What Will Future U.S. Ag Policy Look Like?

Published online: Nov 17, 2020 Articles Michelle Rook
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Source: AgWeek

Former vice president Joe Biden has unofficially been declared president-elect, but it is unclear yet what agricultural policy will look like under his administration.

While out on the campaign trail, Biden shared very few details about his vision for agriculture, but Washington insiders speculate he may look at retightening regulations and rescinding the tax cuts passed under the Trump administration, plus reentering the Paris Climate Treaty.

Mary Kay Thatcher is Syngenta’s senior lead of federal government relations and a veteran Washington policy expert. If the Democrats would have swept the election to control the presidency, House and Senate, then Thatcher said the possibility of sweeping policy changes regarding regulations and climate change would have been very probable.

“You had Biden saying I’m willing to spend $2 trillion on climate change,” she said.

However, Thatcher did not expect sweeping changes for agriculture under either a continuation of the Trump administration or the new Biden administration with one exception. She doesn’t believe urban taxpayers are supportive of farmers receiving 40% of their income from the government.
“Farmers are going to have to get used to those checks not being as large and as frequent. I just don’t think that amount of funding to agriculture is sustainable,” she said.

Don Wick covers agricultural policy for the Red River Farm Network and agrees that the level of ad hoc spending in farm country that was so prevalent under the Trump administration will not continue. He added that under the Biden administration he expects some changes in trade policy and even biofuels policy.

Thatcher does point out that Biden’s position on ag issues may not be as important as his ability to work with the House and Senate.

“You don’t do these things by yourself; you have to do them in concert with Congress. When you look at House and Senate that are so close in margins between Democrats and Republicans, it’s going to have to be a big give and take,” she says.

As far as the likely candidates for Biden’s secretary of agriculture, Thatcher says there is a long list of leaders from both parties who would be interested in the job, but former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is a name that rises to the top.
“You always look at people who have been defeated for office. So, you could look at a Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota on the Democratic side who has been quite involved in an initiative to get the Democrats more into office this year,” she said.

However, she said it would not be surprising for Biden to consider someone from California, since they are the largest agricultural state.

Wick said another possible candidate is former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat who was just defeated in his reelection campaign by former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach, a Republican. But he said there are other possibilities.

“Krysta Harden, (who) had a role when Secretary Tom Vilsack was in charge of USDA, is another name that has been floating around,” he said.

Farm groups congratulated Biden on his election, as well as the representatives and senators elected to service in the 117th Congress. The American Farm Bureau Federation released a statement urging Biden to work with Congress and across the aisle for the good of the nation. They asked him to consider agricultural priorities such as expanding trade and market access, rural broadband expansion, finding a solution to the farm labor shortage, strengthening the farm bill, and building on the advancements made toward regulatory reform. In addition, they asked the president-elect to consider the advancements made in climate-smart farming, while reducing emissions, caring for the environment and feeding a growing population.

The National Milk Producers Federation also pledged to work with Biden and members of the 117th Congress on bipartisan solutions to the many challenges in agriculture.

“Dairy is ready to do its part and work with the administration and Congress to face difficult problems successfully, in the bipartisan spirit we have always practiced and believed in,” said NMFP President and CEO Jim Mulhern.