How do the presidential candidates stack up on farm and rural policy issues?

Farm Forum

With just a few weeks to go before the November elections, there is only one thing that can be said with any certainty: This has been one of the craziest election cycles in recent history.

As some of you know, Agri-Pulse made a significant commitment to track the presidential candidates, starting in 2015. We followed each one during the primaries, to the nominating conventions and on through the general election – all in an attempt to keep track of how the candidates and later, the nominees, viewed farm and rural issues. While some reporters were asking about the U. S. economy, we tried to drill down to questions more directly impacting the agricultural economy. Those stories are posted on our “Rural Route to the White House” section of, sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Conversely, we’ve asked farmers and ranchers how they viewed the candidates. We conducted a nationwide poll in January of this year and our next poll will be released soon.

Ag vs. rural

Granted, agricultural issues are not usually at the top of any candidates’ list of issues these days. With farmers comprising less than two percent of the U.S. population, candidates generally don’t consider the “farm vote” as an important constituency. But the broader “rural vote” can make a difference, especially in swing states like Ohio and Iowa.

So it’s not too surprising that former Hillary Clinton has a rural policy position paper on her campaign website. And she has talked rural issues on many of her campaign stops.

Pam Johnson, an Iowa farmer and former National Corn Growers Association President, is a big supporter of Hillary Clinton’s run for president, in part because of her desire to strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard and provide more support for both E15 and E85. She argues that the former Secretary of State would be better for all of agriculture.

Trump has also endorsed the RFS, but Johnson says she’s not sure he even understands what it means to push for the higher blends.

Johnson laments that both Clinton and Trump oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a huge problem for anyone engaged in production agriculture and interested in expanding exports. But, Johnson says, “She has acknowledged that 95 percent of the population live outside of the U.S. So we have to figure this out.”

Few specifics

Other than his support for the RFS and his opposition to the TPP, Trump has offered few specifics when it comes to agricultural issues. However, he’s made a few statements along the trail and he’s reached out to a number of heavy-hitters in the industry who signed up for his agricultural advisory team. And despite some of his recent troubles, including being caught on tape 11 years ago for making disparaging remarks about women, many of Trump’s supporters appear to be holding tight.

We asked A.G. Kawamura, a former California Secretary of Agriculture and member of Trump’s ag advisory team whether he was still on board with Trump supporters.

“It’s been a challenging few days. Last night’s debate had enough substance for me to continue to support Mr Trump and be appreciative for his support for agriculture,” Kawamura told Agri-Pulse after the second presidential debate.

“On Thursday I was in New York for the Wall Street Journal’s Global Food Forum and I left the event convinced that the disconnect between agriculture and the consumer/public is, unfortunately widening and the misconceptions and criticisms of agriculture and the food system continue to lead to a distorted view of what is right, wrong and improving in our agricultural endeavors. The Trump agricultural advisory committee has put together a compelling list of important policy points that I believe to be important for the future of agriculture. “

Trump calls in

Despite Trump’s lack of detail on his ag policy positions, he did something unusual last week by calling in to talk during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s board meeting. Hillary Clinton was also invited to do so, but has not yet responded.

North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said he’s been on the board since 1999 and it was the first time a presidential candidate has called in.

During the telephone conference call, which lasted about 10 minutes, Donald Trump assured leaders of the American Farm Bureau Federation that they will like his policies on trade and immigration if he’s elected president.

According to participants, Trump made some introductory remarks in which he said that he understood that the farm economy is in a downturn, and then he took three questions. In response to a question about trade, Trump reiterated his pledge to renegotiate a new agreement to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership and told the group that “it will be fantastic.”

California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger asked Trump about his immigration stance. Trump’s response was that agriculture needs a reliable workforce and he will work to see that it happens. He then pivoted to talking about California’s drought and promised to address farmers’ water needs.

Another board member said Trump told the group that farmers and business people were more interested in regulatory relief than in his tax plan.

So should we be


It’s clear that groups who oppose many aspects of production agriculture are taking notice of the nominee’s attention given to agriculture. For example, the Humane Society of the United States is getting involved in a presidential race for the first time to oppose Trump. The group has in the past focused only on congressional races.

But Mike Markarian, who runs the HSUS Legislative Fund, says the group is worried both about the Trump’s sons, who are avid big-game hunters, as well as the members of Trump’s agricultural advisory team. Among the people he’s worried about are businessman Forrest Lucas, who founded the advocacy group, Protect the Harvest, to fight restrictions on animal agriculture.

“While Trump has advocates for trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, and horse slaughter on his side, Hillary Clinton has a strong record of taking a stand against many of these issues,” Markarian says. The group has cut an ad that calls Trump a ‘threat to animals everywhere.”

More areas of


Ironically, both nominees agree on one aspect that’s important to agriculture but often overlooked: Infrastructure. Both presidential candidates have pledged to make substantial new investments in a wide variety of infrastructure projects.

“In my first 100 days as president, I will work with both parties to pass a comprehensive plan to create the next generation of good jobs,” said Hillary Clinton in a speech earlier this summer. “Now the heart of my plan will be the biggest investment in American infrastructure in decades, including establishing an infrastructure bank that will bring private sector dollars off the sidelines and put them to work there.”

She’s pledged a $275 billion, five-year plan to rebuild infrastructure, including repairing and expanding roads and bridges, expanding public transit, and modernizing dams, levees and wastewater systems. In addition, Clinton says she will work to ensure that by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have access to affordable broadband.

Trump said that he would “at least double her numbers,” during an August interview on Fox Business News. “You’re going to really need more than that. We have bridges that are falling down. I don’t know if you’ve seen the warning charts, but we have many, many bridges that are in danger of falling.”

However, Trump provided few details on how these investments would be paid for. He said that people and investors would put money into a fund and that he’d use “infrastructure bonds from the country, from the United States.”

For an overview on each of the nominee’s positions, including voting records, please review the following links. We have also included the candidates’ responses to questions asked by the AFBF.

• Clinton’s positions on Farm, Food and Rural issues:

• Trumps’ positions on Farm, Food and Rural Issues:

Agri-Pulse Senior Editor Philip Brasher contributed to this report.