The great dairy trade war that will test President Trump (via the Washington Post)

Seven generations of Gartmans have birthed calves in this barn, a white-roofed, red-sided structure within a short walk of the land the first Gartmans are buried on.

But the bull that Luke Gartman, 36, pulled into the world on a recent Tuesday morning was a special one. This calf — steaming and soggy and apparently unbreathing, before Luke began to poke his face with straw – could be one of the very last calves born on the Gartmans’ farm.

The family has two weeks to find a new dairy processing company to buy their milk and sell it into the market. The contract with their existing buyer was just canceled, the latest casualty of an increasingly acrimonious trade war with Canada over the price of ultrafiltered milk, an ingredient in cheese.

“We could be in a situation where we have to sell the cows,” said Gartman’s brother Matt. “If we’re to that point of May 1 and have no solutions — well, we would no longer be a dairy farm.”

The dispute — which has played out in surprisingly barbed remarks across the normally friendly northern border — illustrates the enormous complexity of fulfilling President Trump’s promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the free trade pact with Canada and Mexico.

While NAFTA is often portrayed as a single trade agreement, it has specific provisions affecting thousands of products in hundreds of industries. The trade pact contains terms governing dozens of different dairy products alone.

Reworking many of these, experts say, will involve not just complex technical discussions but a fight between powerful political interests on both sides of the border. And in almost every case, on the line will be the livelihoods of the people who grow or make the products, each with a compelling case for why their side should prevail.

This particular dispute has already affected 75 family farms, caused more than $150 million in losses, and prompted a bipartisan alliance of lawmakers to demand that Trump deliver on his tough talk about protecting U.S. industries from unfair trade practices.

“This could certainly become an issue in any attempt to renegotiate NAFTA,” said Luis Ribera, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M who studies North American trade. “Once you open NAFTA, everything is theoretically on the table for debate.”

‘Farmers are using alternative facts’

The dairy industry, like much of agriculture, has never been predictable. But until receiving the cancellation letter earlier this month from their processor, Grassland Dairy Products, the Gartmans at least knew where their milk would end up.

Every morning at 5, Luke, Matt and their father, Mark, begin herding the family’s 120 Holsteins from the 13,000-square-foot barn where they sleep. They guide the cows to pumps in the 12-stall milking parlor, where they produce 3,800 pounds of milk in each of the herd’s two daily milkings. The milk is siphoned via stainless-steel pipes to a Civil War-era cold room, where it awaits pickup by an insulated tanker truck.

From there, the milk travels 194 miles west to Greenwood, Wis., where Grassland processes it into butter, cream, dry milk powder and a high-protein milk concentrate called ultrafiltered milk. The bulk of ultrafiltered milk is shipped to Canada and used as a protein added to cheese.

At least that’s how it was until April of last year. That’s when dairy farmers in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, took steps that undermined their U.S. competitors.

Trade agreements between the United States and Canada govern what kinds of tariffs the countries can impose on each other’s goods. While NAFTA eliminated many tariffs between the countries, some large tariffs on dairy remained.

But ultrafiltered milk hit the market after NAFTA’s 1994 enactment. As a result, it could enter Canada without facing big tariffs.

Ontario farmers, frustrated with the arrangement, last April dramatically cut the prices on Canadian ultrafiltered milk. Other provinces plan to follow suit, posing a dire threat to U.S. farms.

Companies such as Grassland and New York’s Cayuga Milk Ingredients have already reported losses of $150 million since the price drop began.

American agricultural interests have decried Canada’s actions as deeply unfair.

“Our federal and state governments cannot abide by Canada’s disregard for its trade commitment to the United States,” Tom Vilsack, president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and former secretary of agriculture under President Barack Obama, said in a statement. Canada, he continued, has “pursue[d] policies that are choking off sales of American-made milk to the detriment of U.S. dairy farmers.”

The Canadian dairy industry disputes these allegations, arguing that U.S. milk producers have built far too much capacity in recent years and face such an oversupply of milk that they have to cut back.

“To use a phrase that has recently come out of the U.S., Wisconsin farmers are using alternative facts,” said Isabelle Bouchard, the director of communications and government relations at the industry group Dairy Farmers of Canada. “The Wisconsin people are trying to find an enemy — when in reality the problem they have is that they’re overproducing.”

