Sonny Perdue on left and Donald Trump on right.

President Trump signs the Executive Order Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity in America as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue looks on during a roundtable with farmers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 25, 2017.

In his first one hundred days in office the President of the United States has done something which the governments of Australia have been too frightened to do in a thousand days. The big message from the White House is that agriculture is important to America — the big message from Canberra is that  agriculture isn’t important to Australia.
Sure, the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia is proud of agriculture’s contribution of $54 billion to the national economy. What he refuses to discuss in public is the lack of profitability for many of the producers who contribute to that $54 billion. He avoids discussing the ever increasing damage being caused by rural debt, low commodity prices, a poor and outdated infrastructure and a banking sector out of control.
President Trump, as one would expect coming from the dog eat dog construction and real estate industry in America, obviously knows the difference between strategy and tactics. Love him or hate him, respect him or despise him, he has achieved what many believed was impossible. The evidence is that both the Coalition and the Labor Party and all those strange individuals who nobody voted for, who spend their time scampering around the dark corners of Parliament House  ‘currying favour’ and ‘horse trading’ with the future of this country, are all providing irrefutable evidence that they are seriously deficient in the strategy department. What they all have is a grab bag, a lucky dip of tactics. We are now running the country with party games. God save the Queen because nothing can save Australian politics.
About 2,500 years ago, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War.” In it, he said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Barnaby Joyce could do worse than take a page out of Donald’s book — we’ll overlook plagiarism just this once.  Look at what the President has asked the new Agriculture Secretary to do in the next 180 days. That is a business man speaking, bringing hard nosed business into politics. Will it work? Only time will tell.

This is the message released a few days ago by the White House. In reading it we must remember that President Trump was elected, partly, on a strong rural and what the Americans call the ‘rust belt’ vote. The cynical will be cynical about this initiative by the President. If nothing comes of it, rural America can claim a broken promise — that’s more than agriculture in Australia can claim as it continues to be ignored by the federal government.

Trump establishes ag task force

President Trump asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to establish a task force that does a 180-day review of regulations, policies and legislation “that unnecessarily hinders economic growth in the agricultural sector.”

The executive order establishing the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity was issued April 25, Perdue’s first day in office as agriculture secretary. The order also sunset the Rural Council, which existed during the Obama administration.

“It is in the national interest to promote American agriculture while protecting and supporting the rural communities where food, forestry, fiber, and renewable fuels are grown,” the text of the Executive Order reads.  “It is further in the national interest to ensure that regulatory burdens do not unnecessarily encumber agricultural production, constrain economic growth, hamper job creation, or increase the cost of food for Americans and our customers around the world.” (my emphasis Ed)

Ray Starling, special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance, said the task force will include a number of cabinet secretaries and White House officials and it will do outreach and accept ideas from state and local officials. Members will come from the following agencies and departments:

(I haven’t listed them there are 18 Government Departments listed, looks to me like the whole of government. The full list is here.)

How about this? Would rural Australia welcome this kind of commitment from government?

In addition to focusing on agriculture, the task force will look at rural communities and make recommendations for promoting their economic stability, Starling said. He said the group will also talk about immigration and workforce issues, and regulations.

“The multiple functions of the task force will help move our industry forward, and specific directives like addressing regulatory barriers farmers face and investing in the infrastructure on which our industry depends will directly address some of our most significant challenges,” said American Soybean Association president Ron Moore, a farmer from Roseville, Illinois. “As the task force begins its work, we want to ensure a constant line of communication between ASA and other farm organizations and the task force so that this group can function as effectively and successfully as possible. We look forward to opportunities to sit down with President Trump, Secretary Perdue, and others in the administration to provide input on how the task force can best serve soybean farmers.”

