What will the U.S. agriculture industry be like under a Joe Biden presidency and Kamala Harris vice presidency?
The Biden-Harris campaign hosted a virtual farmers and ranchers roundtable on August 29 to shed some light on the Biden Plan for Rural America.
While neither Biden nor Harris spoke at the roundtable, which was moderated by National Farmers Union President Rob Larew, four U.S. producers shared their thoughts on what they like about Biden’s plan, and how they think farmers have fared under President Donald Trump.
Also speaking during the roundtable were House Agriculture Committee members Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, and Filemon Vela, D-Texas. Peterson serves as the committee’s chairman.
This blog post includes commentary from the roundtable speakers. Please keep in mind these are the speakers’ viewpoints and may not necessarily reflect the opinions of the author.
More of the same under Trump?
Darin Von Ruden, a third-generation dairy farmer and president of Wisconsin Farmers Union, said the dairy industry is severely hurting under a Trump presidency.
“Here in Wisconsin during the last four years, we’ve been losing just about two dairy farms per day throughout his tenure as our president,” Von Ruden said, noting that 2019 “really brought the average up,” as about 800 dairy farms in the state were lost.
“Under the current rate of loss, Wisconsin is going to lose close to – if not over – 25% of all dairy farms in the state of Wisconsin alone. Now, these numbers are similar throughout the whole country. This isn’t just a Wisconsin problem. This is a problem that is nationwide, really.”
Von Ruden said he is stumping for Biden because he “led us through some terrible times in the past,” including “an economic crisis that was caused by a Republican administration.”
He also said the Biden-Harris campaign “has the ability to look at what’s going on and pull us through this in the end.”
Meanwhile, Von Ruden believes Trump and his administration is likely to keep doing what it has been doing during the past 3.5 years.
“That really hasn’t been good for rural America when you look at the number of farmers that went out of business, and that’s jobs lost. We need to find a way to keep farmers farming, and keep those jobs in rural America,” he said.
Another farmer participating in the roundtable indicated that the situation for farmers may even be worse if voters offer Trump a second term.
Pennsylvania grain and dairy farmer Rick Telesz described Trump as a “heck of a salesman,” but mostly what Telesz has seen are “empty promises.”
“He promised farmers the world, and we’ve gotten virtually nothing from him in return,” he said.
Telesz said he listened to Trump’s talks during the Republican National Convention, and those talks, he said, did not mention what Trump had in mind for American farmers. Telesz said he fears Trump’s actions to help the farmers may be even less if he is given a second term, because he won’t be eligible for a third term.
“Basically, after this election, if he wins, he won’t have a use for the farm vote. We will be forgotten,” said Telesz.
International trade and trade wars initiated by the Trump administration were commonly discussed topics during the roundtable.
Kim Ratcliff, a Texas cattle rancher, said trade is a huge price indicator for the crops and food animals that farmers sell.
“A lot of the cuts that we produce, we are relying on trade to get that premium price per pound for our product, so going into that, trying to use trade as a negotiation tool is very difficult, because it does affect our bottom line,” said Ratcliff, who said many of the products U.S. consumers don’t use are actually desired in many foreign markets.
Von Ruden said he didn’t feel like appropriate consideration for farmers has been given in Trump-era trade deals.
“There was no plan going into these trade wars, and in the end, did we really get great deals? From a lot of people’s perspective, yes, we did. But then there’s a whole bunch of other people like myself who don’t really believe that we did,” said Von Ruden.
Von Ruden was also critical of Trump for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he did not provide good leadership in preventing the spread of the disease and preventing supply chain disruptions.
“One of my biggest frustrations over the last six months has been our president’s leadership in the whole COVID-19 crisis. There has not been anything there at the national level. If we had some type of leadership there, we might not be where we are today, or maybe I should say we would not be where we’re at today. That lack of leadership, the lack of taking responsibility for his actions has really been detrimental to this country,” said Von Ruden.
“As a leader of an organization, I have to be responsible for what I do and what I say on a daily basis. I have to be responsible for our members, even. Once in a while you get a call from a member who’s frustrated with what’s going on with our government both at the state level and federal level. Sometimes they really want to spout off, but we have to make sure that they’re being responsible citizens and we’re just not seeing that from the White House today.”
Renewable fuel standard
Tenah McMahon, a grain and dairy farmer from Ohio, was critical of Trump’s stance on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), saying he has undercut the RFS with the granting of waivers to larger oil companies. Meanwhile, the ethanol industry has struggled.
Von Ruden agreed.
“Hundreds of (workers) within the ethanol industry have been laid off or terminated simply because they are not needed anymore,” he said.
The decline of the ethanol industry is just another economic woe under the Trump administration, Von Ruden said.
“We’ve got a president that’s saying we’re creating jobs. If I look at what’s happening with the agricultural sector in the upper Midwest, we’ve lost a lot more jobs than have been created under this administration,” he said.
Biden, meanwhile, has pledged support for the ethanol industry, McMahon said, which will not only bode well for corn farmers and the ethanol industry, but also livestock producers who use byproducts such as dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) as feed ingredients.
Ratcliff said she believed that, under a Biden presidency, things will be better for farm workers and the people who employ them than they have been under Trump’s administration.
“We need to be able to give the dignity, the respect and the regards to our farm workers, no matter if they are U.S. citizens or immigrants. We have to have a program that allows us to keep our farm workers here and keep them treated fairly … and keep them here in the United States on the land that we currently have,” she said.
Access to environmental initiatives
McMahon noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has numerous programs through its Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service that can help farmers be better stewards of their resources. But those programs can be difficult and cumbersome to access and carry out, she said.
“We know we’ve got climate change, and we know we need to be more responsible for being green and taking care of things,” she said.
“Biden has a strike force – not a space force but a strike force – and that to enable somebody to help you navigate these programs and know what you can get help with. That, to me, is something that would be absolutely beneficial, because it’s complicated in understanding what we would qualify for. I was really excited to see about that, because we all want to be green and do better.”