For Farmers, Trade and Food Policy Are at Play in U.S. Midterms

Source: By Mario Parker, Bloomberg • Posted: Friday, November 2, 2018

A flip in either or both chambers of Congress with next week’s midterm elections may reverberate into pig farms and soybean fields.

At issue in the Nov. 6 vote is President Donald Trump’s trade war with China as well as domestic entitlement programs.

The world’s second-largest economy slapped tariffs on U.S. agricultural products, including pork and soybeans. That prompted Trump to provide $12 billion in assistance to farmers. Domestically, farm programs began to expire Sept. 30 and Congress hasn’t passed a new bill.

Trump and the Republican-led House of Representatives have advocated for new work requirements for food-stamp recipients. A bill passed in that chamber in June without any Democratic votes. The Senate version, also passed in June, doesn’t include the work rules. The farm legislation is a traditional vehicle for modifying the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.

A change in either or both chambers, or a slimmer majority, may mean more scrutiny toward Trump’s handling of agricultural matters like the farm bill and the trade war, Jonathan Coppess, director of the Gardner Agriculture Policy Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said by telephone.

“You can make an argument that” a Democrat-controlled House or Senate would be “more willing to stand up to the president,” Coppess, said. “A big question would be trade. Does a Congress less aligned with the president exert more checks and balances?”

Trump has invoked national security as a rationale for tariffs and a change in Congress may increase scrutiny of the White House, he said.

Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said on a call with reporters, that the Senate can’t get the votes to pass a farm bill that has the Trump-endorsed tighter work requirements. A Democrat-led House wouldn’t support the changes, either, and that could mean the 2014 version of the bill is extended into 2019.

Speaking at an Oct. 24 event in Champaign, Illinois with Representative Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said there’s a lot on the line for farmers with the upcoming election.

Perdue pointed to earlier remarks Davis made in a forum with farmers about reducing food stamp rolls with job training. The secretary said tighter requirements would help make people less dependent on government support.

“The farm bill is critical and we don’t know what will happen,” Perdue said. “We’re going to be for production agriculture regardless.”

Leon Corzine, a fifth-generation farmer from Assumption, Illinois, who raises corn, soybeans and Angus cows with his son, says the farm bill appears “in limbo” and that it’s weighing on his operational decisions for 2019.

The bill affects everything from crop risk management, funding for conservation programs and market research, Corzine said.

It’s “darn near become a pawn in the political process and that’s unfortunate,” Corzine said. “That’s unfair” to farmers.

— With assistance by Shruti Singh