Leading American Farm Bureau: Duvall highlights trade, advocacy as top issues for AFBF
Laramie – During a western region American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Leadership meeting, AFBF President Zippy Duvall emphasized that the association is a grassroots advocacy providing benefits for members in Washington, D.C. and at home.
“I travel across the country to different states to educate myself on the issues that affect each state and region,” Duvall said, noting that trade concerns, the farm bill and regulatory reform are top of mind currently.
Trade continues to be a top issue for AFBF, and Duvall explained, “We have a good relationship with Ray Starling, who works as an assistant to the President in trade and food, so we’ve been communicating about how the President’s movement toward renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) might affect agriculture.”
Duvall noted that the rhetoric around NAFTA is concerning, because, when countries argue over trade policy, agriculture tends to get hurt.
“We want to make sure that we do no harm and maintain the gains we’ve made in NAFTA,” he continued. “We’ve gained from $8 billion to $38 billion over the life of that agreement, so it’s been a good trade treaty for us.”
With a few areas where improvement will be sought, Duvall said that challenges with dumping of fruits from Mexico into the market and concerns with dairy, wine and grain in trade with Canada will hopefully be solved to continue to remove barriers.
Duvall added, “We want to make sure we retain the growth in trade that we’ve had with our neighbors to the north and south and that we do so using science-based, common-sense standards.”
In addition to our immediately neighboring countries, Duvall said trade with countries in the Pacific Rim remains top of mind, as well.
“We are really excited that the president met early on with leadership in China and started to increase trade and improve our relationship with China,” Duvall said. “So far, we’ve gained access for beef, and we’ve also been able to increase rice exports. These are major accomplishments for the U.S., and other areas around chicken and pork are also opening up.”
The more early access the U.S. can obtain to markets like China, Duvall said, the more American products can tie up supply needs to secure trading partnership.
“We were also big supexports of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” Duvall said. “It added $4.4 billion to our farm income across America. With all the rhetoric in this campaign, TPP went south fast.”
With the U.S. stepping away from TPP, Duvall also added that political bridges were burned with Japan.
“Japan has turned their attention to bilateral trade treaties, which is causing us to lose some market share,” he said. “There aren’t any formal agreements with Japan, but there is some talk with the country.”
Duvall continued, “Japan is not very happy with us, after we withdrew from TPP. Their leadership has real problems with what we did, so that means we have a lot of work to do.”
Regardless, Duvall maintains complete faith in Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and his ability to negotiate for ag products.
“The bottom line is, 95 percent of our consumers live outside the country,” Duvall emphasized. “We’ve got to sell our products on a global market, and we’ve got to tear down barriers. We need open markets and fewer barriers.”
With significant activity taking place outside the U.S., Duvall also noted that the 2018 Farm Bill is an important subject on domestic soil.
“We want to make sure that we maintain baseline spending in the current farm bill,” he said. “We’ve also put forth some requests to increase spending, though we know the chances of getting those are pretty difficult.”
Crop insurance is a target for the farm bill, and Duvall said that, because farmers pay premiums for the insurance, they have stake in the game, and the program is very important.
“Without the crop insurance piece, some operating loans would be very, very difficult to get,” he said. “We need to make sure that support continues for the program. It’s good for the consumer, the taxpayer and the farmer.”
Duvall emphasized, “Food security is good for the country.”
Additionally, Duvall noted that conservation titles in the farm bill are also important for the agriculture industry.
“Many of our livestock producers depend on conservation programs, like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and others. We want to make sure that our producers continue to have these tools,” he said.
As farm bill hearings are being conducted across the country, Duvall explained that AFBF is present at every hearing in some capacity.
“When there’s a hearing or a meeting, AFBF has a seat at the table,” he said. “We have 20 lobbyists, and those lobbyists are specialized in particular areas. They each support activities in Washington, including the farm bill, in different ways.”
“AFBF is all about grassroots engagement,” Duvall said. “We can do work in Washington, D.C., but until farmers and ranchers engage, it’s difficult to make progress.”
Duvall noted that engagement from the ag community is critical.
“It takes two minutes for farmers and ranchers to engage,” Duvall commented. “When we can tell Congressmen that farmers and ranchers have told us what they need, it really helps these issues to come full circle.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.