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Q&A With Barry L. Flinchbaugh

Legendary ag policy specialist weighs in on the 2016 presidential election.

If you were seeking advice on whom to vote for in the upcoming presidential election, Barry Flinchbaugh is the person to ask. The retired Kansas State University agricultural policy specialist has watched every presidential election since 1948, and he has met each president since Harry Truman. He has contributed to the development of each farm bill since joining the KSU faculty in 1974 – even coauthoring the 1996 version. Students still cram the lecture hall each fall as he teaches his ag policy class. 

SF: How do the candidates rank on agriculture?

BF: Neither one knows much about agriculture, because it’s not a priority issue in a presidential election. Mrs. Clinton learned about agriculture when she and then-Governor Clinton were in Arkansas. She knows agriculture fairly well from her days as senator of New York, and she made an effort to understand dairy policy, which is very difficult. During the Iowa caucuses, Trump got to know Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who knows agriculture quite well. 

SF: Where do they stand on the all-important TPP?

BF: Trump is in favor of ethanol and renewable fuels, but he is clearly anti-Trans Pacific Partnership deal. Some say he’s anti-trade. Clinton is pro trade, but she’s anti-TPP because that’s what the left wants. TPP may be the best trade agreement ever produced as far as U.S. agriculture is concerned. Not only does it level the playing field for farmers, but also – and I don’t know why Trump doesn’t understand this – it puts China in its place. China now plays all competitors against each other. If we pass TPP with all the nations, that provides counterbalance power to China. 

SF: So trade is the big issue for farmers this election?

BF: Yes. The way to reduce farmers’ income is to make trade more difficult. At minimum, 25% of everything we produce is exported. When you’re dealing with foreign countries, there is no way to have a completely unfettered market. Trade is political, period. The chief salesperson is the president of the U.S. Trump says he’ll renegotiate these treaties. If he gets the job, when it comes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, he’s going to learn he won’t have to compromise: Mexico and Canada will tell him where to stick it. 

SF: Who should farmers vote for?

BF: I would never tell farmers whom to vote for. But farmers have a tendency to not vote for their best economic interest. Now, if you don’t look out for your own economic interest, who will? In addition to trade, farmers need to pay close attention to what each candidate will do in terms of ag policy. This president will sign or veto the next farm bill. 

SF: The current farm bill expires in 2018. 

BF: Yes, and we need to get started! If Republicans keep control of the Senate, Pat Roberts (R-KS) will be chair of the Ag Committee and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will be minority leader. On the House side, Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) will lead the committee. It could be done by 2019. Clinton knows how it works. She voted for two farm bills when she was in the Senate. So far, Trump hasn’t said anything about a farm bill. He’s not anti-agriculture, but he probably doesn’t know a bull from a steer. That can be positive because you can teach him – if he’s willing to learn.

SF: Both candidates have unusually high unfavorability ratings. 

BF: That worries me. Both candidates have a history of telling one lie after another, and it appears to be acceptable to each party. You couldn’t have more of a contrast between the two. One is an old hand who’s been around for 40 years and has scandal surrounding her. The other is a maverick who shoots from the hip but can’t keep his mouth shut. They both need to quit telling lies. 

SF: Some would say this appears to be a bleak time for America.

BF: This Make America Great Again line is not based on fact; it is a political slogan. I believe this country is still the greatest country in the world. 

SF Bio

Name: Barry L. Flinchbaugh
Title: Professor emeritus, department of agricultural economics, Kansas State University
Background: Flinchbaugh earned bacherlor’s and master’s degrees from Penn State, and doctorate from Purdue. He joined the faculty at Kansas State University in 1971 and has since taught more than 4,000 students in his agricultural policy class. He and his wife, Cathy, raised three children: David (deceased), James, and Katherine. 

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