The first 100 days of a first-term presidency often are used to measure success. Due to publication schedules as I write this article, there hasn’t been enough time to evaluate how President Trump’s key cabinet picks will impact farmers and ranchers. From this current vantage point, Scott Pruitt has been confirmed as Administrator of the EPA and the approval of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue to be Secretary of Agriculture by mid-March. These two picks should be good news for specialty crop producers.
Pruitt Likely to Curb EPA
In Pruitt, President Trump has chosen an individual who understands the EPA and who has shown a willingness to question actions by the agency that he believes exceed their statutory authority or where those actions should be reserved for the states. Much has been made of the fact that as Oklahoma Attorney General, Pruitt brought 14 legal actions against the EPA. Critics seem to imply these legal actions were without basis. Ultimately, it is up to the courts to make those judgments.
For those who have been advocating for EPA to return to making science-based decisions and conducting business in a transparent way, the appointment of Pruitt signals a new era at the agency. Just to be clear, this is not about a “burn down the house, starve them of resources” reform effort. Farmers and ranchers support a “regulatory reset” that will make the EPA work better, and that includes procedural changes in the rule-making process, such as providing ample time for science-based review and comment of agency proposals, as well as targeted reform, including repealing the WOTUS rule and eliminating the duplicative requirement for Clean Water Act permits for pesticide applications.
Perdue’s Ag Background a Plus
At USDA, the president has selected a man who, as a farmer himself, knows and respects what agriculture means to our nation. Perdue will oversee one of the largest organizations in the federal government and take his seat just as the 2018 Farm Bill process begins. He brings strong experience to the table for the next Farm Bill based on his extensive knowledge of row crop, livestock, and specialty crop agriculture as well.
The new Farm Bill promises to be a complicated affair based both on policy issues and on available funds. The overall cost of the 2014 Farm Bill is expected to be lower than originally projected due to declining participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. However, the pieces of the bill that are devoted to production agriculture — including specialty crops — might be under significant pressure due to increased costs for certain commodity programs. The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance that champions fruit and vegetable interests in the legislation will be looking to Secretary Purdue and USDA to solidify programs to support research, promotion, pest and disease eradication, and other programs currently included in the 2012 Farm Bill for the potato industry and other specialty crop producers. We are confident that we will forge a strong alliance with the new secretary as the Farm Bill process begins.
So as the new Secretary of Agriculture and the new Administrator of EPA settle in and set the direction for their teams, farmers and ranchers should anticipate good things happening. But don’t be complacent. Be sure you are communicating with the administration and all your representatives in Washington about your concerns and your visions for new opportunities. The whole process works best when you participate.