|Trump Talking Ag|
Out Of His Element
Trump's promise of better access to information is meaningless when it comes to dealing with the real problems in the farm and ranch belts. Trump added to this diversion from those problems by crowing about the estate tax. On this one he outright lied, saying that "most family farms" would be spared "the punishment of the deeply unfair estate tax." No, most family farms, in fact about 98% of them, per USDA, would not have had to file estate tax returns in 2016. Where Trump comes up with that "most family farms" bit is incomprehensible, but a lot of people out there continue to buy the fiction. It remains a talking point that won't die.
Then there's NAFTA. Trashing the trade deal was one of the pillars of Trump's presidential campaign, but South Dakota ag producers know its importance. Giving it a few words in his speech yesterday, Trump said he is "working very hard to get a better deal for our country and our farmers." I doubt that there's a better deal possible, considering North American ag sales by U.S. farmers have grown exponentially as a result of the existing deal. Last November South Dakota Department of Agriculture sent out a news release saying that since NAFTA's inception, ag exports to Mexico and Canada grew from $9 billion annually to $38 billion last year. South Dakota ships 62% of its foreign ag exports to Mexico and Canada. Trump may be trying to get a "better deal" for American farmers, but the initiative, from an ag producers perspective, looks more like an effort to fix something that isn't broken. Our ag industry has good reason to be concerned that our NAFTA partners can start seeking their farm goods elsewhere if Trump's revisions or outright abandonment of NAFTA make our products less financially competitive.
I couldn't find anywhere in the text of his speech a mention of the most pressing issue in our ag industry--money. Mainly, ag producers have been seeing a steady drop in their income since 2013, and the widely followed USDA's Farm Futures site is looking for an income dropoff in 2018. I've also seen forecasts for slight improvement next year, but nobody's talking about a reversal of the multi-year trend. Trump's silence on the matter yesterday in Nashville reflects his lack of understanding about how global markets are essential to the health of American farms and ranches. Exports represent about a 20% share of our ag sales and consistently account for a balance of trade surplus within their category. Bashing global trade is anathema to farmers and ranchers, and given the steady erosion of farm income in recent years, Trump should be aggressively seeking out foreign markets as a way to prop up sales for Americans.