As the 2015 fiscal year officially ended Oct. 1 for the federal government, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture John Block spoke of pros and cons about the future of the agriculture industry.
“In these times of low farm prices, it is encouraging to see farm associations and leaders stepping up to protect our farmers and ranchers,” he said.
The CEOs of CropLife America, the National Corn Growers Association, and the American Soybean Association became a powerful ag industry leadership team, including the American Farm Bureau, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Farmers Union, and many more, Block said.
“The leaders met with policy representatives of both Trump and Clinton campaigns,” he said. “Farm leaders of different crops and different priorities spoke in unison. Stop the regulatory overreach. Trade is important to us. We need labor to pick the strawberries. Regardless of who gets elected as President our industry needs to be heard.”
According to Block’s email, the Ag CEO council of leaders has also been meeting with Secretary Tom Vilsack. They have argued that the Obama administration (and the EPA) has been too quick to regulate, that it has ignored sound science, forced new rules on states and rewritten the definition of waters of the U. S., and more.
Vilsack, who has served as U.S. agriculture secretary longer than anyone, said agriculture in its broadest sense is about national security. He said his concern is whether we are prepared “to embrace science.” “It’s not just about food security, nutrition, or poverty reduction, it’s about national security.”
Both Vilsack and Block are strong advocates of trade. They have both made trips to Cuba and supported reopening free trade with Cuba. So has the Waco-based Texas Farm Bureau.
“Agricultural exports contribute about 25 percent to the income of farmers and ranchers, so you can see the importance of foreign trade with other countries, including Cuba,” said Glen Jones, director of research and policy development for the Texas Farm Bureau.
Texas has managed to sell rice and other states have sold soybean oil. Nonetheless, the 50-year embargo costs the United States $1.2 billion annually. Removing trade barriers could mean big opportunities for Texas agriculture. The top five Texas ag exports are cotton, beef and veal, feeds and fodder, dairy, hides and skins.
Block and six other former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture have urged Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
“We have seen and experienced the value of other trade agreements that we have supported,” Block told me over lunch during the annual National Association of Farm Broadcasters convention in Kansas City, Missouri, last year.
Beef imports in August were 16 percent lower than a year ago,” said David Anderson, economist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension at College Station. For the first time in more than two years, the U.S. imported more beef from Canada than from Australia.
He said imports from Canada and Mexico are up 14 and 10 percent, respectively, yet imports are down from every other major import source.
Anderson said beef exports are around 94 million pounds ahead of the same time a year ago.
“Certainly exports have been a growth market for the cattle and beef industry,” he said. “The net change in 2016 trade compared to 2015 due to the decline in imports and increase in exports has been 405 million pounds less beef on the U.S. market.”
Anderson said beef production climbed almost 1 billion pounds during the first three quarters of the year, but total supplies are only up 628 million pounds.
According to the USDA, the annual value of Texas agricultural exports is $6.4 billion and 50,800 Texas jobs are supported by agricultural exports.
Jerry Lackey is the agriculture editor emeritus. Contact him at [email protected]