The non-partisan advocacy of Farm Foundation set up this debate to learn more about elements of the presidential candidates.
Sam Clovis and Kathleen Merrigan argued the case of voting for one or the other of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Clovis's main points were deregulation, lower corporate tax rates and a reform of labour laws.
Merrigan's main points were the importance of women in farming, farm bills to support those suffering rural poverty, diversity in agriculture and rural broadband to revitalise rural communities.
Representing Donald Trump:
Sam Clovis, Co-Chair and policy advisor, 10 year professor of economics at Morningside College.
On behalf of Hillary Clinton:
Kathleen Merrigan, Former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University.
Sam Clovis began his address by offering what he termed: “Our vision for farm industry.”
He said: “Agriculture is not isolated from rest of economy. One area affects other aspects of economy and society.”
In terms of agriculture, he rather obliquely said: “One of the most critical issues is the impact the next President will have on the Supreme Court. The appointment of one justice or even four could change fundamentally the nature of the court system.” Mr Clovis noted how last 40 years has seen “a much greater ideological divide in Congress. Calculating demographic divide has widened with each congress. Intractability puts more emphasis on impact of president's ability to steer state.” Perhaps giving the nod to the strong rural support for gun ownership, he termed it a “guns and butter situation.”
Getting away from fluffy lines and down to policy, Clovis said: “Priorities going forward: Fundamental tax reform.”
He outlined Trump's ambition to bring the “corporate tax structure down to 15%”, bringing with it an “ability to regionalise tax” and “incentives to bring companies back in.” He went on saying Trump would benefit farmers by abolishing death tax. He said, “valuation of properties has sky-rocketed,” up to “$9,800/acre in Iowa.” He said trump would “keep century farms in century families. 6,7 and 8 generation farmers.”
Mr Clove went on to discuss the clash between wildlife protection and cattle drovers in the West. He expressed concern about the “livestock industry in 13 western states, where the federal government owns 20% of land, up to 80% in Nevada.” He said there were numerous “land management challenges, balancing energy independence and habitat conservation. Decisions have impacted the ability operate [...] proper energy development without impacting fisheries or wildlife.” He claimed to be a strong advocate of wildlife protection, but said that Trump would roll back regulation to make farming easier.
The Two Elephants
He said there were two elephants in the room. One he termed, the “Trade issue.” He said “in 2015 exports had a $20 billion surplice.” He said the “natural trade situation” is “not likely to be impacted if trade operation is done appropriately.” He said some countries have “comparative advantages, the IMF and WTO must enforce the rules.” He said that “TTIP is troubling because we have already set aside money to retrain 200,000 workers who are likely to lose their jobs.” He added, “We should be trying to bring people off the sidelines into the workforce and trade on a larger scale.”
The second elephant, according to Mr Clovis, is immigration. He outlined Trump's ambition as being, “To secure borders and operate under the rule of law.” He wants to “enforce immigration laws. Not damage anyone but to prevent the dismantling of industries.” Clovis acknkowedged that “agriculture depends on immigrant workers”, but that 1 in 4 agricultural workers are illegal. He said, “we want to help streamline the H2 system to make workers legal. We will work with them to make the workforce legal.”
Mr Clovis mentioned what he termed “Special interests in corporate concentration of industry.” He wants to “role back regulation to encourage new entrants to industry.” He bemoaned the regulations of the Clean Water act which he described as the “Poster child of Government Overreach.” he said “the EPA is manipulating rules to have influence on everything we have.” He mentioned a large farmer with whom he is friends, a no-till farmer. “One of the things he raised was the water in the ditch north of his property that could come under the rules regarding run-off from his land, so he would need permits..”
This was the extent of Clovis' initial address.
Ms Merrigan decided to use a top-ten list structure.
10: Renewable Energy
“Clinton asks. Who will be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century? Clinton plans to put US on top.” Merrigan said that renewable energies are “fastest growing source of jobs.” Clinton plans to build 500 million solar panels before end of her first term, as well as investing in research and development. She added that “rural communities can diversify and strengthen through the development of renewables.” She said that Clinton is determined to see a 99% utility scale, including investment in wind production to the tune of $100m.
She quoted Clinton as saying, “no community is left behind, not urban centres not our small towns, not our remote rural areas. [These utilities will be] manufactured in America, installed and [put] people to work in America.”
9: Bio-based Economy
Ms Merrigan said that Clinton is devoted to furthering the “bio base, E15 E85 bio-diesel blends.” She said that the “Farm Bills mandate […] requires federal agencies to make bio based fuels preferable.” She said that Clinton's “strong support” would “deliver dynamic growth to this sector.”
8: Immigration Reform
Ms Merrigan asked:“What works best for American agriculture? Building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, or honest comprehensive immigration reform? Agriculture relies on foreign-born labour. The current impasse is crippling the agricultural industry.” Merrigan said that labour shortages “have contributed to imports rising by 79% between 1998 and 2012.” She said that Clinton is committed to establishing a “pathway to full and equal citizenship in her 1st 100 days.” She said people would be treated with dignity and that Clinton would “fix the family visa backlog while upholding rule of law, bringing hard-working people into the formal economy.”
7: Beginning Farmers and Ranchers
Ms Merrigan noted that an “ageing farm base” has led to a “need to repopulate our working lands and our rural communities.” She said that the “last couple of farm bills have introduced measures and USDA has done some good stuff, but their tool box is not up to the real challenges.” She noted the urgency of the situation and said how Clinton has proposed “support for the next generation by doubling funding for beginning farming and rancher programmes and tackling student debt.” She said that 30% of graduates said that loan debts had “delayed and prevented them from farming.” She said that veterans need to be brought in as consultants to administrate the hand-over.
