WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2017- A new poll shows that American farmers are pessimistic that there’s going to be any improvement in the agricultural economy over the next year. Half of U.S. growers think conditions will be about the same and nearly 29 percent think they’ll actually be worse.

The good news is that nearly 80 percent of farmers believe they can get the credit they need.

The survey was conducted for the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives by Aimpoint Research, which did similar polling for Agri-Pulse during the 2016 presidential campaign. Some 750 growers from around the country were surveyed in late January and early this month.

Farm bill gets C grade. Many farmers say government regulations are a major problem facing agriculture, and think things are going to improve under President Trump. But only 35 percent of the growers who were polled say regulations are an issue on their own operations. 

The farmers also were polled about their views on the 2014 farm bill. Overall, regardless of region, age and size of operation, the farmers give the law a mediocre grade of C. Half of farmers believe the farm bill actually reduced the federal safety net.

Given the pessimism about the farm economy, it’s not surprising what producers want out of the next farm bill: They want “support in terms of their pricing so that they can improve that margin that they’re all wrestling with,” said pollster Brett Sciotto.

Co-ops warned to brace for trade hits. Leaders of the farmer cooperatives are right to worry about President Trump’s trade policy, but they’re also going to have a strong and outspoken ally on agriculture and environmental issues in Sonny Perdue, Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary. That was the message yesterday from NCFC’s president and CEO, Chuck Conner, who played a lead role in steering agriculture policy during the George W. Bush administration. 

“We are clearly headed toward trade confrontations with China and Mexico,” Conner said at the opening session of NCFC’s annual meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Conner said Mexico and China know that retaliating against U.S. agriculture exports is the key to fighting the Trump administration on trade. 

“I will be shocked ... if we don't get into a retaliation situation,” Conner said. 

GMO labeling to move forward. Conner, a former deputy agriculture secretary who also played a leading role in negotiating the GMO disclosure law enacted last year, says he doesn’t think it would have passed had Democrats thought that Trump would become president. 

USDA still must write regulations for implementing the disclosure requirements, including definitions for products that are covered. But Conner says he expects them to be “very, very good” for the future of biotechnology. 

Perdue expected to ditch GMO hearings. Conner expects the Trump administration to move forward soon with an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that was developed under former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. 

The ANPR poses a series of eight questions seeking input to guide the writing of the regulations. But Conner says that the new administration will ditch Vilsack’s plans to hold a series of listening sessions around the country. 

In Conner’s view, those hearings would only provide a venue for critics of biotechnology to get public attention for their views. 

Roberts to Trump advisers: Trade action needed soon. The Trump administration needs to announce something soon to show America’s farmers that work is being done to boost U.S. exports, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said after a closed-door meeting yesterday between Trump’s trade advisers and members of the Senate Finance Committee.

In the meeting, Peter Navarro, head of the new White House National Trade Council, laid out four major trade priorities, with agriculture No. 3 on the list.  But Roberts said it was a dissertation-type presentation that didn’t go far enough. “What we are trying to demonstrate to the administration is we need action now,” he emphasized.

Roberts is pushing in particular for the administration to announce that it’s going to negotiate a bilateral agreement with a country such as Japan. 

The top Democrat on the Finance Committee, Ron Wyden, said the Trump advisers “offered few details about the administration’s objectives” and no strategy on how to achieve them.

Wyden said in a statement that, in some cases, the advisers’ comments even conflicted at times with recent statements that Trump has made. Wyden didn’t identify the discrepancies. 

Trump loses Labor pick. Trump will have to find another nominee for labor secretary now that Andrew Puzder has withdrawn his nomination in the face of growing Republican opposition. 

The Labor Department is a key concern of many in agriculture and food processing because it regulates worker safety, wage and hour regulations and guest worker programs. Puzder is CEO of the CKE Restaurant Holdings, the parent company of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food chains, and he was seen as someone who could appreciate the agriculture sector’s reliance on immigrant labor. 

His nomination was in trouble for a number of reasons but one was his support for past support for comprehensive immigration reform. That’s not a good sign for agriculture sectors who have been holding out hope that Congress would take up immigration legislation. 

The National Restaurant Association said it was “extremely unfortunate that the confirmation process has resulted in a qualified and dedicated man withdrawing” from the nomination.

USDA watchdog wrapping up report on agency scientists. USDA’s inspector general expects to have results this spring of an investigation into whether the department has been silencing scientists or discouraging their work. 

Gil Harden, a top official in the IG’s office, told the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee yesterday that 60 percent of the department’s scientists responded to the IG’s survey. 

They said it:  “This is the new Dorothy.” - Senate Agriculture Pat Roberts. 

That was his response to ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow, when she exclaimed, “We’re going to Kansas. I look forward to it” Stabenow was referring to the committee’s plan to hold its first 2018 farm bill hearing next week in Manhattan, Kan.

Stabenow promised to wear red shoes.

Bill Tomson contributed to this report.