Farmers need action, not words

July 27, 2018

President Donald Trump — to his credit — said recently that he thinks about U.S. farmers every day and is aware of the sacrifices they are making as he uses tariffs to restore fairness to international trade. While keeping farmers in mind is commendable, U.S. farmers need help to survive the current financial storm.

To that end, the president must direct the Environmental Protection Agency to fully support the Renewable Fuels Standard and not water it town as was done under the leadership of former EPA director Scott Pruitt. Maximizing the ethanol and biofuel standards could help strengthen row-crop prices at a time when production costs exceed profit potential.

The requirement that ethanol and biofuels be blended into the nation’s fuel supply was severely weakened by Pruitt because he granted numerous waivers to oil refineries to get around the mandate. Farmers were disgusted with Pruitt’s backstabbing, which cost renewable fuel refineries millions of dollars.

The RFS, created in 2005, should and could be expanded because not only is it good for the environment and energy independence, but it also is an effective economic development program in rural America.

Full use of the RFS is certainly not a cure-all. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects farm income to be about $60 billion in 2018, about half of what it was in 2013. It is an alarming decline that will impact farmers, rural communities and agribusinesses across the country.

It’s worth noting that the USDA’s income projection was made before the escalating tariffs fight, which has helped drive soybean and corn prices into the gutter.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, who has been largely unseen and unheard as the economic crisis builds, needs to step up. He could use the power of his office to educate the nation about the challenges facing farmers through a whirlwind tour of the country.

More importatly, Perdue could pressure the White House to create concrete plans to help farmers. There are a few obvious avenues to do so. A short-term Conservation Reserve Program that would take row crop acres out of production for three years is a possibility. Another is a Commodity Credit Corporation loan program that would keep soybeans in bins for up to three years. Dairy farmers are hurting big time, a program that works much better than the floundering Dairy Margin Protection Program is a possibility.

Perdue needs to bend President Trump’s ear and shout that U.S. farmers, who overwhelmingly voted for him in 2016, are in deep trouble. Red ink threatens to drown farmers and financial life preservers are needed now more than ever.

Designate Perdue as your point man and let him research past efforts to strengthen rural economies. It doesn’t matter if they are Democratic or Republican approaches — what matters is their effectiveness. Immediate action is necessary.

Mr. President, farmers appreciate that you are thinking of them. But it’s time to turn your words into action.