Utah’s farmers and ranchers, who make their livings working the earth to produce food, are pinning their hopes for an industry turnaround on, of all people, a New York City-based billionaire real estate mogul.
The election of Donald Trump as president was hailed at the recent Utah Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th annual convention in Layton, where local and national speakers expressed optimism that Trump represents much-needed change for their industry.
“Donald Trump is a little bit of a weird guy sometimes, I understand,” said Ron Gibson, Utah Farm Bureau president. “But we have an opportunity right now to have control of the Senate, the House and the presidency, and this is our opportunity to rein back the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), to rein back the Department of Labor, to rein back all the areas that have been so detrimental to every aspect of our way of life.”
Already, state officials have turned in to the American Farm Bureau Federation a list “of areas that we feel like that the government is overreaching into our lives,” Gibson said.
“And we believe that it will have a great impact on the future of your businesses,” he said. “It’s not going to be felt today because we go in cycles. … But I promise you that we’re going to work through this, and when we’re through, we’re going to be stronger because of it.”
Gibson compared the future to a time when he was doing nighttime corn farming, able to see only what his tractor’s headlights illuminated and unaware of what awaited at the end of the row.
“And we don’t need to feel despair and worry about what we can’t see and what we can’t control,” he said. “All we need to worry about right now is what’s in front of us and we make good, sound decisions. And we move forward, promoting our industry and telling our story and fighting for what we know is right, as we do, we will be successful.”
Julia Anna Potts, executive vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, was perhaps more bullish about agriculture’s future with the new administration.
“Our message immediately after the election was, ‘Rural America put you, Mr. Trump, in the position of president-elect. All of the things we talked about with this campaign before the election, we need to hold you accountable.’ And I feel like we have great opportunity — great opportunity — in many of the issue areas, especially issue areas that are important to you all here in the West.”
American Farm Bureau Federation officials have meet with campaign representatives involved in rural and agricultural issues “that are going to be quite challenging for us,” she said. The issues include immigration, trade and regulatory reform.
“What they said to us was and what we will insist upon is, where something like the Trans-Pacific Partnership was good for agriculture — maybe not so good for others — they want us to have a seat at the table when we discuss how it’s going to be changed,” Potts said. “Same with immigration. How we move forward, agriculture has been promised a seat at that table, as well.”
Regarding regulatory reform and having rules and standards applied in ways that court cases do not allow deference to a government agency, “some of this is as dry as dirt,” but nonetheless important for farmers and ranchers, she said.
However, Potts cautioned that change might not be quick.
“The issue is going to be, of course, that the political appointees are going to walk into agencies and they’re going to be dealing with career staff that are going to make it very, very difficult, so wholesale change is going to take some time and we’re going to need to be patient,” she said.
She called on farmers to be potential candidates for agriculture secretary, EPA administrator, in Interior Department roles and as part of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — “having the kinds of decision-making authority in areas where they may or may not take certain legal positions,” she said.
“It’s wholesale change, and we’re going to be there, right on the cutting edge, taking advantage of it. … Rural areas, rural issues, I think, were front and center, and now with the results of this vote that every pollster seems to have gotten wrong, I think it is very, very clear: There will be a whole lot more attention paid to the relevance of rural issues going forward and I think that’s a wonderful thing. We in farm bureau need to capitalize on that.”
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, speaking in a prerecorded video, called Trump’s win “an historical election” and said the work ahead includes keeping the EPA and the Bureau of Land Management “in check.”
The three-day convention included general sessions, celebrations of the state bureau’s history, breakout classes, a trade show, awards and a gala banquet. The Utah Farm Bureau Federation has more than 29,000 member families.