For many in agriculture, there’s a lot to like about President Donald Trump.
The way the president and his Cabinet members have pumped the brakes on overreaching regulations alone is enough to show U.S. farmers and ranchers that some level of common sense has returned to how the federal government manages resources.
The encyclopedic Waters of the U.S. rules were a perfect example of how regulation writers can spin out of control. By the time the rules were written, they had created more problems than they solved, and farmers and ranchers were worried that any pothole on their property could be regulated.
Other regulations written by the Obama administration had sent a lightning bolt of concern through farmers and ranchers as they worried how much the federal government would intrude on their livelihood.
When Trump shrank the size of several national monuments, he demonstrated an understanding that there is more to managing land than piling up brownie points with special interest groups. As an aside, those who want to enlarge national monuments have ample opportunity. Congress can do that any time it wants.
But there remains an undercurrent of concern about Trump and his administration: trade. For many in agriculture, trade isn’t an issue. It’s the issue. About 90 percent of the wheat grown in the Northwest is sold to customers in Asia and elsewhere. Dairy, cattle and pork producers rely on exports. So do almond and hazelnut growers and apple, cherry and other tree fruit growers. In fact, if it’s grown in the West, odds are much of it is sold overseas.
To do that, farmers, ranchers and processors rely on treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA includes Canada and Mexico. Together, those nations bought $39 billion in U.S. agricultural products last year. The treaty has opened many doors for U.S. farmers and ranchers.
Last year, the U.S. posted an overall agricultural trade surplus of $21.3 billion worldwide.
Other U.S. industries did not fare as well under NAFTA, so the administration has set about renegotiating it. Agriculture’s plea: Do no harm.
During the campaign, Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, took turns bashing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which included 11 other nations, including Canada, Mexico and another huge customer, Japan, which bought $11.8 billion in U.S. agricultural crops and goods last year.
What they apparently didn’t realize was that agriculture needs free trade. Without an agreement, tariffs and other roadblocks put U.S. farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage.
Trump has promised a better NAFTA and individual trade agreements with TPP partners. Progress has also been made with China, which last year bought $22 billion in U.S. agricultural crops and goods, making it our biggest foreign customer.
Agriculture sees a lot of good in Trump. He’s tossed overwrought and underthought regulations into the waste bin. He’s shrunk national monuments that infringed on private property owners and he’s offered hope for an industry that has struggled against public misperceptions.
But until he shows significant progress on trade, agriculture will be forced to withhold final judgment on his administration.
For Trump and agriculture, trade is a make-or-break issue.