With dairy farmers scrambling to find new markets for their milk, a bipartisan alliance of policymakers, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), have called on the Canadian government to intervene in its dairy industry.

Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — a liberal Democrat and a tea-party Republican, respectively — joined a statement by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) this month that alleged that the new pricing policies “appear to violate Canada’s existing trade obligations to the United States.”

Industry groups, meanwhile, have called on the Trump administration to intervene directly. On Thursday, several powerful dairy trade associations sent a joint letter to Trump, asking that he push Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue and direct U.S. agencies to “impress upon Canada in a concrete way the importance of dependable U.S. trade.” The letter called on Trump to escalate the issue to the World Trade Organization if Canada doesn’t respond positively.

The industry is also concerned the dispute could spill into other products. The Ontario price drop applied not only to ultrafiltered milk but also to skim milk powder, which could eventually result in Canadians selling more of the ingredient on global markets. That could depress prices for American farmers, and ultimately hurt them even more than the lost trade in ultrafiltered milk.

The White House has not yet taken action and did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though the dairy industry is confident it will act. Trump will be in Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday, visiting a manufacturing plant.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s 2017 report on barriers to U.S. trade, which articulates the country’s trade enforcement priorities, discussed the dairy concerns. Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for the office, said that USTR was “aware of the importance of the Canadian market for American dairy farmers” and was “examining” the matter.

“The administration has demonstrated strong interest in trying to resolve this issue,” said Jaime Castaneda, vice president of trade policy at the National Milk Producers Federation. “They are definitely paying a lot of attention.”

The escalating rhetoric has begun to alarm some Canadians.

“A lot of people are very nervous in Canada because of Mr. Trump’s statements about trade,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food policy at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. “You could easily see the U.S. refusing to buy Canadian beef, for instance, unless Canada opened its dairy markets.”

‘Nowhere to go with this milk’

Without renewed access to the Canadian market, U.S. dairy farmers find themselves in a deeply precarious situation. They are scrambling to find new processors to buy their milk, but finding few takers because of the overall glut.

“Everybody knows there’s nowhere to go with this milk. Absolutely nowhere,” said Stacy Limberg, who heads the Sheboygan County Dairy Promotion Board, gesturing around her own barn. “I can’t even begin to fathom what we would do in that situation.”

Ten miles east on County Road V, the Gartmans have begun to fathom it. They remain “hopefully optimistic” that they will find a new processor by the May 1 deadline, and have recently heard from a local hauler who believes he might have a connection for them.

Should that fall through, however, the brothers are discussing the possibility of moving their herd, short term, to a relative’s farm. And if they still can’t find a processor at that point, they’ll begin to truck their cows to auction.

That is a prospect that Gartman said he refuses to think about, yet. He knows each of his 120 cows on sight, by name: There’s Yodel, Dinah, Egypt, Cosmic, Jolly — generations of cows milked in this room his mom hand-stenciled with a cow motif in the ’80s.

On a recent Monday night, his 8-year-old niece Audrey herded cows around the parlor, unfazed by the fact that most were twice her height. Gartman’s own children were off the farm at a 4-H meeting for the night.

“This was supposed to be their farm next,” he said. “What will be left for them?”

Then he headed to the back barn to haul manure. That, at least, remains a constant.

Commentary: Canada’s dairy actions hurting rural U.S. (International Dairy Foods Association)

 U.S. dairy organizations today urged the Trump Administration to fight back against protectionist Canadian trade policies that are slamming the door to American dairy exports in violation of existing trade commitments between the two nations.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) called on the federal government, and on governors in northern states, to take immediate action in response to Canada’sviolation of its trade commitments to the United States.

Because of the new “Class 7” pricing policy, which is expressly designed to disadvantage U.S. exports to Canada and globally, multiple dairy companies in Wisconsin and New York have been forced to inform many of their supplying farmers that the Canadian market for their exports has dried up. For some farmers, this means that the company processing their milk and shipping it to Canada can no longer accept it starting in May. This is a direct consequence of Canada’s National Ingredients Strategy and new Class 7 milk pricing program.

