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‘You have a partner in the White House,’ Biden tells farmers

In a video message to a sector that overwhelmingly voted against him, President Biden told farmers on Monday, “you have a partner in the White House” who is pursuing agricultural prosperity and fair prices in the marketplace. Biden, who has assailed meatpackers for high profits during the pandemic, pointed to a proposed $1 billion to expand slaughter capacity and efforts to keep ag exports moving despite port congestion.

“This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, red states or blue states. It’s about making sure that your contributions are recognized and your challenges are addressed,” Biden said in the video played at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Atlanta. “Every day, you feed and fuel our country. I want you to know that every day — I mean this — every day you have a partner in the White House.”

Immediately after the video, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spent a half an hour onstage describing administration activities, ranging from hard-nosed trade talks with China to “creating new revenue streams” so farmers get paid for climate mitigation. He also touted an initiative to double, by 2030, the amount of land planted in cover crops during fallow seasons to limit erosion and nutrient runoff. That would bring the total to 30 million acres, equaling 9% of the land devoted to “principal” U.S. crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton.

Cover crops, which reduce water pollution, are part of climate-smart agriculture. The USDA will provide $38 million for incentives through the cost-sharing Environmental Quality Incentives Program to 11 states with high interest in cover crops.

Vilsack, who owns farmland in Iowa, began his speech by saying “I am a member” of the Farm Bureau. AFBF president Sonny Duvall said “the phone always rings when USDA is considering important policy … When I text the secretary, he texts me back. When I call the secretary, he calls me back.”

Rural America voted 2-to-1 for former president Trump in the 2020 election. His margin over the Democratic nominee was slightly larger in 2020 than in 2016 because voters virtually ignored third-party candidates in 2020. “Trump had the most growth among rural voters,” compared with his vote margins in major metropolitan areas, their surrounding suburbs, medium-size cities, outlying suburbs, and small cities, said the Daily Yonder.

Traditionally a politically conservative group, farmers stuck with Trump throughout the Sino-U.S. trade war, seeing the decline in ag exports as a short-term price to pay for long-lasting reform of Chinese trade practices. The so-called phase one agreement de-escalated the trade war in early 2020, but did not resolve the underlying disputes. The agreement obliged China to vastly increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services.

“Our Chinese friends are about $16 billion light over what they committed to purchase” in agricultural exports, said Vilsack. U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai “continues to converse with China about the necessity of living up totally and completely to phase one, making up that $16 billion deficit over the course of the next several years,” said Vilsack. “We’re going to continue to press China on the need for complete enforcement and implementation of the trade agreement before we begin the process of discussing the possibility of extensions.”

Phase one set a goal for China to import $80 billion of U.S. agriculture, food, and seafood in 2020 and 2021. The actual tally was $56.3 billion with one month left in the agreement, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which has tracked purchases.

Biden referred during his three-minute video to a meeting with farmers a week ago to discuss competition in the meat industry, where cattle, hog, and poultry slaughter is dominated by a handful of big companies, and to his executive order last July for federal agencies to promote competition. In that meeting, Biden supported legislation in Congress to inject transparency into cattle pricing, his first comment on the proposal.

Trump spoke to the AFBF conventions for three years in a row, ending in 2020. He was the first president to speak to the organization in a quarter-century.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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