In 2016 and 2020 , farmers overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump for president. The track record of his administration justifies the choice, as Trump appointed agency directors who reversed unnecessarily strict Obama-era regulations on chemical crop protection products that are essential for fighting pests and preserving yields.
Now, with President Joe Biden nearing the end of his term and having gone back to much of the Obama years of the Environmental Protection Agency opening the floodgates on pesticide regulation while injecting large green stimulus into the farm sector, where is agriculture as an issue in the national debate?
Much of the presidential debates involve rehashing points of the last two presidential terms. Gun rights, immigration, and the conduct of Trump during his time in office are certainly important topics, but the impact of farming policy on consumers cannot be understated. In recent years, matters such as repeated fires at livestock farms (which killed half a million farm animals in 2022), the increase in farm pests due to climate change, supply shortages and higher costs due to hurricanes , the nationwide herbicide shortage , and 5% food price inflation hitting consumers all contributed to a less resilient farm and food system in the United States.
Meanwhile, the debates on the 2023 Farm Bill once again focus mostly on SNAP benefits and eligibility , leaving aside a much more opportune conversation on the productivity and independence of the farm system. What are practical solutions to the fertilizer shortage during a sanctions regime on Russia? How much of a role should the government have in conservation or organic agriculture through farm subsidies? Is it reasonable that the U.S. continues a long array of court battles over pesticides when decisions over authorizations should instead be made in Congress after advice from scientific bodies? These are questions that aren’t being asked to presidential candidates, even though once in office, the president has a key impact on those matters through his or her agency appointments.
It is true that farmers aren’t regarded as a significant enough voting bloc during elections. Direct-on-farm employment represented a little over 1% of total employment in 2023. That said, when we take all of the agricultural and food sectors into account, that makes for a good 10% of the total workforce, which gains exponential importance, especially in key swing states.
It may also be that farmers have fallen victim to the effect of being taken for granted. As they overwhelmingly support Republican candidates, Democrats feel like it is easier for them to paint farming as an environmental problem rather than addressing the intricacies and challenges of modern farming and the real hardships that professionals face. This is why farmer representatives would be better served to align their interests with those of consumers.
onsumers are often unaware of the backbreaking work put into their food supply and how regulatory changes affect the prices they see in supermarkets. When appeals to an administration are made not merely to protect the interests of farmers but also of those who buy their products, that is where the voter base inflates.
Framing agriculture not merely as a niche policy issue but as one that affects purchasing power and consumer well-being can help shed more light on the views of presidential candidates, and it can pull agriculture out of its obscurity into the spotlight it deserves.
Originally published here