Canada’s protectionist dairy policies are having precisely the effect Canada intended: cutting off U.S. dairy exports of ultra-filtered milk to Canada despite long-standing contracts with American companies,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF. “American companies have invested in new equipment and asked dairy farmers to supply the milk to meet demand in the Canadian dairy market. This export access has suddenly disappeared, not because the market is gone, but because the Canadian government has reneged on its commitments.”

“Our federal and state governments cannot abide by Canada’s disregard for its trade commitment to the United States and its intentional decision to pursue policies that are choking off sales of American-made milk to the detriment of U.S. dairy farmers,” saidTom Vilsack, president and CEO of USDEC. “It is deeply concerning that Canada has chosen to continue down a ‘beggar thy neighbor’ path of addressing its internal issues by forcing the U.S. dairy industry to bear the harmful consequences.”

Vilsack noted that while farm families in the Northeast and Midwest are suffering the immediate consequences of the loss of Canadian markets, “thousands more will suffer if Canada persists in using its programs to distort the global milk powder markets so critical to tens of thousands of American dairy farmers.”

“The U.S. dairy industry is united on this issue because these restrictive policies effectively bar a significant U.S. export to Canada, with total losses estimated to hit $150 million worth of ultra-filtered milk exports from Wisconsin and New York. As we feared, these policies are now prohibiting our nation’s dairy processors from accessing the Canadian market,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of IDFA. “IDFA is speaking out against Canada’s protectionist policies on Capitol Hill, and asking the Trump Administration and state governors and legislators to insist that Canada honor its trade commitments and allow more market access for U.S. dairy products.”

Despite efforts by the U.S. government and dairy organizations to shed more light on the Canadian program, Canada is refusing to share sufficient details. For instance, limited information has been posted online by certain provinces, and some of that information has subsequently been removed from provincial milk authorities’ websites in what appears to be aimed at obfuscating how the program operates. Despite this lack of transparency, U.S. companies and their supplying farmers are already feeling its real-world consequences.

The United States is Canada’s largest export market, accounting for approximately three-fourths of Canada’s total exports. The organizations urged both federal and state governments to move swiftly to demonstrate to Canada that trade is a door that must swing two ways to have a functional relationship.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), based in Arlington, Va., develops and carries out policies that advance the well-being of U.S. dairy producers and the cooperatives they collectively own. The members of NMPF’s cooperatives produce the majority of the U.S, milk supply, making NMPF the voice of dairy producers on Capitol Hill and with government agencies. For more on NMPF’s activities, visit

The U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) is a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders. Its mission is to enhance U.S. global competitiveness and assist the U.S. industry to increase its global dairy ingredient sales and exports of U.S. dairy products. USDEC accomplishes this through programs in market development that build global demand for U.S. dairy products, resolve market access barriers and advance industry trade policy goals. USDEC is supported by staff across the United States and overseas in Mexico,South America, Asia, Middle East and Europe.

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C., represents the nation’s dairy manufacturing and marketing industries and their suppliers with a membership of nearly 525 companies within a $125-billion a year industry. IDFA is composed of three constituent organizations: the Milk Industry Foundation (MIF), the National Cheese Institute (NCI) and the International Ice Cream Association (IICA). IDFA’s nearly 200 dairy processing members operate more than 600 manufacturing facilities and range from large multi-national organizations to single-plant companies. Together they represent more than 85 percent of the milk, cultured products, cheese, ice cream and frozen desserts produced and marketed in the United States.

—International Dairy Foods Association (via PRNewswire)


Issue Update: House Subcommittee Hearings, Commodity Payment Mechanisms and Margin Protection Program

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates and Co-Director of Heartland Advocates, recently spoke with Linda Brekke of the Linder Farm Network regarding recent activity in Congress related to the 2018 Farm Bill.

Topics included committee hearings in the United States House of Representatives, commodity payment mechanisms and federal dairy policy.

Segment One: House Agriculture Subcommittee Hearings (:57 in length)

Segment Two: Commodity Payment Mechanisms (1:19 in length)

Segment Three: Dairy Provisions/Margin Protection Program (1:32 in length)

For additional information, please contact RDL & Associates at (651) 247-5458 or

Opinion: Farm Credit – Fulfilling its mission to rural communities (via Agri-Pulse)

Several years of low commodity prices are making life difficult on the farm, and small towns across the country face serious challenges to modernize their infrastructure. Regardless, America’s farmers, ranchers and rural families remain optimistic. They are working hard to make ends meet and provide opportunities in agriculture and other rural businesses for the next generation.

