­ers worked hard to get through Con­gress to avoid a hodge­podge of state la­beling laws.

On Trump’s ex­ec­ut­ive or­der to can­cel two reg­u­la­tions for every new one, Vil­sack said, “Rhet­or­ic is go­ing to meet the real­ity.”

It’s doubt­ful that Trump or his in­ner circle could have ima­gined the neg­at­ive re­ac­tion from ag­ri­cul­ture to his ex­ec­ut­ive or­der tem­por­ar­ily ban­ning cit­izens of sev­en ma­jor­ity-Muslim coun­tries from en­ter­ing the United States.

“The hard­ship is now clear and, as a mat­ter of fair­ness and in ac­cord with the val­ues of this na­tion, the de­cision that bans these cur­rent visa and green-card hold­ers from re­turn­ing for 90 days should be promptly re­con­sidered,” said Peter McPh­er­son, the pres­id­ent of the As­so­ci­ation of Pub­lic and Land-grant Uni­versit­ies, whose mem­ber schools have worked hard to re­cruit for­eign stu­dents to learn about Amer­ic­an ag­ri­cul­ture.

McPh­er­son can’t be dis­missed as a left­ist aca­dem­ic, since he was ad­min­is­trat­or of the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tion­al De­vel­op­ment in the Re­agan ad­min­is­tra­tion and Treas­ury deputy sec­ret­ary in the Re­agan and George H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions.

On top of that, Mitch Daniels, a former Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor of In­di­ana who is the pres­id­ent of Purdue Uni­versity—the land-grant school in Vice Pres­id­ent Mike Pence’s home state of In­di­ana—said, “The pres­id­ent’s or­der re­lated to im­mig­ra­tion is a bad idea, poorly im­ple­men­ted, and I hope that he will promptly re­voke and re­think it. If the idea is to strengthen the pro­tec­tion of Amer­ic­ans against ter­ror­ism, there are many far bet­ter ways to achieve it.”

Around 100 of Purdue’s 40,000 stu­dents are from the coun­tries named in this week’s ex­ec­ut­ive or­der from the White House and hold non­im­mig­rant visas, and 10 fac­ulty mem­bers are cit­izens of those coun­tries, Daniels said.

Those com­ments will pale in com­par­is­on with the re­ac­tion that will come if Trump tries to de­port farm­work­ers. At the ID­FA meet­ing, the im­mig­ra­tion ses­sion was about the aging of the farm work­force and the dif­fi­culties of re­pla­cing it with ma­chines.

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