AFBF leader 'optimistic' for new Congress, Trump administration

By Spencer Chase

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PHOENIX, Jan. 8, 2017 - The head of the nation's largest farm and ranch organization says agriculture should be hopeful for what could come out of the Republican-led Congress and Trump administration.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he's encouraged by the priorities of the president-elect and members of congressional leadership, many of which line up with AFBF's policy portfolio.

“There is hope, and I am optimistic about making progress with the new Congress and the new president,” he continued, pointing to president-elect Donald Trump's stated desires to address regulatory reform.

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“We can't keep cutting off the top of the weeds; we've got to get right down to the root of that weed and keep it from coming back, again and again,” Duvall said in his keynote speech, alluding to the need for a wider regulatory reform conversation rather than handling issues on a case-by-case basis.

Duvall expanded on those comments in remarks to reporters Sunday. He said Farm Bureau has long had allies on Capitol Hill to address their regulatory concerns, but a collaborator in the White House will be a new advantage.

“We should have some really good accomplishments in regulatory reform, especially endangered species and water,” he told reporters.

But Duvall's remarks weren't entirely focused on his Trump administration wish list. He also delivered thoughts that revolved around familiar Farm Bureau priorities: immigration reform, regulatory relief, ag literacy, and a stable safety net for the nation's producers. He told stories of some of the 33 state visits he took during his first year as AFBF's president, detailing the unique issues facing those regions and decrying the current state of affairs, usually pointing a finger at the federal government's management practices.

Immigration and trade are two areas where Farm Bureau may be at odds with the incoming Trump administration. Trump was perhaps best known in the early days of his campaign for his pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border - a wall that would be financed by Mexico - and for pledging to get tough with certain countries - mainly China and Mexico - on trade.

Duvall said immigration reform and getting an adequate agricultural workforce remains a focus for Farm Bureau, and his travels across the country only reaffirm why that is the case.

“Many of our farmers and ranchers as I travel the country say that if you don't help us fix farm labor, all the other issues doesn't really matter,” Duvall said. “It's time for American people and the leaders in Washington to decide whether they're going to let us import our labor or are they going to have to import their food.”

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AFBF - and many other ag groups - also stand at odds with Trump about the role of trade. Agriculture groups, for example, was largely supportive of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that Trump has pledged to walk away from in his first 100 days in office. Duvall pointed out that this isn't the first time presidential tough talk has put agriculture's trade endeavors in jeopardy

“We're always the whipping boy when it comes to tough talk and trade fights; we're always the first one that gets hit,” he told reporters. “And yes, we are nervous about that, and we continue to talk about how we want America to be tough and stand up and have a backbone. But you've got to be real careful how you do that, because you could destroy our industry by doing that if you don't do it right.”

AFBF's convention wraps up later this week with a policy discussion among AFBF's membership. That membership meeting is the first on a national level of the major ag groups that will likely involve language offering suggestions for the upcoming farm bill. Further discussions along that topic are expected at similar meetings in the coming months.

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