Can you see Malcolm and Barnaby sitting down with the Australian equivalents to these people? I can’t

The President and Perdue also held a roundtable discussion with people from the agriculture industry on April 25. They met with:

  • Luke Brubaker of Pennsylvania, dairy farmer and chair of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board
  • Hank Choate of Michigan, dairy farmer
  • Tom Demaline of Ohio, president of Willoway Nurseries and vice chair, AmericanHort
  • Zippy Duvall of Georgia, beef cattle and poultry farmer, president, American Farm Bureau Federation
  • Valerie Earley of Minnesota, recent graduate of the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; National FFA officer (central region vice president), 2016-2017
  • Lynetta Griner of Florida, owner/operator of Usher Land and Timber, president of the Florida Forestry Association
  • A.G. Kawamura of California, third-generation fruit and vegetable grower and shipper from Orange County; former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; current board member, Western Growers Association
  • James “Cookie” Lamb of North Carolina, hog farmer
  • Bill Northey of Iowa, corn and soybean farmer and secretary, Iowa Department of Agriculture
  • Jose Rojas of Colorado, vice president of farm operations at Hormel Foods
  • Terry Swanson of Colorado, owner of Swanson Farms
  • Maureen Torrey of New York, fresh market vegetable farmer
  • Steve Troxler of North Carolina, farmer and commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
  • Lisa Johnson-Billy, former member of the Oklahoma state house, small-farm background

Read the last three paragraphs slowly and we can see that problems in agriculture are international. If America addresses the challenges we all face and we don’t we will get left further and further behind in world trade. We have already seen what damage the Baltic States can do to our grain exports.

India is now making inroads into Indonesia with buffalo meat. Remember the scare and the warnings of foot and mouth disease when we banned live exports to Indonesia, well now that concern is a reality. The Indonesians are getting to like buffalo, and it’s cheaper than Aussie beef, 100,000 tonnes is the figure the Indonesian government is planning on importing from India this year. It’s frozen and it’s boxed it’s everything that Indonesia said it wouldn’t accept from Australia because of its reliance on the ‘wet markets’. Someone must have built refrigerators.

Would Barnaby and Malcolm talk about this with farm leaders and make pledges? Never in a month of Sundays.

The meeting included a discussion on pressing issues for American agriculture, such as trade, labor, regulatory reform and rural infrastructure, Duvall said.

“Not only was President Trump receptive to our concerns, but he pledged action,” Duvall said. “He even looked toward Secretary Perdue and said, ‘Let’s get these problems fixed.’ Today, agriculture had not just one but many seats at the table to share with the president how access to international markets, farm labor shortages and burdensome regulations impact not only the day-to-day business of our farmers and ranchers, but also the millions of jobs agriculture supports.” (my emphasis Ed)

“The people who are on the front lines of American agriculture don’t have the luxury of waiting to tend to their crops and livestock, so there was no better time to convene this meeting of the minds than on my first day,” Perdue said.  “President Trump has made it clear that addressing the needs of rural America will be a top priority, and the message that we want to send to the agriculture community is that we are here, we are working hard, and we are on their side.”

What would the people in rural Australia give for a similar declaration and commitment from the federal government and from the Prime Minister of Australia? One last Word:

“President Trump has made it clear he supports a good farm bill that is delivered on time and includes a strong safety net for our nation’s farmers. That is absolutely critical as rural America struggles against the largest 4-year percentage decline in net farm income since the start of the Great Depression. It is good to have someone at the table fighting on behalf of rural America, and I look forward to working with Secretary Perdue as we develop a strong farm bill that improves the lives of America’s farmers and ranchers,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway in a written statement.

Source: White House, ASA, AFBF, USDA

Roger Crook

About 

Over the last fifty years or so Roger has worked in agriculture, since 1967 in Australia. From farm labourer, to station and farm manager, then progressively to a senior management position in agribusiness as the marketing and sales manager of what was at the time the biggest agricultural chemical company in Australia, ICI (Australia- Rural Division), Roger has both a practical farming and comprehensive agribusiness background.
After a brief spell as the marketing director of a big public relations company in Perth, Roger formed his own consultancy specialising in agribusiness communications and the marketing of Australian agricultural intellectual property overseas.
Roger says he will only ever be 'semi retired'. He believes Australian agriculture is at the crossroads so he has set up the 'Global Farmer' as a forum to both pose, debate and hopefully answer some of the challenges being faced by the Australian family farm and so by Australian agriculture.

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