You would have to be living under a rock to not know about the public uproar over immigration and refugees in the U.S. This is just one of the changes facing agriculture in 2017. One of the cornerstones of President Trump’s campaign was immigration. In his first few days in office, he has taken steps to address not only the refugee issue but the immigration issue.
Chuck Conner, with the National Association of Farmer Co-operatives, recently told the Agribuisness Council of Indiana that 70% of the labor force in agriculture are undocumented workers. As a result, this is an issue in which agriculture has to be involved, “We hope there will be no across-the-board policy that will just send home agricultural workers, if they are good workers and have not been in any kind of trouble.” He said such a move would be devastating to the U.S. food supply. He also hopes some kind of a guest worker program can be implemented, “We certainly hope we can get a legal workforce for agriculture in place in the future.”
Another issue that keeps Conner up at night is trade. He worries about some of the statements being made by the Trump White House, “Every time we have a trade dispute with another country, they retaliate against agriculture.” He added, if the U.S. gets into a tiff with China, for example, it will be soybeans that get hurt. Conner supports the President’s efforts to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. He said this could help bring jobs back to rural America. While new trade deals may help solve some existing trade problems, Conner says agriculture must be engaged in these negotiations to protect our interests.
Jay Vroom, with Crop Life America, told the ACI conference there is a lot of talk about the Farm Bill and the safety net, but the real focus needs to be on building demand, “We have not done enough, in my opinion, over the last 30 years to build demand for U.S. agricultural products.” He said we need to spend more time thinking about that.
Both men agreed that the new administration will bring more good things than bad for agriculture, but that we face some very challenging times over the next few months.