Times like these highlight the value of Farm Credit’s mission. Farm Credit supports rural communities and agriculture with reliable, consistent credit and financial services, today and tomorrow. We help these areas grow and thrive by financing vital infrastructure and communication services and providing farmers and agribusinesses with the capital they need to be successful.

Because a steady flow of credit means more jobs and economic growth, Farm Credit helps ensure the vibrancy of communities throughout rural America – an especially important task given the current downturn in the farm economy. That has been our mission for more than 100 years and we are proud to share our story today with the House Agriculture Committee.

Farm Credit is a nationwide network of 77 customer-owned lending institutions that all share a critical mission. These independent, cooperatively-owned institutions lend to farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives and other agribusinesses, rural homebuyers and infrastructure providers throughout rural America.

The loans we make support our mission. Whether helping a young farm family begin its operation, supporting our veterans as they return home and take up farming or financing U.S. agricultural exports around the globe, Farm Credit is committed to the success of American agriculture.

Farm Credit’s mission beyond agriculture is just as important. Rural homebuyers face obstacles unknown in more urban settings, and Farm Credit provides loans tailored to these unique circumstances. Farm Credit finances companies that provide vital infrastructure to rural communities, helping bring clean water to rural families, reliable energy to farms and rural towns and broadband that connects rural America to the rest of the world. Modern infrastructure makes rural communities competitive, provides jobs and helps improve the quality of life for rural families.

Farm Credit fulfills its mission without federal funding. We raise money from Wall Street and put it to work on farms, ranches and in rural communities.

This also is a time when supporting key programs such as crop insurance, the current farm bill, the renewable fuels standard and promoting strong export markets has never been more important to maintaining the viability of the industry. Passage of a strong Farm Bill next year is essential.

Rural communities and agriculture are at the heart of what we do. And a constant supply of credit to our customer-owners helps make agriculture one of the driving engines for the U.S. economy and enables our nation’s agricultural producers to feed a hungry world.

Every day Farm Credit is focused solely on its customers and our mission remains as important today as it was when we made our first loan more than 100 years ago. Farm Credit is committed to its customer-owners in good times and bad and we will honor that commitment today and tomorrow.

Jimmy Dodson is chairman of the Farm Credit Bank of Texas and a third-generation farmer, raising cotton, corn, wheat, hay and grain sorghum near Corpus Christi, Texas.

Tom Halverson is president and CEO of CoBank.

Doug Stark is president and CEO of Farm Credit Services of America and Frontier Farm Credit.

Milk producers warned of unrealistic cost estimate for program change (via Agri-Pulse)

Congressional budget analysts estimate that a key change sought by dairy producers to the Margin Protection Program could cost more than $2 billion, a price tag that leaders of the House Agriculture Committee said is unrealistic.

“I don’t want expectations to outrun what we can actually get done,” Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said at a hearing Wednesday on dairy policy. He said it’s “not rational to be able to add that kind of resources” to MPP.

“I don’t know where we’re going to find that” amount of money, said the committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

Both lawmakers argued that MPP is currently inadequate to protect the industry, and they also questioned whether the Congressional Budget Office estimate was accurate. The CBO estimate, which has not been released publicly, was prepared for the committee’s use.

The National Milk Producers Federation is asking Congress to reverse a 10-percent cut that was made during drafting of the 2014 farm bill in the feed cost formula that’s used to calculate the margin between milk prices and feed costs. MPP makes payments to producers when the margin falls below minimum levels.

The proposal is one of a series NMPF has made to make MPP more attractive to producers. Other proposals include lowering premiums for buy-up coverage and expanding the collection of data on corn, soybean meal and alfalfa prices that are used to calculate feed costs.

The current program, for example, only uses the average price of soybean meal at Decatur, Illinois. NMPF wants to include all soybean-meal price data collected by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

“Let’s get the policy right and then address the cost of it. We’re not looking to have an expensive program,” Jim Mulhern, NMPF’s president and CEO.