6: Farm to Fork
Merrigan tells how Clinton has a story of how she was often kidded when she joined the Senate, “you're from New York, what do you know about rural issues?” The answer there's a lot of New York outside the city, 36,000 farms and 1.5m rural residents. New York is in the top 10% producing states of 36 commodities including dairy, apples, wine etc.
Ms Merrigan explained how Clinton created the “Farm to Fork initiative to create economic opportunities for rural dwellers, integrating rural and urban populations.”
Ms Merrigan stated the need for rolling out “Fast affordable [rural] broadband.” She added that: “Without it we will not build rural communities. Will millennials return home without access to broadband?” Clinton has a goal of providing broadband to all households by 2020.
4 Rural Revitalisation
Clinton proposes a “National infrastructure bank” which would deal with “water, rural transportation.” Ms Merrigan says, “Mrs Clinton knows our infrastructure is crumbling. [We need to] streamline, expand and make permanent new markets tax credit.” She said that Clinton intends to “simplify regulations for community banks, increase the number of rural business investment companies, and strengthen USDA grant programmes to make them less bureaucratic and more flexible.”
3: Substance Abuse.
Ms Merrigan told a story of how a famous film-maker caused a buzz when he came to her local town to make a segment for his new movie, but when 'Substance Unknown' was released, it disappointed them all because it exposed the terrible malaise of rural drug abuse. She quoted the film's closing sequence: “Maybe now that it's really come home to roost, now that it's the high school quarter back, your next door neighbour, your son your daughter, now that your grandma is just as likely to be a junky as anybody else we'll accept that there has never been a real war on drugs. War on drugs implies an us versus them, and all over this part of America people are learning there is no them, there's only us.” Ms Merrigan said that there has been a 400% rise of drug abuse in rural areas and it is “time for frank talk and increased aid to conquer this epidemic.”
2: Farm Bill
Ms Merrigan outlined how Clinton supported farm bills. She notes how Mike Pence as congressman rejected Farm Bills 16 times, at every opportunity. She said he urged colleagues to vote down farm bills to protect taxpayers. Ms Merrigan said that she herself is a veteran of five farm bills. She said: “I have never met a member of congress who liked everything in a farm bill. It has been and always will be, a matter of compromise. For congressman Pence to vote against the 2008 Farm Bill, means he was voting against a safety net for our farmers, nutrition assistance for poor people including millions of children in rural America, research that allows American agriculture to continue to innovate, export promotion, the list could go on and on...”
She added that Senator Pat Leahy, with whom she worked on Farm Bills, “understands that an omnibus Farm Bill is good for our nation.”
Ms Merrigan went on:
“Fiscal conservatism is one thing. When I was at USDA Tom Vilsack and I had to cut USDA discretionary spending by 15% in that first term. It wasn't easy. But we did what was fiscally responsible, what was asked of us, without abandoning rural America. We do not have a record of Farm Bill action by Mr Trump. But Mr Pence is his Washington insider. We can expect that he will be advising Mr Trump on such things and Mr Pence has a dismal record. The Trump team needs to understand that US net farm income is down for the third year in a row. Dairy? Well it's just painful to watch. Beef. Hogs. Grain. Cotton. All my friends in farming are facing tough times right now. Secretary Clinton has supported farm bills and disaster relief. She understands that we need to stabilise and deepen the farm safety net. We need a farm bill. We need it passed on time. And we need it to sustain farmers and ranchers who work the land.”
Ms Merrigan said that the importance of women in agriculture cannot be underestimated. “In the US 1 million women are head or co-head of farms or ranches, a third of all operations.
Increasingly, young beginning farmers are women. And older women? They're gonna determine the fate of America's farmland. By 2030, women may own as much as 75% of transferred farmland, largely because they simply out live their husbands. Given the fact that we lose about 40 acres of ranchland every hour, women are critical decision-makers.
“Globally, women dominate farming. In developing countries, female farmers are 50% or more of agricultural labour and account for two thirds of the world's 600 million livestock keepers. According to the Food Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, if women were given equal access to education, training and leadership positions as men, world food production would increase 30%, that's the equivalent of feeding 150 million people a day. Secretary Clinton knows it's critical to empower women, to reach their full potential, not only for themselves, not only for their families, but also for agriculture, to feed the world.”
Ms Merrigan added the following closing remarks:
“In a world of low commodity prices and with global population projected to be more than 9 billion very soon, we can't afford to ignore any tools in our toolbox. Organic, biotech, small farms, big businesses, local, global, they're all gonna play a role. We need policies that reward innovation, protect health and the environment and build consumer confidence. Agies need to work together with nutritionists, conservation and environmental advocates and rural development proponents, to develop and enact comprehensive legislation for rural development for all America. No More divide and conquer. That means, by the way, keeping nutrition, in the Farm Bill. We need Mr Trump to make that commitment now, and politically and publicly, so that people know what they're voting for.
“Agriculture needs markets, all markets. Organic, local, farmer opportunities must be strengthened and expanded. Technology necessary for larger producers to continue to reduce their environmental footprint while surviving on lower margins is necessary to feed a growing population. This is diversity. Much like a well-managed farming operation with effective crop rotation, the agricultural economy needs economic diversity. The next president must fight for diversity in agriculture.”