On Oct. 1, U.S. farmers and ranchers joined President Donald J. Trump to praise one of his Administration's biggest international achievements, a reworked trade deal between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Ironically, however, Oct. 1 also brought a massive domestic failure: the expiration of the 2014 Farm Bill. The president and his revelers, however, never mentioned it during their NAFTA 2.0 victory laps.
Farmers and ranchers spent most of last month hoping the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recent crop estimates would be proven wrong and President Donald J. Trump's "plan" to fix "the world's worst trade deals ever" would be proven right. September, however, disappointed them on both counts. On Sept. 12, USDA reported that the already big 2018 corn and soybean crops were getting bigger, not smaller. Total corn production was estimated at 14.8 billion bushels, the second largest ever, while soybean production was pegged at a record 4.7 billion bushels
Truisms don't need to be completely true to be a truism. For example, "If you live long enough, you'll see everything" doesn't mean you will see everything if you live a long life. You may see a great deal, but it's highly unlikely you'll see "everything." Simone de Beauvoir, a French novelist and existentialist, turned that optimistic truism into a darker one: "If you live long enough," she wrote, "you'll see every victory turned into defeat."
There are never enough days in September for farmers, ranchers, and pennant-chasing baseball teams. Every day, whether spent in a combine, pasture or batter's box, brings change to what's real today and what's possible tomorrow. And it happens fast; September days don't pass, they evaporate. Congress, however, seems not to notice days, months or even possibilities. It continues its slow, circular march to some legislative nowhere. That's worrisome for two reasons.
While U.S. farmers and ranchers spent August fretting over escalating tariffs and retreating markets, two ag policy experts used the month to publish a series of five columns that artfully — and courageously — skinned most of agriculture's sacred cows even as they planted new policy ideas for farm and ranch success. (All five columns are posted at www.agpolicy.org/articles18.htm under "August 2018.")
The Trump Administration's good cop/bad cop approach to U.S. trade policy was on full display Aug. 27 when President Donald J. Trump, the bad cop that day, announced a very incomplete NAFTA trade deal — fueled by his heavy use of tariffs — that pointedly excluded Canada. (NAFTA, or Nafta, is the North American Free Trade Agreement now under re-negotiation between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.)
An early hallmark of the Trump Administration's management of American farm policy is its uncanny ability to pick fights that are as costly to win as they are to lose. For example, even if the President's import tariff plans succeed, how many ag exports will American farmers lose before the White House declares victory and moves on? So far, in the short run, the cost is $12 billion in taxpayer money the White House already has ticketed to soften the tariffs' impact on American ag. In the long run, tens of billions more.
Cool, foggy August mornings like today inevitably carry the 50-year-old sounds of the milking parlor where my father and herdsman Howard spent tens of thousands of hours together over nearly four decades. The pair — one a college near-graduate, the other an eighth-grade graduate of the schoolhouse you could see from the dairy barn — rarely spoke. They fulfilled their milking tasks more with a series of nods than a string of words or sentences.
The only Washington, D.C. area team having a worse year than the Baltimore Orioles, an awful 34-78 on Aug. 6, is big food's biggest, richest lobbying arm, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, or the GMA. Most American farmers and ranchers don't know GMA by its acronym; they do, however, know its work: it was the organizer and checkbook behind the defeat of several state initiatives to label genetically modified food in the early 2010s.
The day U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the White House plan to spread $12 billion of taxpayer salve on its festering tariff wound, November soybean futures ended their day completely unimpressed — down a sleepy 2.5 cents. Farmers echoed the market reaction; they, too, were unimpressed with the bailout. "Trade, not aid," was their polite, but pointed take on the handout.