FARMERS and ranchers voted heavily for President-elect Donald Trump in the recent election. They did so because of the basic notion that regulations and, somehow, the polices of the past have left them behind, according to Chuck Conner, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.
Conner has spent the last two decades advocating on behalf of agriculture in Washington, D.C. He served as deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the George W. Bush Administration and was named acting secretary of agriculture when Mike Johanns stepped down in 2007.
Conner remains vocal on Trump's agricultural advisory committee.
Noting that it's "way too early to make policy predictions," Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence still "are well aware of where their bread is buttered," Conner said of the importance of rural America.
"Farmers and ranchers and people of rural America feel like they've been under attack for the last several years," Conner said. "It had a huge impact on how they responded in the last presidential election."
He cited the heavy regulatory hand of the Environmental Protection Agency as well as unfounded criticisms from consumers on how food is produced today.
Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA), said EPA's "waters of the U.S." rule has been referenced several times by Trump; he and others expect that the rule will be an early regulatory target to strike down. "This will go a long way to provide relief to our members," Woodall said. "It will ease a lot of general jitters and fears in the industry."
Woodall noted that it will be incumbent upon NCBA and other trade associations to educate Trump on the importance of trade to agriculture. For example, if the U.S. takes no action on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it results in $400,000 in losses per day for U.S. beef producers.
Conner reiterated that Trump's agricultural policy talking points acknowledged the value of agricultural exports to the farm economy. Trump's problem with trade has been largely focused on creating better opportunities within the manufacturing sector, not agriculture.
"Trump knows we're an agricultural export-dependent economy, but it sure would be great if we can keep some of these manufacturing jobs here in the United States. If the president-elect can pull that off, he'll go down as one of the greats," Conner said.
In the weeks since securing his win, Trump continues to fill in key roles in the government.
Conner downplayed rumors that he is on Trump's short list for agriculture secretary — or that his wife would even let him consider the job.
Many promises have been made that the next secretary of agriculture will have direct production agriculture experience, indicating that the lobbyists and politicians being mentioned for the post may not make the cut.
The statements made also have indicated that the EPA administrator will be a friend of agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he already is preparing a detailed memo for his successor. "It's extensive, but I hope it's helpful," Vilsack said in an exclusive interview with Feedstuffs. "I would have benefited from something like that."
USDA accounts for 85,000-95,000 career employees or temporary hires. Only 300 people at USDA are political appointees, and all of them submit resignations at the end of an administration, after which the appointments will be either filled or reallocated.
A handful of undersecretaries require Senate confirmation, meaning the Trump Administration will have its work cut out for it in the days ahead.