One of President-elect Joe Biden’s more controversial cabinet picks is Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture. The former two-term governor of Iowa served as ag secretary for both of President Obama’s terms.
Few cabinet picks matter more to Nebraskans. And Vilsack brings experience – and baggage – as Biden’s nominee.
This is a crucial time for a crucial industry in Nebraska. It’s hard to overstate the importance of agriculture to the state, where a recently released 2017 Economic Impact of the Nebraska Agricultural Production Complex report found that the sector was responsible for 34% of business sales, 22% of the gross state product and almost 25% of the state’s jobs.
“Few other states have an economy with this degree of agricultural prominence,” Mike Boehm, vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said. He went on to note that despite an urban population shift, there’s no sign agriculture won’t remain a primary economic driver.
That’s a polite way of saying we’ve got a lot of eggs in this basket.
And the ag basket has had a rough go of late. Journal Star reporter Matt Olberding wrote last week that ag exports in 2019, the most recent year for which there are complete statistics, sank to their lowest level since 2010.
A strong dollar hurts American exports versus other nations when it comes to prices, and that piece was out of our hands. A bigger factor is our nation’s trade policies and how they prompt other nations to react.
Ag exports took a hit after two years of brinkmanship regarding the United State-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced NAFTA, and the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
In addition, Nebraska farmers got caught in a trade war crossfire when the U.S. and China levied retaliatory tariffs on one another. President Trump attempted to keep farmers whole through federal assistance payments, which could make up between 35% and 50% of net farm income, according to a report from the Farm Bureau and the Platte Institute.
There’s hope that 2019 is the bottom of a trough, and that despite COVID-19, farm exports will inch up and 2020 and be ready to blossom in 2021
When Biden is sworn in and Vilsack confirmed, their priority must be to help the ag industry re-open closed markets and push open new ones. They must help Nebraska, so reliant on our farm economy, do what it does best – produce food for the world and prosperity for this state.
Farmers don’t want government checks. They want to feed the world and get a fair price for their hard work.