Elections have consequences

Jim Mulhern
Jim Mulhern

The election last month of Donald Trump as the 45th U.S. president surprised most political watchers, who gave him low odds of winning. But examined in the light of the eight-year cycle of alternating presidential leadership between the two parties dating back 35 years (with the 1988 election of George Bush being the lone exception), it’s less surprising that President-elect Trump was this election’s opportunity for voters to make yet another change.

The transition process will produce some surprises as we move toward January, but it’s already clear that the Trump Administration will usher in a new approach in Washington to some of the issues of interest to dairy farmers. In every respect, this is an opportunity for dairy farmers both to seek new paths to achieve our goals, and also to accelerate ongoing efforts to make needed changes.

Let me briefly highlight some front-burner issues for National Milk on which we hope to make more progress in 2017. One of the key priorities we discussed at the recent NMPF annual meeting in Nashville is to strengthen the safety net for dairy farmers. Our members are working to identify changes that will make the Margin Protection Program more reliable and effective.

We are also discussing with key Congressional leaders our desire to adopt changes in the near term, instead of waiting for the current farm bill to expire at the end of 2018. Rural areas delivered many votes for the new president, and it’s clear that a sense of economic unease and uncertainty was a driver of that voter turnout. Fixing the dairy margin program in order to help farmers better deal with volatility must be a priority for our industry, Congress and the new USDA.

No issue on the campaign trail this year was as hotly-contested as immigration. We are now reaching out to the Trump team to discuss dairy’s unique labor challenges. Specifically, dairy farm employers need the certainty of access to their current workforce, as well as to a future supply of farm workers on a year-round basis.

Farm and ranch groups have collaborated in the recent past on a new visa program that could provide a legal source of foreign-born workers to those in agriculture. Rural America can’t grow without a stable workforce. That is a message we will continue to deliver in the coming months so that our farms have access to the workers they need so agriculture can continue its contributions to our economy.

Trade policy is another issue that drew a spotlight in the campaign, and will continue to evolve under the new administration. While momentum behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has stalled for the time being, the need for U.S. dairy access to foreign markets has not. NMPF will continue to highlight how dairy exports are economically important to farmers and dairy processors, as well as to thousands of other workers in rural America whose jobs depend on a healthy and growing U.S. agriculture.

Another expected early focus of the new administration is tax policy reform. Cuts in the rates paid by individuals and corporations will be sought and a paring down or eliminating the estate tax also will be under consideration. One of NMPF’s tax priorities is for Congress to adopt the nutrient recovery and biogas tax credit measure that we
worked with a bipartisan group of legislators in both the House and Senate to introduce earlier this year. All of these issues will be part of our focus.

An issue on the environmental side is the problematic Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) regulation, which the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers tried implementing despite the rule’s many flaws. The regulation is currently being stayed by a federal appeals court ruling, and it seems very likely that it will be one of the first major regulations to get the boot from the new administration.

In the area of nutrition, NMPF will continue its efforts to reform the school lunch program so that federal regulations once again make 1% flavored milk an offering in the lunch line. If Congress fails to address the issue during its short end-of-year lame duck session in December, NMPF, working in concert with IDFA, will press incoming members of the new Congress and the new staff at USDA on the importance of changing the short-sighted school lunch policy that has led to a decline in consumption of milk in schools.

All transitions of power in Washington produce their own surprises and unexpected developments; the arrival of the Trump Administration will be no exception. What won’t change is NMPF’s ongoing focus on finding new opportunities to advance the policy interests of dairy farmers in the coming years.

Mulhern is the President and CEO of National Milk Producers Federatiion