By Jeremy Bernfeld, Harvest Public Media
We received many questions about the role of farmers in crafting the policies that affect our food system.
William Powers of Ceresco, Nebraska asked: How can farmers, both young/beginning & established, have a seat at the table so to speak, in regards to policy decisions and other issues relating to food and farming.
And Eliza Spertus of Weston, Missouri, added: As president, what will you do to support small farmers (and please note that by small I mean small, under 500 acres)? These farmers, especially those raising livestock on grass, are often left out of the national agriculture conversation. How will you make sure that we have a voice?
It’s no surprise that both Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have talked on the campaign trail about supporting family farms – it plays well with crowds. But what does it really mean, and what policies would that “support” turn into?
While neither the Clinton campaign nor the Trump campaign responded to requests for comment, here’s what we know:
Trump framed his support for family farms as part of his business and economy plan at an August campaign stop in Iowa. He addressed the nearly 97 percent of U.S. farms that are “family-owned and family-managed,” which checks out with this USDA report, as largely one bloc with common interests. Trump spoke about peeling back federal regulations and lowering tax rates. He expressed support for the Renewable Fuel Standard, which mostly benefits corn and soybean farms, and proposed eliminating a controversial update to the Clean Water Act.
Trump’s Agricultural Advisory Committee is heavy on farm-state legislators, like the Republican governors of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas. It includes Bruce Rastetter, the Iowa agribusiness mogul who hosted a debate during the Republican presidential primary.
In her “Plan For A Vibrant Rural America,” Clinton lists specific proposals that she also says will boost family farms and she specifically addresses both young and small farmers. Clinton proposes to double funding for the Agriculture Department’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program and to increase funding for programs aimed at growing farmers markets and local food systems.
Former USDA official Kathleen Merrigan has acted as a key surrogate for Clinton on agriculture policy issues. Merrigan was known at USDA for spearheading some of the agency’s programs aimed at supporting small and local farmers. Current U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has also stumped for Clinton.