Source: Gary Brock videoClinton County farmer Beth Ellis talks about her recent trip to Washington D.C. as part of the Ohio Farm Bureau’s Presidents’ Trip to Washington.
By Gary Brock
WASHINGTON D.C. — On her fourth and final trip to Washington D.C., as president of the Clinton County Farm Bureau, farmer Beth Ellis was excited to be in the nation’s capital at such a pivotal time in the country’s history.
So was Highland County Farm Bureau president Nathan Brown. This was his fourth trip as well, and as a “veteran” he says he is still in awe of how much value elected representatives place in hearing directly from farmers in their districts.
Ellis and Brown were among 73 Ohio farmers traveling to Washington D.C. March 13-15. The trip, sponsored by the Ohio Farm Bureau, was the 71st time Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents or designates from across Ohio have traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby elected and appointed officials on issues they feel are important to Ohio farmers.
Two issues dominated the three days of meetings and discussion – one very expected but the other a surprise. One was the impact of trade on Ohio farmers and the risks they face. This issue has been on every Ohio farmer’s mind since the new administration took power and President Trump signed an executive order overturning the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the other issue was much closer to home – the epidemic of opioid addition claiming the lives of many in rural Ohio.
After meeting with an array of Washington D.C. “movers and shakers” including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, former Ohio State trade expert Matt Roberts, a trade representative with the government of Mexico, Agriculture Committee member Bob Gibbs of Ohio, and 15th District Rep. Steve Stivers, Ellis said such trips are priceless for the interests of Ohio farmers.
“We actually get to meet with our representatives and talk one on one about the issues that are facing us on the farm today and in the trenches. This gives them a finger on the pulse of what is actually happening in America from a grass roots perspective,” she said. “This is very important in their decision-making process. Without this they can’t make an educated decision on which way policy should go.”
She said the Ohio Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau are very good about getting them to Washington D.C. and letting them speak to their representatives and senators to help them understand what their needs are in the trenches.
“I started coming here in 2014, so this is my last trip. I will sorely miss this amazing opportunity we are given. It is so well orchestrated; from minute to minute we are meeting with embassies, senators, representatives; it is really quiet something.”
What were his highlights of the trip? “This was my fourth trip here representing Highland County. It awes me so much that at the Farm Bureau level our elected officials look to us for policies and the respect they show for farmers and the Bureau.”
He said the Washington D.C. officials realize that agriculture is Ohio’s number one industry and, “They want it to stay that way and as strong as it can. There’s no better way to find out how to do than to talk with farmers,” Brown said.
How did his meeting go with his elected representative? “We actually met with Congressman Brad Wenstrup’s aide.” Wenstrup had met with the Farm Bureau group earlier that morning, but like many of the representatives had to be on the House floor for votes March 15.
Brown said the aide didn’t have an agriculture background. “I was glad we could give him some highlights and the issues that are affecting southern Ohio farmers. In the past Rep. Wenstrup has voted to separate out the nutrition part from the farm part of the Farm Bill, and we were able to tell the aide about how important it is to keep the nutrition part, which is 80 percent of the farm bill with the ag portion of it. I told him there are only 32 or so members of the House of Representatives who are from rural districts. If we separate that, there is no chance that the ag portion of the bill would go on. Yes, there are needs to reform. But crop insurance and the safety net is very important to us, and trade is very important to us,” Brown pointed out.
One of the highlights was meeting with Speaker Ryan. “It is always a good time to have Speaker Ryan talk with us, especially now with all that is going on. I felt very fortunate to be sitting there and have him come into our meeting. Just getting Speaker Ryan’s perspective was great. It is an honor to represent Ohio agriculture and our Ohio Farm Bureau members back home.”
He said this is what makes his organization great. “We walk to the Hill, we take our concerns from home, from the grass roots, present them to our legislators and show them and tell them our personal stories and how this affects us back home.”
On the issue of trade, which is vital in Ohio with millions of tons of Ohio agriculture products going to countries such as Mexico, China, Japan and Canada, the Ohio farmers heard first from former Ohio State University agriculture economist Matt Roberts, who expressed concern about the possibility of tough times ahead with China.
Roberts said that if we do have an actual trade war break out, we will see tariffs, “that is normal. We talk about a trade war, it is not normally an oil embargo or a grain embargo. It is normally a 10 percent tariff, or it is a 15 percent tariff. The problem with this is that most of these products, we are competing in a world market to supply them. So if there is a 10 percent embargo imposed against us and not against Brazil, that means we have got to meet that price to get China’s business,” he pointed out.
