Stanton County farmer Jim Sipes releases President Trump's 100-day report card.

President Trump was elected largely by carrying the vote of rural America and small cities in key states. Did President Trump’s administration hear the rural voters and heed the mandate?

After President Trump was elected, I wrote about a Christmas list from rural voters. This list included the following items: Trans-Pacific Partnership, Farm Bill, Rural Economy, Waters of the US - WOTUS, Tax Reform, Endangered Species Act Reform and Regulatory Reform. How has President Trump scored on these rural priorities? Here is my opinion:

Trans-Pacific Partnership: F – Trade was/is the most important issue to the American farm economy. Farm expenses are high and the price we are receiving for ag commodities is extremely low. Very few, if any, farm producers - no matter whether raising crops, fiber, animals, or milk - can go to the bank with a cash flow showing a profit at the end of a year’s work. Agriculturists believe that trade is our quickest way out of the current devastatingly low commodity prices which have been caused by United States and world surpluses and low demand. President Trump, on day one, backed the U.S. out of a nearly final trade agreement called TPP. The real issue here really isn’t TPP but overall trade, which I give Trump a C. The Trump administration was very slow to nominate Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Ag and was slow to nominate our trade negotiators. Trump also attacked NAFTA, which is touted as good for US agriculture. Thankfully, Trump has taken an evaluation approach to NAFTA rather than a complete shutdown of the agreement. Trump wants bilateral trade agreements - between two countries - rather than multi-lateral, like TPP. However, several of our trade partners have indicated little interest in bi-lateral agreements. Trade agreements generally take many years to draft, approve and implement. Stopping TPP, renegotiating NAFTA and starting bi-lateral trade agreements will be of little to no help to the current, terrible ag economy. 

Farm Bill: F - Even though the ag sector provides 5.5% of the US GDP and 9.2% of the US workforce, I don’t believe that the Trump administration is really pulling for farmers and ranchers. His late nomination of Perdue, the delayed trade representatives, the pull out of TPP and renegotiating NAFTA, all lead to high uncertainty in the ag world. Will Trump support a stronger Farm Bill? Will the Senate? Will the House? I believe we will likely see another farm safety net, however, I do not believe it will be adequately funded. Conservation efforts and rural economy programs will likely be losers in the next farm bill so that the cotton and dairy industries, that wanted out of the current farm bill, can now be included in the next. Passing the farm bill will be a huge challenge. During his campaign, Trump was quiet on farm subsidies, however, his recent budget recommendation did severely cut the operating budget of the USDA. President Trump just released his fiscal 2018 budget. This budget makes it clear Trump doesn’t see a need for much of an ag safety net. His proposed budget cuts $38 billion from farm programs over 10 years and suggests numerous changes that will weaken crop insurance, our only functioning safety net for agriculture. While none of these proposed changes will be popular with farmers, probably the most unpopular will be the proposal to eliminate the crop insurance harvest price option that eliminates price risk for farmers. It appears that agriculture will have to fight to maintain the very necessary safety net that helps to protect farmers from acts of nature that can devastate our industry.

Rural Economy: D - Trump held a rural economic summit the day Perdue was confirmed. This fact provides some hope that he understands the importance of agriculture to the U.S. economy. An ag economist, I never knew his name as we were just chatting while boarding an airplane, told me that throughout history, the ag economy is a great predictor of the U.S. economy. He indicated that the U.S. economy will follow the ag economy with a four- or five-year delay. I believe, and he believed, that the ag economy is extremely influential and is a lead indicator to the U.S. economy. The need to improve the rural economy is now, as many producers, rural businesses and towns are struggling. I gave Trump a D, because even though he seems to get the need, everything that is being done will lead to a very slow, probably too-slow-for-many, recovery. Many of the cuts to the first Trump Budget come from rural America. Funding for rural economic development, wind energy and rural airline services are a few suggested cuts. I would like to be optimistic, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Trump with a failing Rural Economy score by the end of his first year.

Waters of the United States:  A - Trump has done what was expected. He signed an executive order that starts the process to dismantle WOTUS, which has been spouted as the biggest land control grab by the EPA and Corps of Engineers in recent U.S. history. Because WOTUS was a final rule, the Trump administration couldn’t legally eliminate the rule. They basically have taken the stance to not support enforcement until the rule can be legally retracted and replaced with a different, hopefully better, rule. There are ongoing meetings to determine the WOTUS replacement. It will be interesting to see the outcome of these meetings. I have no doubt that the proponents of WOTUS are working hard to keep the current rule. The challenge is how to protect water while protecting individual property rights, businesses and the economy.

Tax Reform: C - I gave Trump a C because tax reform seems to have taken a back seat to other issues. The other reason for a C is because it really isn’t very clear on Trump’s stance on several very important issues to Ag. Here are my concerns. Trump wants to cut corporate taxes, slightly reduce individual income tax rates, double the individual tax deduction and eliminate estate taxes. All this sounds good, even great to eliminate estate taxes. Trump also doesn’t favor the House proposed Border Adjustment Tax that would be terrible for ag as experts believe the value of the dollar would increase, which would hurt agricultural commodity export competitiveness. All this sounds great, however, Trump would eliminate most itemized deductions including mortgage deductions. Should this plan eliminate interest deductions and depreciation for capital investments, the agriculture sector would be hurt. Agriculture is a very capital intensive business. Reducing or eliminating interest deductions and depreciation allowances would hurt those farmers and ranchers already struggling in this terrible ag economy. Such a policy could eliminate new farmers and ranchers as the cost of entry, which is already so overwhelming that few can afford to be first time farmers, would become much more difficult. It is a bit early to know how tax reform will play out, but agriculture may win on some big items and get hurt, perhaps worse, on other big items. Stay tuned!

Regulatory Reform: B – Regulatory reform seems to have been a leading effort of the Trump administration. Many of the executive orders signed by Trump were made to change the overreaching regulations set by the Obama administration. While Congress has not sent a regulatory reform bill to the president for his signature, it seems likely that Trump would sign the legislation.

Overall, it is difficult to know how to take what has been happening with Trump and his administration. Is this administration really that much different from other administrations in their first 100 days, or has the obviously biased media made molehills into mountains? Honestly, I don’t know, but it certainly seems that the media are out to get Trump. With Trump’s complete lack of a filter, isn’t he feeding the frenzy?

As far as agriculture goes with the Trump administration, I have believed since before the election that electing Trump would be bad for agriculture. However, I still believe that he was a better choice for our country in the long run. President Trump is, for the most part, appointing good people in key positions. He has made some effort to change the Affordable Care Act, and we now have another conservative judge to replace Scalia. This, in my view, is all good. I believe a conservative needed to be in power, but I would have preferred a president with a filter!

Jim Sipes received a master's degree in agronomy from Kansas State University, then returned home to the family farm in Stanton County. He is the fourth generation on the farm. Sipes represents the Kansas Farm Bureau's ninth district on the state board of directors. Jim represents the Kansas Farm Bureau on the committee developing the Lesser Prairie Chicken Habitat Credit Exchange. He and his wife, Kelly, have one son, Caleb, and a daughter, Bailey.