When Donald Trump takes the oath of office in a few days, his pick for Secretary of Agriculture may still be a mystery.
Any news on who might be the next Secretary of Agriculture?
“No, we’re hearing what you are,” says Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham, a farmer and physician representing the state’s Fifth Congressional District. “He’s surprised us with some of his picks so he may surprise us and select someone we’ve not heard of before.
“If you call Texas ‘the South,’ there’s a possibility Sid Miller, a farmer and the state ag commissioner, might be named.
“You know who’d make a great secretary? (Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner) Mike Strain is a bastion of knowledge and passion. I’d love to see him in that position. He’d be phenomenal heading the USDA. What an ambassador he’d be for agriculture.”
2018 farm bill
In the lead-up to the writing of the next farm bill, Midwest lawmakers – largely led by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley – have been touting, once again, a package heavily weighted towards crop insurance. Abraham, who has a seat on the House Agriculture Committee, says “We’re concerned. We’re already in the process – and started at the end of last year – (of writing new legislation). I was talking to (House Agriculture Committee chairman Texas Rep. Mike) Conway yesterday about the 2018 farm bill. He’s saying we must start looking very quickly at what we’ll put in there.
“Trump will have us busy for the first two or three months of his administration with Obamacare, tax reform, immigration – the headlines we all read. But the farm bill is probably as important as any of those things. We must ensure our farmers can survive economically. And they’re not only part of our national economic security but also our national food security. The 2018 farm bill is a big deal.”
As a farmer himself, “I understand how difficult it is in today’s economic world to make a crop. One thing that will help everyone with stock in the agricultural community: many insane EPA rules will go away. Waterways of the U.S., the clean power plan, these types of impossible rules our farmers and ranchers are working under will be scuttled very quickly.”
What’s needed in the farm bill for the South?
“I’m hearing from farmers in most every meeting I hold in my district. The farm bill is a big topic of discussion.
“With the March and August flooding (last year), a hot item front and center is crop insurance protection. In the 2018 farm bill there has to be some mechanism to allow more flexibility with our planting and growing season. With the flooding last March, we got into an issue close to my home where farmers couldn’t get crops in the ground soon enough and that impacted the crop insurance.
“These are things I’ll bring to forefront when we sit down and start hammering out the details of the next farm bill.”
What about agriculture and Trump’s promise to either scuttle or rewrite trade deals?
“We must have trade (between nations) – that’s just a fact. Every country the United States has a trade deal with we have a surplus. Trade deals are critical not just on the agricultural front but on the manufacturing front, the military front. So, make no mistake, we have to deal.
“I do agree with Trump that there can certainly be better deals made. We’ll see quickly, I think, where we’ll go with those. I think he’ll appoint good people and I like all his cabinet picks heretofore.”
On January 9, Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford introduced the Safeguard Aquaculture Farmers Act. Aimed to help producers deal with cormorant depredation, H.R. 368 has been signed by every Arkansas Congressman.
“When these birds descend on a pond, they can really decimate it,” said Crawford in a statement to Delta Farm Press. “Non-lethal methods alone often aren’t enough to prevent the birds from causing serious economic losses for the industry. To get southern fish farmers the help they need, we’ve put this on the front burner: it needs to be passed quickly.”
Abraham is all for the legislation. “Our aquaculture sector, like any farmer, has to be assured they can make a dollar. They want to feed their families like everyone else.”
Cuba and labor
Have the prospects for opening trade with Cuba chilled with the Trump administration coming in?
“I think Trump has put a bit of a damper on it,” says Abraham. “But I can tell you I’ll keep pushing very hard to trade with Cuba. For Louisiana, it will be a big, big deal – hundreds of millions of dollars, if not north of a billion dollars. Cuba imports about 85 to 90 percent of its food. I want Louisiana products to be the first through the gates. We’ve got the ports to do it.
“I plan to go back to Cuba in the spring. We’re actually working on setting up a time right now.”
What about striking the correct balance between immigration reform and the need for farm labor?
“We’ve got to have the labor and we’ve already discussed that with President-elect Trump. I’m all for immigration reform and for building the wall – the things he campaigned on.
“However, I’m also for having H2-A and H2-B (visas) to get the crawfish and our crops in. There are a lot of jobs that, unfortunately, Americans don’t seem to want to do.
“Trump understands that and I think you’ll see a positive move on that side. The President-elect has said he wants to deport the criminal aliens and go from there.”