“I think that should be terrifying to the agriculture community.”
He said that for the first time, “I see us in agriculture at serious political risk. I see us with significant trade impediments. I am not a trade specialist, but you don’t have to be to understand a trade war. When these trade wars break out, countries target sensitive crops to retaliate against.
“To me, soybeans make a very attractive target. The thought is China can’t stop buying soybeans, but they don’t need to … they can place a tariff on them and then we are competing against Brazilian soybeans. We would have an additional tax that they don’t. History shows that for the first few years producers would eat that additional tax,” he said.
“I hope cooler heads will prevail, but this is where we are at. These are public negotiating tactics. Hopefully that is all we are seeing.”
NOTE: To see complete report on Matt Roberts’ comments on trade and the ag economy, see additional article in this edition.
In talking with the farmers, Sen. Rob Portman pointed out that the United States has trade agreements with about 10 percent of the world. “The countries we do have trade agreements with are about 10 percent of the world’s GDP. We don’t have trade agreements with China or Japan. Yet, we send 47 percent of our exports to that 10 percent of the world.”
He said that with the rest of the world combined, we have a substantial trade deficit — more than $500 billion. “We have the opportunity to expand exports that are good trade agreements. With bad trade agreements, obviously we shouldn’t sign them. We have got to be very careful not to say that the problem with trade deficits is trade agreements. The biggest deficit we have is with China, and we don’t have a trade agreement them.”
With trade agreements we have the opportunity to open the markets more, he added. That is part of the current debate in Washington. “Particularly in Ohio we need to maintain a level playing field in trade.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown said he knew a lot of farm groups were not happy about President Trump pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal. But he has publicly supported this action.
“I look to the new trade representative to enforce trade laws, understanding that good trade policy with good enforcement means we can sell our goods overseas and it is a level playing field,” he told the Ohio farmers. “We will see steel, for instance, one of the most important industries in Ohio, treated fairly internationally because China will not have to cheat and subsidize their steal and sell into our market. The right trade representative with the right sensitivities and sensibilities to being good for rural America.”
Problems back in rural Ohio
The problem of drug addiction in rural Ohio wasn’t intended as a major topic for the Ohio farmers while they were in Washington, but it came up repeatedly. Both Ohio senators were worried that treatment funding through Medicaid and Obamacare could be cut.
Brown pointed out that the Sunday before the Washington D.C. meetings, the New York Times ran a lengthy article about a Clinton/Clermont County family where several members had died from a drug overdose.
“Ohio is first in the nation in opioid deaths. It is something we have got to get way more serious about,” Brown said.
“Senator Portman and Gov. Kasich have joined on the Affordable Care Act – the one thing they have joined me on in this is making sure that the 700,000 in Ohio receiving treatment through the Affordable Care Act continue to receive treatment. These are people making 8-10 an hour and do not have insurance. But 200,000 people who have insurance through the Affordable Care Act are getting treatment because they have the insurance,” Brown said.
“We have got to make sure we can scale up our treatment centers. There are not enough centers. There are waiting lists at the treatment centers.”
NOTE: For expanded coverage, see additional article on this topic in this month’s Rural Life Today.
Portman said the expanded Medicaid coverage helps those in treatment, “and without it they would have no other options. The last thing we want is to have less treatment in Ohio.”
Portman added that, “I can almost assure that in your county that if you talk to law enforcement they will tell you that this is the number one cause of crime in your county. Theft, fraud, shoplifting and robbery … people are trying to pay for their habit. It is the number one cause of crime in Ohio.”
He said Ohioans have to deal with this issue. “We have to get our young people to have a different frame of mind about this It is in every zip code and every age group. It is a very sad issue. It tears our families apart. We have our work cut out for us. It is such a tragic situation.”
When meeting with the Ohio farmers Speaker of the House Ryan talked more about health care than international trade.
“Obamacare is a terrible law, and is collapsing under its own weight; increase in costs, increase in premiums. We have a plan to repeal and replace it,” he promised.
He called the repeal and replace plan “Unprecedented, and that is why there is such anxiety. Expansion of plans will help farmers to get their own insurance from groups like the Farm Bureau. We then go on to tax reform.” He discussed the issues of tax rate and the death tax. “We need to get the tax rate down and abolish the estate tax. We want you to be able to pass on your farm, for your family to see their dreams of remaining on the farm.”
Ryan thanked the farmers for being in Washington. “Be here to share your ideas, telling your stories and share your concerns.”
Gary Brock is editor of Civitas Media’s monthly farming/agriculture publication Rural Life Today. He can be reached at 937-556-5759.