Producers “continue to be on the same challenging roller-coaster ride we’ve been on for the last 15 years,” Mulhern said. “We’re once again in a downward slump in our industry.”

He said after the hearing that he had not seen the CBO estimate.

MPP coverage levels vary from a margin of $4 to $8 per hundredweight. The $4 level requires only a $100 annual fee. Higher levels of coverage require farms to pay a premium. Enrollment in buy-up coverage has fallen sharply, from 39 percent in 2015 to 12 percent last year and just 2 percent this year.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that producers’ margins would have been $1 per hundredweight lower in 2015 and 2016 had the farm bill increased the feed formula by 10 percent. That would have resulted in payments of $36 million in 2016, based on the limited purchase of buy-up coverage that year. Payments could have been significantly higher if more farms had purchased higher levels of coverage.

The formula was reduced during deliberations on the farm bill in 2012 to reduce the program’s potential cost.

Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., told Mulhern that her state lost 19 dairy farms last year, partly because of a drought, and she expressed concern that producers had lost interest in MPP and wouldn’t sign up for even a revamped version.

“All it’s going to take is for one year of the program working for people,” Mulhern responded. Farmers “will see these changes and will make the program the safety net we’ve all wanted.”

NMPF is no longer seeking supply management provisions, an issue that put the organization at odds with dairy processors and led to a battle between Peterson and then-House Speaker John Boehner, a fight Peterson ultimately lost. Peterson now says that the supply management provision would have never been used anyway, making it a wasted effort on his part.

But producers and processors are divided over an effort by the International Dairy Foods Association to allow forward contracting for fluid milk. Producers fear that it will lower the prices they are paid. Prices for fluid milk are currently based on a local differential above the prices for Class 3 or Class 4 milk, the types used for cheese, butter and nonfat dry milk.

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, told the committee his group would be discussing the issue with NMPF. He also said his group would support changes to the MPP as long as they aren’t market distorting, a reference to the supply-management dispute.

Dykes asked the committee to expand the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) grant program to include dairy products. The pilot program, created by the 2014 farm bill, funds projects that provide incentives to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to buy fruits and vegetables. The program has no funding after 2018.


For more news, go to:

Mexico is the leading destination for U.S. dairy products powder (via USDA Economic Research Service)

Mexico is the leading destination for U.S. dairy products powder

Mexico has consistently been the leading export destination for U.S. dairy products, with the combination of nonfat dry milk (NDM) and skim milk powder (SMP) as the top export product. (NDM and SMP are two very similar products grouped together in export data.) In 2016, 54 percent of NDM/SMP produced in the United States was exported, and 43 percent of these exports went to Mexico. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty concerning the future of exports to Mexico due to a strong dollar and possible changes in trade policy. The United States accounted for 94 percent of Mexico’s imports of NDM/SMP in 2016. Other sources included New Zealand, Spain, Canada, and Germany. If Mexico were to reduce imports from the United States, those countries would be in a better position to increase their share of trade. This chart appears in the ERS Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook report released in March 2017.

Policy To-Do List for Ag (via AgWeb)

The policy issues under serious discussion in Washington, D.C., are many, but two in particular top the list of priorities for U.S. farmers—immigration and trade—according to Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). While farm lobbyists watch those issues play out, rumors swirl about the fate of the Renewable Fuel Standard and hope is high tax reform is on the way.


Thatcher was recently asked to rate, from 1 to 10, the “uncertainty and nervousness” concerning potential changes to immigration and their effect on agriculture.

“We’re at a 10,” she says, referring to a report that authorities had rounded up undocumented workers on a farm in Michigan. “I think [on-farm enforcement] is starting with regularity across the country,” she adds.

Amid stepped-up immigration actions in areas with heavy undocumented populations, the Trump administration has issued two executive orders clamping down on travel and immigration. Farm groups such as AFBF and National Farmers Union (NFU) are analyzing the executive branch’s actions to weigh their potential impact on agriculture.

Farm Bureau and NFU, often at odds ideologically, are in lockstep as they lobby lawmakers on the importance of immigrant labor to ag sectors such as dairy and fruit and vegetables, according to Zack Clark, government representative for NFU.

