Ag Policy Blog

Charles Herbster on Trump and Agriculture

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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I was caught between the two political parties and their cases for U.S. agriculture late Tuesday and into Wednesday and I'm just now catching up.

I'm going to start with the Republican case today.

Charles Herbster, a Nebraska cattle producer and head of Donald Trump's ag advisory committee, called me late Tuesday night as I was staring at my kitchen pantry debating whether to eat a bowl of cereal before going to bed. Herbster apologized for the late hour, but said he believes in always finding a way to return phone calls from that day.

I had not visited with Herbster before. He has an Angus cattle operation in Falls City, Neb., and also operates a chemical marketing-distribution company out of Kansas City, Mo., called Conklin that sells a range of products include agricultural chemicals.……

He also took a shot at running for Nebraska governor briefly in 2013 before pulling out of the race. He explained a health issue with his wife was a factor in quitting the race. Herbster briefly explained he struck up a friendship with Trump after he and his wife were guests at a New Year's Eve party a decade ago.

"We've developed a relationship over the years and we were invited back for Easter weekend in 2013 when I announced I was running for governor," Herbster said. He added, "I guess over the decade we developed a relationship and I have great admiration for Donald and for his family and for a lot of things he has accomplished."

Herbster said he thinks the 64-member ag team represents all aspects of agriculture from small farmers to large, livestock and dairy to fruits and vegetables to create an incredible wealth of knowledge on agriculture. Still, Herbster stressed the plan for the group initially is to get Trump elected over the next two-and-a-half months left in the campaign. "I always like to remind everybody we can start out immediately and talk about policy and the farm bill and all of the things that are meaningful and important, but I like to present to people that before you dictate policy, before you can really make a move and accomplish these things, you have to win an election," he said.

Herbster said it is critical to get rural America out to vote and raise as much money as possible for the campaign. The ag team then will stay together after the election to help craft policy. "We are going to make sure when we come together to talk about rural America or agriculture, there are going to be farmers at the table."

Regarding ag nuts and bolts, Herbster said of Tuesday's big topic, "The four things we talked about today is regulation, regulation and regulation. A Trump presidency is going to turn back all of the regulations today that are squeezing us in agriculture and squeezing us in small manufacturing and squeezing us in business."

Herbster declined to get into the regulations he considers as the biggest problem, but he said the Trump presidency in the first 100 days is going to roll back as many regulations as possible that are putting constraints on business. "Without getting into any specific details, we are overregulated in America at every level. We have got 20,000 pages of regulations that are coming out from the federal government almost on a yearly basis and all of those regulations over a period of time just continue to make it more and more difficult for an individual to raise livestock, produce milk, raise chickens, eggs."

Herbster added, "We have got to get the federal government to back off in trying to run our farm, run our livestock production, run our feedyards, run our manufacturing facilities. Yes, you need rules and regulations, but you can't have the government come in and run it and we're at that point right now."

Herbster pointed to the impact on the California egg industry by the 2008 state ballot measure that required larger cages for layers. "Now the price of eggs in California are at least twice of what they were."

The other topic was tax reform. "We need to address the inheritance tax for those of us in the Midwest and the people who subscribe to DTN, they have spent their lives building an agricultural business, building an animal business, a plant and crop business and they want to pass that on to their family. And today, in many cases, the next generation has to sell 25%, 30% or 50% of it, just to pay the taxes and that isn't fair because people have paid taxes all their lives. So we have got to get rid of the inheritance tax."

Herbster said energy independence is important and all sources of energy should be explored. That would bring down energy costs for farmers. "Donald Trump realizes food security is national security," Herbster said.

Despite Trump's rhetoric on trade, Herbster said Trump supports free trade and understands it, but he wants to make trade fair for all Americans.

"He believes in trade, he understands the importance of trace, certainly when it comes to agriculture," Herbster said. "I would have to share with you as a farmer and a cattle producer, the trade agreements have been pretty good for ag in this country. What they haven't been favorable for is small business and small manufacturing and a lot of the other sectors in America. So when he sometimes lashes out in some of his statements about trade, what he's really talking about is fair trade. And today, we don't have a lot of fair trade. So whether you like NAFTA or not, or like TPP or not, let's talk about a Trump presidency renegotiating those deals."

Herbster added, "He wrote 'The Art of the Deal.' It's a great book. He's a businessman. He's a chief executive officer. He knows what it is to sign the bottom of the check."

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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