The word perspective is defined as “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.” Another definition reads, “The art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.” When it comes to several key issues in agriculture today, both definitions are applicable. Recently I have been attending a lot of farmer meetings and have witnessed a great deal of angst over trade, immigration, and the new Secretary of Agriculture.
I have heard many comments that our agricultural trade is in jeopardy because the President is going to start a trade war with China. I have also had folks wringing their hands in worry that all their agricultural workers are going to be sent back to Mexico as part of a mass deportation effort. Still others have fretted that Sonny Perdue will give cotton farmers some special deal and ignore Midwest agriculture. While there are some valid concerns on all three of these issues, we need a little perspective.
While our agricultural trade with China, Canada, and Mexico is important, as they are our top 3 customers, we need to keep in mind that trade in commodities like corn and soybeans is global trade. We also need to keep in mind that U.S. farmers produce the highest quality and are the largest producers of many of these crops. If one of these countries switched some of their business to other producing nations, our overall sales would not be impacted significantly since other nations would step in and buy from us. World commodity trade is not a two-dimensional thing but rather multi-dimensional with many players, shippers, 3rd party providers, and currencies. The perspective we need to keep in mind is world supply and demand.
We should also keep in mind that some of trading relationships need to be addressed. China, for example, is a big customer, but they regularly impose tariffs and new import regulations. They also play a very unscientific game when it comes to approval of new biotechnology. Mexico regularly closes the border to U.S. corn; and Canada has a highly protective trade system that is anything but free and fair. So, a little saber rattling by the new President might not be so bad.
With close to 70% of the U.S. agricultural labor force comprised of undocumented workers, immigration is an important issue for all of agriculture. While threats of mass deportations and border walls make for good campaign rhetoric, making any of these a reality is something entirely different. Food shortages and mass economic disruptions would result from such action, which is the very reason they are not likely to occur. Yet, change is coming and is needed with regard to immigration. Agriculture must be involved in this process and must fight hard for an approach that allows farmers to have a legal and reliable workforce. More practical perspective and less political ideology is needed.
Finally, there is a lot of concern in the farm community that Sonny Perdue was the last cabinet officer picked. Many see this as a sign the Trump administration does not value agriculture. But let’s put it in perspective; when has any administration in recent history highly valued agriculture? There are some voices within the Trump White House that do not value agriculture, but the fact that Perdue got picked over some other non-ag candidates is a sign that agriculture has some credibility. I suspect there may be other members of the USDA staff and even ag advisors in the White House that will be selected and will demonstrate a commitment by the President to the agricultural sector.
So let’s stay informed, stay engaged, and keep some perspective. This can be done by spending less time on social media or watching cable news channels.
By Gary Truitt