Clark says the Trump administration has changed its approach to the issue. “We initially thought there’d be an appreciation for the uniqueness of agriculture,” he says of the administration. “It seems [now] that’s not the case.”

All of agriculture should get the word out about the importance of immigrant labor, Thatcher says. “For corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum farmers, it’s not exactly the biggest thing on your plate. But it’s incredibly important to dairy, the fruit and vegetable industry and others, so we can use all the help we can get.”


President Trump’s promised talks renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico are approaching. The pact is credited with quadrupling the value of U.S. food and ag exports to both countries since it took effect in 1994. “We don’t want to mess that up,” Thatcher says, citing reports Mexico is threatening to turn to U.S. rivals Brazil and Argentina for corn.

Clark says the threats “are largely rhetoric because they just don’t have the capacity to deliver to

Mexico.” He also says the “America First” approach doesn’t make it easy to get partners to the table. “[They’re] getting mad and they’re going to take it out on us,” he says.

Once talks start, the result isn’t clear. “When we say, ‘We want X, Y and Z,’ then Canada will want at least three or four things and Mexico will want three or four things,” Thatcher says. “So while there might be beneficiaries, there’s going to be some losers.”

Regarding the now-rejected Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant says there’s an expectation bilateral deals will be the only path forward, but she jokingly suggested the administration could rename the existing deal, make a few changes and send it out again. “It could be a rebranded multilateral [trade deal] in a different shape,” Wyant says.


The path to a possible repeal of the estate tax is pretty clear, at least to some. “I think we’ve got as good a chance as we’ve had in, I don’t know, ever,” Thatcher states. “It’s all about trade-offs. But I feel positive we can make some real progress.”

NFU opposes a repeal, calling it a tax on the less than 1%. “There is a very small percentage of people who are impacted, so we should keep that in mind,” Clark says.

Farm Bill

While work ramps up on the next farm bill, U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway is pledging this one, unlike the previous version, will be approved on time.

Conaway, R-Texas, and counterpart Collin Peterson, D-Minn., have asked the House Budget Committee to hold farm programs “to the same resources we got in 2014,” Conaway says. Low commodity prices and falling farm income ought to help make the case for urgency. The current farm bill expires fall 2018.

Will agriculture be expected to offer budget offsets at a time when the Trump administration is facing record debt while promising huge investments in infrastructure and the military?

“[We’re] $20 trillion in debt, and the president has proposed a lot of new spending. There’s a lot of balls in the air,” Conaway says. At this stage, it’s not entirely clear how the process will play out, he adds.

One thing that’s clear is with new spending comes new cuts. “If you’re going to ask for something new, then you’re going to have to tell me where we take money away,” he says.

Trump reaffirms support for ethanol in industry letter (via The Hill)

President Trump reiterated his support for the federal ethanol fuels mandate in a letter to industry supporters on Tuesday.

Addressing attendees at the National Ethanol Conference, Trump said in a letter that he “value[s] the importance of renewable fuels to America’s economy and to our energy independence.”

He promised to work with the industry’s Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) to “identify and reform” regulations on the industry, which he said “has suffered from overzealous, job-killing regulation.”

Trump added, “As I emphasized throughout my campaign, renewable fuels are essential to America’s energy strategy.”

Trump supported the Renewable Fuels Standard throughout his campaign, a position he refined during a second-place effort in the Iowa caucuses.

Despite Trump’s letter, some officials in his administration have signaled support for reforming the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Trump adviser Carl Icahn, an investor whose holding company owns a major stake in a fuel refiner, is pushing to reform the RFS’s “point of obligation,” which assigns refiners the responsibility of complying with ethanol blending mandates under the law.

Opponents of new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt have noted his ties to the oil industry during his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general. But he told senators during a confirmation hearing last month that he would implement the mandate, which Congress updated in 2007.

Ethanol supporters cheered Trump’s letter on Tuesday.

In a statement, RFA President Bob Dinneen said the RFS mandate “has cleaned the air, reduced our dependence on foreign oil and boosted local economies.”

Donald Trump understands all this,” he said. “Consumers benefit from this national policy and our industry looks forward to continuing to be the lowest cost, highest octane fuel in the world.

