Well, the U.S. has entered the political season with primaries and debates leading up to the nationwide November elections. Recently, I spoke in Minnesota, Indiana and North Carolina. For these sessions, I conducted a town-hall format with a focus on general issues of concern. In fact, there were sessions ideally suited for our political leaders. In a series of meetings, producers, lenders, agribusinesses and even students shared their top three concerns regarding American agriculture and beyond. Although not scientific, the data gathered does provide valuable perspectives from a wide range of stakeholders. According to my unscientific research, below are the top issues of 160 dedicated Americans that should be of great interest to our public servants.
In terms of continual input, the number one concern was healthcare changes and the significant impact on farms and small businesses. Many indicated their healthcare costs increased dramatically, which in turn stretched the family living budget. Most opted for higher deductibles and other options to lower monthly costs, but actually increased overall out-of-pocket costs. This is a serious factor in a business’ financial health. In fact, medical cost is one of the leading reasons for financial bankruptcy of a business.
The second largest concern in this informal poll was regulation overreach. Many commented that in addition to the regulation, most regulators have little to no understanding of agriculture. Several mentioned the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and in particular, excessive authority exerted involving water issues. Others expressed concerns over the standardization of food labeling. Regulations can quickly become burdensome in time, labor and cost; which are three sensitive elements, especially in an economic reset.
From lender side, many commented that the new regulations on the banking industry are not only stifling new loans but also loan servicing. Many agricultural lenders have observed that the increase in regulation is driving away human assets, particularly, young people, from the industry. Even if unintended, too often regulations seem to carry significant consequences.
For these various agricultural stakeholders, the importance of crop insurance was third on the priority list. Crop insurance is a vital risk-management tool and provides a vehicle to reduce volatility and promote sustainability. Many commented that crop insurance is one of today’s major stability factors for the industry. With increased volatility in both global markets and weather patterns, supporting the continuation of crop insurance offers some degree of stabilization to the American agricultural industry and rural economies.
Priorities for agriculture
In general, a commonly mentioned priority was government and private investment in infrastructure. Specifically, this includes items such as, transportation through locks and dams, and internet service for rural areas. Updated infrastructure is critical for agricultural producers to be competitive in a global marketplace.
From the young farmers and ranchers, continuing programs to help get their business started as well as management resources for the economic reset were both priorities. The future of American agriculture depends on the development and education of this group of farmers and ranchers. This must be a high priority.
Outside of agriculture, there was much concern about the national debt, social programs, and other programs that challenge U.S. global competitiveness. From Federal Reserve policy to the strength of the U.S. dollar, to China, there is much uncertainty about our country’s financial health.
As one participant stated, “It appears no one has the courage to address these issues.” Wow! Based on this input, I believe it would be interesting to serve as a political debate facilitator and throw in some tough questions on behalf of American agriculture. If this did happen, I wonder if we would get a thoughtful answer or just another flashy sound bite. In the meantime, the many faces of American agriculture must keep telling their story.