Ag secretaries eagerly awaited (Editorial)

(Jan. 3, 2017) In the wake of the 2016 elections, two appointments remain to be made, both impacting future agricultural policy, first at the state level and then nationally.
Delaware Gov. elect John Carney Jr. has yet to appoint a successor to Ed Kee and President-elect Donald Trump has yet to name a successor to Tom Vilsack.
Both Kee and Vilsack leave office after extended — and often applauded —service to the agricultural industry, Kee in Delaware and Vilsack in the nation.
Their successors are eagerly awaited.
Trump’s failure, as of our presstime, to name an ag secretary, is concerning, in light of the rapid series of nominations which followed his election victory.
Among those rumored under consideration has been Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota who has supported Michelle Obama’s nutrition policies and whose possible appointment has left the ag industry in a minor rebellion.
Larry Combest, a former House Agriculture Committee chairman, arguing that Trump needs a strong secretary of agriculture and an equally strong ag policy, writes, “A lot of what Washington does is harmful to American agriculture. And, what good it does costs very little.
“There can be no question as to the value of rural America’s contribution to the moral character of our great country, but there are significant economic contributions as well, with U.S. farmers and ranchers alone directly or indirectly responsible for 16 million American jobs,” Combest wrote in a piece for The Hill.
But, as Combest explains, those economic contributions are in jeopardy when, in addition to managing collapsing commodity prices, predatory trading practices, and the whims of Mother Nature, farmers and ranchers must also contend with policies and regulations coming out of Washington that make it difficult for them to make a living.
“Energy policies that increase the cost of natural gas and fertilizer and lower farm income, tax policies that make it hard to keep the farm or ranch in the family from one generation to another, and a healthcare system that is making it very difficult for many self-employed farmers and ranchers to even find an insurance provider, much less affordable coverage, all add to the challenges of farming and ranching today.”
Even at that, Combest notes, farm policy opponents try at every turn to gut the farm safety net altogether in the name of reform and deficit reduction — even when farm policy costs less than one-half of one percent of federal spending and while the last farm bill saved taxpayers billions.
“In most elections, rural America, farmers, and ranchers are chalked off as too small to affect the outcome. But, every now and again, they prove that theory wrong…. Fortunately the politics of supporting agriculture make good sense.”
What won for Trump was rural America and its farmers and ranchers and there is no doubt that he knows that.
In his appointment of a successor to Tom Vilsack, he’d better not let those folks down.