Heartland Advocates Welcomes Capitol Solutions as Strategic Partner

Heartland Advocates is pleased to announce Capitol Solutions as a strategic partner.  This collaboration between federal and state government affairs teams creates additional opportunities and efficiencies for clients, providing a true team approach when it comes to government relations and strategic communications needs.

Capitol Solutions, headquartered near Louisville, KY, is a full-service lobbying, grassroots training and consulting firm assisting clients with legislative and regulatory concerns at all levels of government. Providing individual attention, surpassing client expectations, achieving desired results and old-fashioned hard work are all trademarks of Capitol Solutions.

J. Ronald Pryor, President of Capitol Solutions, is known and respected by elected leaders of both political parties and is consistently regarded as one of Frankfort’s most influential lobbyists for both the executive and legislative branches of state government.

The partnership between Heartland Advocates and Capitol Solutions builds upon the model of providing state-based advocacy from some of the most influential and respected regional government and public affairs firms in the country.  The teams created through the strategic partnerships represent the future of an integrated government relations strategy.

Heartland Advocates is a joint venture between Aronnax Public Strategies (APS) and RDL & Associates that provides a seamless government affairs strategy for clients in the agricultural space.  The practice is made up of state and federal government affairs and communications firms throughout the United States and Washington, D.C. and provides clients with a full service government affairs program – both State and Federal – under one contract.

State lobbying and federal lobbying are not mutually exclusive and our affiliation provides clients with a presence in the halls of Congress and within the Executive Branch while also engaging stakeholders and policymakers throughout the United States.

In the event your organization is interested in supplementing its strategic communications efforts in 2017, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss our services.

Website: Capitol Solutions

Website: Heartland Advocates

Lincoln’s Agricultural Legacy (Wayne D. Rasmussen)

On May 15, 1862, Abraham Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress establishing “at the seat of Government of the United States a Department of Agriculture.” Two and one-half years later, in what was to be his last annual message to the Congress, Lincoln said: “The Agricultural Department, under the supervision of its present energetic and faithful head, is rapidly commending itself to the great and vital interest it was created to advance. It is precisely the people’s Department, in which they feel more directly concerned that in any other. I commend it to the continued attention and fostering care of Congress.”

Lincoln’s own background was the pioneer farming and rural life typical of the outer edge of America’s westward-moving frontier.

His early years were spent on farms characterized by pioneer exploitation rather than by settled cultivation. The 300-acre tract in central Kentucky on which his log-hut birthplace stood was too poor to be called a farm. As a boy, he lived on a 30-acre farm. Because of hills and gullies only 14 acres could be cultivated.

In 1816, the Lincoln family moved to southern Indiana to 160 acres of marshy land. After 7 years, Lincoln’s father had 10 acres of corn, 5 of wheat, and 2 of oats in cultivation. The young boy was hired out to do general farm work, to split rails, and to work on a ferry boat. In 1830, the family moved to land along the Sangamon River in Illinois. Soon afterward, Lincoln left the family and began life for himself.

This farm background, on what was then the western frontier, and his years as a country lawyer made Lincoln, during the 1850’s, a representative of the frontier, the farmer, and small town democracy.

On September 30, 1859, Lincoln addressed the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society at its annual fair in Milwaukee. This was the only extended discussion of agriculture he ever made. He began by praising agricultural fairs as a means of bringing people together. However, the main purpose of the fair was to aid in improving agriculture.

Lincoln spoke of the desirability of substituting horse-drawn machines for hand power, and the potential usefulness of steam plows. He urged more intensive cultivation in order to increase production to the full capacity of the soil. This would require the better use of available labor. Lincoln contrasted “mud sill” and free labor, identifying “mud sill” laborers as slaves or hired laborers who were fixed in that situation. Free laborers, who had the opportunity to become landowners, were more productive than the “mud sill” workers.

Free labor could achieve its highest potential if workers were educated. As Lincoln put it: “…no other human occupation opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought, as agriculture.”

His endorsement of education and his belief that farmers’ interests were of primary importance indicated Lincoln’s interest in agricultural reform. After saying that farmers were neither better nor worse than other people, Lincoln continued: “But farmers, being the most numerous class, it follows that their interest is the largest interest. It also follows that that interest is most worthy of all to be cherished and cultivated — that if there be inevitable conflict between that interest and any other, that other should yield.”

