Guest column: Backing ag and rural economy

An interagency task force will soon study how the federal government can help the agricultural community meet the challenges of feeding our world’s burgeoning population, writes Senator Mike Crapo.

“Today, we need to feed some 7 billion people. By the year 2050, that population will swell to 9.5 billion … To put the demand for food into perspective, we are going to have to double our production between now and 2050. We will have to produce more food in the next 30 years than has been produced in the last 8,000 years—a daunting task, to say the least… . we cannot feed the world if we continue to place obstacle after obstacle in front of those who produce our food and fiber,” U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue explained in testimony before Congress. He also noted the difficult agricultural economic climate, in which “we have seen a 50 percent drop in net farm income from the all-time record highs farmers experienced in 2013.”

America’s farmers and ranchers are expected to meet this enormous challenge while more and more burdens—high input costs, excessive paperwork and regulations, uncertain labor availability, credit and tax variables to name a few—have accumulated. Secretary Perdue stressed the Administration’s objective to reverse this trend, an effort reinforced by President Donald Trump’s earlier “Promoting Agriculture and Rural Prosperity In America” Executive Order. This directive created a task force to look for federal actions that can be taken to reduce the federal regulatory and economic burdens on rural America, an objective that will better enable American agriculture to meet the growing demand for food and fiber within a more productive and fair environment.

The Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity focuses a broad scope of federal agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Interior, Commerce, Labor and others, on conducting a needed, comprehensive review of federal policies affecting agriculture. The USDA-led task force is required to “identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes to promote in rural America agriculture, economic development, job growth, infrastructure improvements, technological innovation, energy security, and quality of life …” A swath of issues important to producers, including reliance on sound-science for review of crop protection tools; workforce improvements; preservation of family farms considering estate tax law; water rights; and access to public lands for grazing and timber harvests, are to be considered. Local input on legislative, regulatory and policy changes is required. The task force must report its recommendations to the President.

I look forward to the task force’s report and advancing federal policy changes that better back American agricultural producers.

Many Idaho farmers and ranchers have understandably felt like they have been under assault by the federal government in recent years, as burdensome regulations have been implemented that deeply affect their operations. Now, under President Trump, executive branch agencies have been specifically directed to seek policy and regulatory reforms to make it easier to do business—a productive course change. With the input of Idaho farmers and ranchers, I will continue to advocate for needed changes that will improve our footing to meet the challenge ahead.

Crapo, an attorney from Idaho Falls, is serving his fourth term in the United States Senate.