Ag CEO Council and Biden Team

Leaders Discuss Issues Facing Agriculture, Rural America With Incoming Administration

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, and other leaders on the Ag CEO Council held a virtual meeting Friday with a key member of President-elect Joe Biden's transition team for USDA. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Leaders from several major farm organizations that had put together a white paper on agricultural issues before the election are talking about some of those challenges with the incoming Biden administration team.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, told DTN in an interview Friday he had talked multiple times in recent weeks to Robert Bonnie -- head of the Biden transition team for USDA -- and had invited Bonnie to participate on an Ag CEO Council call.

Besides Duvall, Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, was also on Friday's virtual meeting with agricultural leaders and Bonnie.

Bonnie talked to the group about strengthening agricultural markets and working with groups on developing solutions to climate change. Bonnie also talked about addressing rural needs during the pandemic, Duvall said. Bonnie's conversation with the Ag CEO Council stressed the importance of building a foundation for farm groups to work with the incoming administration.

"It's all about building bridges and relationships, especially on Farm Bureau's part, to make sure we have a seat at the table to help them make good decisions and help our communities and our farmers and ranchers," Duvall said. He added, "I'm sure he's called a lot of other people on the Ag CEO Council and so we salute them for doing the right thing and reaching out to us so we can give a true picture of what is going on.

Duvall said there are opportunities for agricultural groups to move forward in some areas, especially in expanding conservation practices to help address climate change. Some member organizations in the Ag CEO Council also formed the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance, which released a set of recommendations after the presidential election on ways to address climate policy.

"We've come up with some principles that we all can support and we can go up to Capitol Hill with and try to shape some positive policies that would support voluntary market incentives, advancing science, and promoting resilience, and helping rural economies better adapt to climate change," Duvall said. "Hopefully we can move forward and do some positive things."

Both Duvall and Larew said there was no discussion about the selection of an agriculture secretary.

"The transition team made it very clear that they have no role in choice of secretary, so the conversation today did not get into that question," Larew said.

He added that everyone would like to know who -- besides President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris -- is playing a role in the selection of the secretary.

Farmers Union, Larew said, would like to see a secretary who is "a strong advocate for farmers and consumers" and a USDA "focused on family farmers and communities and consumers."

Larew also noted the USDA deputy secretary is often chosen to provide geographic or ideological balance in relationship to the secretary, but in the Biden-Harris administration the issues are so formidable it will be important to choose "a strong deputy to be a partner with the secretary."

Duvall added there have only been four agriculture secretaries who actively farmed as an adult. He said that kind of experience brings a different perspective on the job. Still, Duvall added there are a lot of qualified people with a deep knowledge of the various programs and farm issues. Fellow Georgian Sonny Perdue was a farmer and that led to a positive experience between farmers and the Trump administration, Duvall noted. "We want to see the farm experience in their adult life or -- and -- their deep knowledge of what's going on agriculture," Duvall said. "I think it's just important for that to happen."

Larew said he was pleased to learn the USDA transition team "is very much engaged" with the teams reviewing the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Ag CEO Council had issued a white paper during the presidential campaign highlighting some key issues around the agricultural economy. The group pointed out trade barriers and foreign subsidies make U.S. products less competitive in global markets, and in some cases domestically as well. Farmers also face increasing challenges with extreme weather, pointing to the 19 million acres of unplanted crops last year because of widespread weather complications throughout spring 2019. The Ag CEO Council also highlighted the farm bill should be renewed in 2023, and more trade agreements need to be finalized as well. Research, labor, rural broadband and the need for improved infrastructure were also spotlighted in the white paper. The paper was backed by 21 different agricultural groups.

While net farm income will hit the second highest level on record, that will come with $46.5 billion in federal aid payments. "That means agriculture is still in a bad place," Duvall said. He supports Congress continuing to provide some relief to farmers in any aid package approved to continue helping shore up the agricultural economy.

"We're hopeful they are going to get something done before they adjourn and I do feel they can get there," he said. "I can't believe they would go home for the holidays without taking care of small businesses that need it so badly across America in all sectors of our economy, and agriculture is just one of them."

Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., is set to take over as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. With his extensive experience in the Georgia Farm Bureau, Duvall has worked with Scott a great deal in the past and calls Scott, a "dear friend and very good man. I admire him in many ways." Duvall said Scott has the ability to reach across party lines, which is an important trait in agriculture.

"His exposure on that committee for the last several years give him a good platform to work from and I'm excited about my Georgia friend having the opportunity to serve in this area and I think he'll do a fantastic job," Duvall said.

Ag CEO Council report:…

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom contributed to this report.

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Chris Clayton