As presidential candidates stake out their 2016 election platforms and key priorities, growers and their business partners should seek opportunities to move agricultural priorities forward this election season.
“The upcoming election won’t determine the size and scope of a farm bill or determine farm prosperity,” says Bruce Knight, principal and founder of Strategic Conservation Solutions. “But it could impact areas related to trade, immigration and regulatory standards.”
2016 also marks the last year of President Barack Obama’s second term, making it likely the administration will work to address legacy issues that could impact the ag world. Jeffrey Sands, manager of federal government relations for Syngenta, believes that international trade and energy are among the legacy issues that ag interests might be able to work on with the Obama administration during its waning months.
Below are some political developments that growers and resellers should follow over the next 12 to 15 months:
- Trade Pact Delay – Negotiations have concluded on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and now it’s up to Congress to pass the massive trade deal among 12 countries that rim the Pacific Ocean. Many view the deal as beneficial for American agriculture, but some analysts think Congress won’t act on the deal until after the 2016 election cycle.
“Trade could face some setbacks as a result of campaigning and concerns about what issues make up the agreement,” says Sara Wyant, president of Agri-Pulse Communications Inc.
- Immigration Reform Challenges – The majority in Congress has indicated that they are not particularly interested in working with the president on immigration in 2016. While rhetoric about immigration may be part of the campaign trail, inactivity will likely continue on any sort of overhaul to the program in the immediate future.
- Regulatory Focus – Experts expect to see regulatory action increase significantly as agency heads have been charged with putting the finishing touches on key legacy issues for the Obama administration. Although a federal court ruled in late 2015 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overstepped its authority on the Waters of the United States rule, similar proposals may become talking points for various groups in an attempt to influence campaigns.
- Biotech Acceptance – Known as the Coordinated Framework, a proposed effort to modernize the regulatory channels for approving new biotech traits within three federal agencies (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and EPA) is speeding up the conversation regarding biotechnology acceptance. A federal bill to standardize how food containing genetically modified ingredients is labeled is also moving through Congress.
- Energy and Climate Change – This is another legacy area where agricultural interests may be able to work with the Obama administration, but regulatory and congressional action late in 2015 may have limited the possibilities. The EPA’s recent release of a new renewable fuel standard (RFS) for 2014, 2015 and 2016 means that more biofuels will be blended in 2016 when compared with the agency’s previous proposal, but the prospect of additional blending of biofuels in future years is uncertain because of the EPA’s movement away from the volumes in the RFS statute. Efforts to roll back the RFS or make it less ambitious could impact the marketplace and demand for commodities, as well as slow the overall demand for biofuels, says John Fuher, director of legislative affairs for Growth Energy.
Although the emphasis may not be on agriculture as an industry in this election cycle, there’s still a lot at stake for agribusiness. Growers and their business partners alike need to measure what opportunities are available to move agricultural priorities forward.
“The key thing is putting ourselves in front of these issues,” Sands says. “We have to drive home the importance of rural America inside the beltway and to the presidential hopefuls.”