When the Republican Party nominated Lincoln in 1860, two of the planks in the party platform were in accordance with ideas that had been advocated by westerners for many years. The first was the demand for a homestead measure. The second was advocacy of Federal aid for construction of a railroad to the Pacific Ocean. Two other proposals which had been advocated for many years — grants of Federal land for founding of colleges to teach agriculture and engineering and the establishment of a federal Department of Agriculture — were not mentioned in the platform. However, all four of the proposals were enacted into law in 1862.

The first of the measures to become law established the Department of Agriculture. In his first annual message to Congress on December 3, 1861, Lincoln said: “Agriculture, confessedly the largest interest of the nation, has not a department nor a bureau, but a clerkship only, assigned to it in the Government. While it is fortunate that this great interest is so independent in its nature as to not have demanded and extorted more from the Government, I respectfully ask Congress to consider whether something more can not be given voluntarily with general advantage…. While I make no suggestions as to details, I venture the opinion that an agricultural and statistical bureau might profitably be organized.” Instead of a bureau, Congress established a Department to be headed by a Commissioner. The act was so broadly conceived that it has remained the basic authority for the Department to the present time.

The Homestead Act, approved by the President on May 20, 1862, provided for giving 160 acres of the public domain to any American or prospective citizen who was the head of a family or over 21 years of age. Title to the land was issued after the settler had resided on it for five years and made improvements on it. The settler could also gain title by residing on the claim for six months, improving the land, and paying $1.25 per acre. The Homestead Act did not achieve all that its proponents had hoped, but it stood as a symbol of American democracy and opportunity to native-born and immigrant alike.

The act granting western land and making payments for the construction of the Union Pacific-Central Pacific railroad was signed by Lincoln on July 1, 1862. The two sections of the railroad joined at Promontory Summit, thirty-two miles west of Brigham City, Utah, on May 10, 1869. This completed a rail connection between the Atlantic and the Pacific and opened new areas of the West to settlement.

The Morrill Land Grant College Act, donating public land to the States for colleges of agriculture and the mechanical arts, became law on July 2, 1862. Every State accepted the terms of the act and established one or more such institutions.

After President Lincoln signed the bill establishing the Department of Agriculture on May 15, 1862, he received much unsolicited advice, particularly in the columns of the farm press, on the appointment of the first Commissioner of Agriculture. Some urged the appointment of a distinguished scientist, others an outstanding “practical” man. A few periodical editors were certain that one of their number would be the best choice. However, Lincoln turned to Isaac Newton, a farmer who had served as chief of the agricultural section of the Patent Office since August 1861.

Newton was born in Burlington County, New Jersey. He grew up on a farm, and after completing his common-school education, became a farmer in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. Newton was a successful, progressive manager, whose farms were regarded as models. He also developed a pioneer dairy lunch in Philadelphia and a select butter trade as outlets for his farm products. Newton sent butter each week to the White House; and he and his family maintained a close friendship with the Lincolns. Subsequently, Lincoln gave him full support in managing the Department.

In his first annual report, Newton outlined objectives for the Department. These were: (1) Collecting, arranging, and publishing statistical and other useful agricultural information; (2) Introducing valuable plants and animals; (3) Answering inquiries of farmers regarding agriculture; (4) Testing agricultural implements; (5) Conducting chemical analyses of soils, grains, fruits, plants, vegetables, and manures; (6) Establishing a professorship of botany and entomology; and (7) Establishing an agricultural library and museum. These objectives were similar to the charges given the Department by the Congress in its legislation establishing the new agency.

Newton, during the nearly five years he served as Commissioner, made progress in achieving these objectives. The basis for a library existed in the book and journal collection of the Agricultural Division of the Patent Office. This collection, comprising about 1,000 volumes, was transferred to the new Department. Appropriations for library material began in 1864. The first librarian of record was Aaron Burt Grosh, a clergyman. Little is known of his library work. He is best remembered as one of the founders of the National Grange.

Although Lincoln’s primary problem during his Presidency was preserving the Union, the agricultural legislation that he signed was to transform American farming.

By Wayne D. Rasmussen
Chief, Agricultural History Branch (retired 1986)
United States Department of Agriculture