Farmers likely to see more multinational trade deals crafted in Biden administration

Holstein cows in a barn at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station's north campus near Stratford, Wis., Wednesday afternoon, July 11, 2018. Photo by Michael P. King/UW-Madison CALS
Holstein cows in a barn at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station's north campus near Stratford, Wis. Photo by Michael P. King/UW-Madison CALS

WASHINGTON—American farmers who have gone through the drama and turbulence of trade and agriculture policy in the Trump administration can expect a far more sedate and multinational experience when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January.

Lloyd and other Farmers Union members are pushing for high-value local and regional markets for dairy products, instead of more overproduction and efforts to dump cheap milk on other countries. “We see the vulnerability of corn growers with the derecho that hit Iowa,” she adds. “We need to move farmers into more stable systems than annual row crops, by increasing the way we help farmers with conservation practices, and building up stronger supply chains.”

Lloyd points to hopeful signs in Congress, including New Jersey Democrat Sen. Cory Booker’s Farm System Reform Act, cosponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), which seeks to address to the hyperconcentration of the U.S. food system, laid bare by the pandemic and outbreaks at meatpacking plants. The bill aims to “massively reform this broken system by, among other things, cracking down on the monopolistic practices of multinational meatpackers and corporate integrators, placing a moratorium on new factory farms, and investing heavily in more sustainable food production,” Booker says.

Under the Biden administration, “trade agreements will be negotiated instead of dismantled, because [compared with the Trump administration] you’re looking at two totally different styles of governing,” says Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. 

But, he adds, “we need to have fair trade, not ‘free trade.’ As producers, we see losses under free trade — it’s the multinationals that benefit.”

The Wisconsin Farmers Union has been pushing for a supply management system in the U.S. “and Biden has seemed to be interested,” Von Ruden says. But a lot of ag and trade policy will depend on who the next agriculture secretary is as well as the heads of the House and Senate ag committees, who will shape the 2023 farm bill. 

“We want to see a future where the dairy industry does not continue to rely on government handouts, and figure out how can we have an ag policy that won’t cost the taxpayer anything and keep an adequate supply at a reasonable price,” Von Ruden says.

Climate change is an important issue for the incoming Biden administration, he notes. “For farmers to be part of the solution, not just blamed for causing he problem, we need reasonable and divers agriculture. Then we stand a better chance than if farms just keep getting bigger as they have for the last four or five decades.”