CHICAGO – Some food industry titans worry President-elect Donald Trump’s tough talk on trade could eventually hurt business in numerous ways, including limiting food and agriculture exports.
Others in agriculture see Trump’s election as an opportunity to improve the viability of family farming.
In other words, anticipation of Trump’s policy actions is prompting the same type of anxiety and hope found elsewhere throughout the American economy. In an interview Wednesday at a Chicago event organized by the nonprofit Food Tank, Cargill CEO Dave MacLennan said he hoped Trump’s pick for secretary of agriculture would carry forward the same pro-trade policies of outgoing Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“Trade is good for the world and good for our economy. And in the world today, there’s not a lot of warm and fuzzy sentiment about . open trade and open borders,” MacLennan said. “So that’s probably an area at the top of our list (of concerns), how this new administration implements some of the anti-trade rhetoric we saw from both candidates.”
Cargill – a privately held livestock processor and grain producer that’s headquartered in Minnesota and operates in 70 countries – was a staunch supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-country trade pact that’s considered dead in the water after Republican gains in the Nov. 8 election. Trump has vowed to withdraw from the trade agreement, which hasn’t yet been ratified.
When Mel Coleman sees the large swaths of the country that supported Trump, he doesn’t see Trump Country, per se. Coleman, vice president of strategic partners for Perdue-owned Niman Ranch, sees rejection of the status quo.
“And so I think there’s this window of opportunity we have. If I can put it in agricultural terms, we can narrow the rows between what some people call factory farming and small local farming. We need to narrow that row and getting us going in one place,” Coleman said.
More specifically, Coleman said he hopes the new secretary of agriculture will ease the tax burden on farmers and reform the farm subsidy program to benefit more smaller and environmentally minded operations.
Kenneth Quinn, president of the Iowa-based World Food Prize Foundation, said agriculture has long served to bridge disagreements between political parties and nations. Quinn said he hoped the next agriculture secretary can carry that torch.
But he also acknowledged unknowns regarding Trump’s campaign promises to ease environmental regulations on farmers.
“I think people are still going to be concerned about water, and nitrate runoff is a big issue in Iowa. And the question is, how do you work it out?” Quinn said. “The (Environmental Protection Agency) had a very forward-leaning role, maybe now that won’t be quite the same way. But I think there will still be that focus. The environmental issues, they can’t go away.”
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