Source: Gary Brock videoOhio farmers Matt Aultman and Josh Yoder talk about their experiences in Washington DC during their legislative trip sponsored by the Ohio Farm Bureau.
By Gary Brock
WASHINGTON D.C. — Darke County farmer Matt Aultman and fellow Ohio Farm Bureau members sat in the office of Congressman Warren Davidson, talking taxes, the farm crop insurance safety net and trade.
“We are trying to find the happy medium in trade,” he told Rep. Davidson. “I was a little disappointed in the TPP decision. There were three-four deal breakers in the TPP and I think it wasn’t going to pass anyway,” Davidson replied.
Champaign County farmer Josh Yoder and other central Ohio farmers had a similar conversation with their representative, Jim Jordan.
Aultman and Yoder were among 73 Ohio farmers who traveled 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 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 their congressmen, Yoder and Aultman praised the value of such meetings.
“It puts boots on the ground here it Washington. It allows us to reach out to our local congresspeople to explain our positions; to tell them what we see in our communities; what we are seeing on our farms,” Aultman said.
“It is also beneficial to get the Ohio farmers to D.C. to see how government works. We get background on the Farm Bill, yesterday we talked about taxation. To bring that back to our communities is invaluable for what we have and what we can bring to the table as part of the membership in the Farm Bureau,” he said.
“We appreciate media such as Gary with us here to share the word on the good value we are doing here in D.C.,” Aultman added.
For Champaign County farmer Josh Yoder, the three-day trip to Washington D.C. March 13-15 was enlightening and informative.
Above all, he says, the trip gave him the chance to make his voice heard.
“I would say that everything about the trip was a highlight,” Yoder said at the end of the 71st Ohio Farm Bureau-sponsored Presidents’ Trip. Perhaps the biggest highlight for him was a meeting with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
“To have Speaker Ryan meet and talk with us Wednesday morning; that was really impressive,” Yoder said.
The farmers and Farm Bureau representatives had met March 15, the final day of the trip, at the Capital Hill Club to hear comments from Sen. Rob Portman (Sen. Sherrod Brown had met with them the day before), and other speakers discuss agriculture trade issues in 7th District Rep. Bob Gibbs’ Farm Forum.
Speaker Ryan told the Ohio farmers that there are three issues on the agenda in Washington, and the first is the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act..
“Obamacare is a terrible law, and it is collapsing under its own weight; increase in costs, increase in premiums. We have a plan to repeal and replace,” he said. “This is unprecedented, and that is why there is such anxiety. The expansion of plans (under the proposed Care Act) will help farmers to get their own insurance from groups like the Farm Bureau.”
Ryan said the next item on the agenda is tax reform. He said Congress plans to reduce the tax rate 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.”
He said the third issue is passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. “We have a lot going on.”
He urged the farmers to be vocal. “Share your ideas, tell your stories and share your concerns.”
Yoder’s family farm in Champaign County is about 350 acres, where they grow corn, soybeans and wheat. “My wife (Chrissy) and I both have non-farm jobs, and she has a retail meat market, sells eggs with more than 100 layers. She does broiler meat, sells it at farmer’s markets along with two other women friends of hers who do beef and pork. They call themselves ‘Women Who Farm.’ It has turned into a great business,” he said.
Yoder, who is president of the Champaign County Farm Bureau, said another highlight was being able to meet with his elected representative, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-4th District). “He is from Champaign County, so that is a plus for me. We talked to him about our concern on tax reform, the death tax, capital gains, the Farm Bill and the importance of crop insurance. It’s nice that we can come here and tell him our concerns,” Yoder said.
“I really enjoyed the Bob Gibbs Farm Forum. I got to hear Paul Ryan and the discussion about health care. I was happy to see the representative from Mexico come to us to discuss trade and NAFTA. I was surprised a bit by the information about Mexico and trade. It was a very worthwhile trip. I was very pleased,” Yoder said.
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.”
Gary Brock is editor of Civitas Media’s monthly farming/agriculture publication Rural Life Today. He can be reached at 937-556-5759.