July 2017

The national farm economy is deteriorating, forcing many family farmers and ranchers to make tough financial decisions that will impact their families, communities, and the entire country. In response to these tough conditions, NFU and Farmers Union state divisions have initiated a national campaign to raise awareness for the current farm crisis. Unfortunately, President Trump’s proposed budget, which includes drastic cuts to agricultural and rural programs, would likely exacerbate the situation by weakening the farm safety net. President Trump also disregarded the interest of rural America when choosing to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Accord, stripping rural communities of valuable economic opportunities and leaving farming operations vulnerable to the effects of climate change. NFU has been urging the administration not to make the same mistakes when renegotiating NAFTA, and to instead use it as an opportunity to prioritize a fair trade agenda that benefits family farmers and ranchers and the communities in which they reside.

Farmers Union Confronts the Farm Crisis

Times are tough for American farmers and ranchers. This year, net farm income is forecast to be just half of what it was four years ago, the lowest it has been in well over a decade. This steep decline is not projected to improve any time soon.

In order to provide farmers with the resources and support needed to endure these tough economic conditions, NFU and Farmers Union state divisions have initiated a national campaign to raise awareness for the current farm crisis. As part of this effort, NFU launched a new online resource center earlier this week, the Farm Crisis Center (FarmCrisis.NFU.org), to help farmers find the information and services they need to get through financial and personal emergencies.

NFU is committed to bringing the issue to the attention of policymakers and the media. Farmers Union state divisions are organizing listening sessions to bring together farmers to discuss the impacts of the depressed farm economy. NFU will bring these stories and information to the halls of Congress, the administration, and across multimedia platforms to raise awareness for the crisis currently confronting farming and rural communities.

U.S. Withdrawal from Paris Accord is Shameful

After months of deliberation, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the historic Paris Agreement, an accord among 192 nations to combat the potentially devastating impacts of climate change.

Under the Paris Agreement, the U.S. pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025. Many of the actions that would have helped the U.S. achieve that goal would have stimulated economic growth in rural communities. This prompted NFU to be supportive of the agreement since its ratification in December 2015.

Family farmers and ranchers are already enduring consequences of climate change, and projections indicate these effects will worsen without an immediate and significant reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The President’s move strips rural America of valuable economic opportunities to confront the current farm crisis and stem the exodus of young people from rural communities, and it leaves the U.S. without an effective strategy for climate resilience, potentially exposing family farmers and ranchers to the worst effects of climate change.

In April, when the President was still undecided on the issue, NFU President Roger Johnson sent a letter to President Trump urging him to maintain the United States’ commitment under the Paris Agreement. Following the formal announcement of the U.S.’s withdrawal, Johnson released a statement calling the decision “shameful,” citing its failure “to recognize the very real and immediate threats of climate change to family farmers, ranchers, and our nation’s food security.”

Moving forward, NFU will seek opportunities to collaborate with nonprofits and private industry to address climate change productively. Decisive action is urgently needed to avoid catastrophic climate impacts on the food system.

Trump Initiates NAFTA Renegotiations

During his campaign for presidency, Donald Trump often criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a more than two-decade old trade deal between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. His platform included a promise to either renegotiate NAFTA, which he frequently referred to as the “worst trade deal ever,” to better serve the American economy or, if unable to do so, withdraw from the agreement entirely.

Since his inauguration, President Trump has wavered between the two options. In April, he was reportedly preparing to scrap the deal, but just hours later announced plans to renegotiate instead. A month later, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer formally notified Congress of the administration’s intentions to reopen NAFTA. In particular, Lighthizer emphasized the need to modernize NAFTA so it supports higher-paying jobs in the United States and grows the U.S. economy. Due to trade promotion authority (TPA), or “fast track,” that Congress passed in 2015, the administration must wait until August 16 to begin renegotiations.

Over the past several decades, the United States has entered into free trade agreements with 20 countries, maintaining a consistent trade agreement framework that has advanced the interests of multinational corporations at the expense of family farmers, ranchers, and rural workers. This free trade framework began with the U.S. entering into NAFTA in 1994.

The renegotiation provides the administration with a unique opportunity to reset the U.S. trade agenda to prioritize balanced and fair trade, and restore U.S. sovereignty. This includes ensuring Country-of Origin Labeling (COOL), a law favored by 90 percent of U.S. consumers, is allowed to be reinstated. NFU is urging President Trump to negotiate in a manner that preserves and expands American agriculture’s positive trade relationships

Proposed Budget Slashes Farm Safety Net and Support for Rural Communities

In late May, President Trump issued a detailed fiscal year 2018 federal budget proposal. The $4.1 trillion proposal, subtitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” increases military, border security, and infrastructure spending by $717 billion while cutting non-defense discretionary spending by $4.3 trillion.

The proposal would drastically cut agricultural- and rural-related agencies and programs. Farm Bill programs would be cut by nearly $230 billion, including a $29 billion cut to crop insurance, a $6 billion cut to conservation programs, and a $191 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in addition to $3 billion in cuts to other farm programs. The budget also recommends cutting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) discretionary spending, which funds rural development, food safety, conservation, and research, by $4.7 billion, or 21 percent.

In addition to cuts to farm and rural programs, the proposal stands to worsen access to healthcare by cutting Medicaid by $800 billion, a move that would disproportionately impact rural residents who enroll in the program at a higher rate than their urban counterparts. Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which provides essential environmental services and pesticide approval, would lose 31 percent of its current budget.

President Trump’s proposed budget is an assault on the programs and personnel that provide vital services, research, and a safety net to America’s family farmers, rural residents and consumers. It is deeply disappointing that the President would propose such cuts, especially in the midst of a farm crisis that has family farmers and ranchers enduring a drastic, four-year slide in farm prices and a 50 percent drop in net farm income.

This budget is particularly alarming in light of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s plans to reorganize the USDA, which would eliminate the Rural Development (RD) mission area and undersecretary. NFU joined a coalition of 578 farm and rural organizations, businesses and local governments in sending a letter to Congress pushing back on the administration’s proposed budget and reorganization of the USDA, emphasizing the importance of rural development programs in improving housing, utilities and community facilities, and economic opportunity for rural Americans. However, Secretary Perdue has since named Anne Hazlett as Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, indicating his commitment to follow through on the reorganization.

The Washington Corner can also be found at www.nfu.org/corner.