PIQUA — U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson held his annual Farm Forum Saturday morning at Edison State Community College, discussing topics ranging from trade to the proposed Green New Deal as well as inviting other speakers to discuss topics of water quality and FFA programs.
“One of the things that has been long overdue is fixing our trade deals,” Davidson said as part of his opening remarks. “Trade has certainly, in the big picture, benefited the (agriculture) community a lot, and as I’ve talked with folks about the importance of our export markets for the agriculture community, I’ve also talked with a lot people who get how broken lots of the rest the economy are and frankly, even how broken some of the (agriculture) markets are through either tariffs or non-tariff barriers, and how critical that is to get that solved in the big picture.”
Jack Irvin, the senior director of state and national policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, spoke later about how the agriculture economy has taken a hit, losing half its income in the last five years and seeing a significant decrease in exported products such as soybeans.
“Unfortunately, I think a lot of the farmers in the room are all too aware of this, but when we’re talking about the farm economy, I think it’s important to note how challenging it is out there. Roughly the last five years, we’ve seen over a 50 percent slide in farm income,” Irvin said.
Irvin said that was due to a number of factors, but in later talking about the U.S. Mexico Canada Alliance (USMCA) — a renegotiation of NAFTA — Irvin spoke about how the agriculture industry needs to pay attention to trade in order to remain competitive.
“I don’t think we can stress how important trade is to agriculture,” Irvin said.
He said that with the implementation of NAFTA in the 1990s, “agricultural trade quadrupled.” He said that trading with just Mexico and Canada, there was $40 billion a year made in agricultural trades.
“China historically has bought every third row of soybeans across the entire United States,” Irvin said. “This past year, it was roughly zero.”
Irvin said that Davidson pointed out earlier that the European Union “picked up some of that slack,” but U.S. soybeans have “seen over a 40 percent decline in exports.”
“That volume is basically twice of all the soybeans that Ohio grows,” he said.
During the question-and-answer period, Davidson was asked about his stances on trade agreements, like the defunct proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“I think its regrettable the Trans-Pacific Partnership was not able to be accomplished; of course, that was coming to a close right as I was coming to Congress, and when I first got there, they were completing the negotiations,” Davidson said.
He said that during the 2016 election, both Republicans and Democrats campaigned on saying no to a deal on TPP, and he said that the Obama administration wasn’t listening to people in regard to TPP.
“It would have been a big deal on the U.S. export market,” Davidson said. “I think it would have been a big deal to check China throughout the region. In the absence of American leadership on that, China has negotiated deals with most of all of the same countries.”
Davidson said that once the U.S. started negotiating those deals, China became more aggressive in negotiating deals with Asian countries.
“I won’t say that we’ve missed the window there, but I don’t know that we can do one-to-one deals fast enough, which is the current approach of the administration, so I think we’ve got a big opportunity to do better in the Pacific,” Davidson said.
He went on to say that the U.S. trade relationships with South American countries “are ripe for some improvement.” He named China as a competitor in that market.
Davidson said that he thinks President Donald Trump “is onto something in terms of the sentiment of making our trade deals better. The rate at which we’re doing it, I think could be improved.”
Green New Deal
The proposed Green New Deal also was brought up during the question-and answer-period of the event, to which Davidson made his stance against the legislation known, comparing it to “Marxist ideology.”
Davidson said that Democratic Socialists “took advantage of” a perceived lack of a message from the Democratic Party as they came into office.
“As Democrats were coming into the majority, they were still getting their act together, so they were behind schedule in terms of putting out a message of what they were for. Frankly, they didn’t campaign on being for stuff; they campaigned on resistance and against Trump,” Davidson said. “So they came into the start of the Congress without a real ‘what we’re for’ message. And the Democratic Socialists that have taken over the historic Democratic Party, in my estimation, took advantage of that opportunity to launch this Green New Deal.”
Davidson said that the Democratic Party is divided within itself over ideologies.
“We’ve gone from winning the Cold War with ideas that show that central planning and essentially Marxist ideology is not superior to capitalism and free markets, and we’re back having this debate again,” he said.
Davidson went on to criticize Democrats behind the Green New Deal and in support of the legislation for not working with people in the agriculture industry, whom he referred to as “environmental stewards.”
“These people who have this agenda don’t want to listen those who do this for a living … they’ve got a different agenda,” he said. “The root of it is — highlighted in the Green New Deal — to me, is a Marxist ideology. It’s to get control of the government. It’s not to change the environment. It’s to produce control.”
Davidson spoke briefly about health care, criticizing the lack of media coverage and the lack of a Senate vote on ending health insurance companies exemption from anti-trust laws in 2017.
“We’re either going to go where the government runs the health care system or we’re going to turn back to the free market because the status quo really is worse than either, in a way. There is no competition,” Davidson said. “And why would there be no competition? The health insurance companies are exempt from anti-trust laws. It’s the same reason there’s no competition with Major League Baseball. They’re exempt from anti-trust laws.
“We got to vote on that last Congress, so in March of 2017, we voted to end the health insurance companies’ anti-trust laws, which would turn — right turn — toward free market and competition. And when we did that, it passed 416-7.”
Davidson said that the Senate refused to vote on it, saying that, in his conversations with other legislators, there’s an interest not to vote on it in the Senate as it would pass. He also criticized the lack of coverage for this legislation, saying it was only covered in a small article in The New York Times and by The Hill.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do to change the status quo on health care,” Davidson said. “You’ve got interest that can apparently prevent a vote in the Senate. The status quo is broken, and you’ve got candidates that are out there campaigning on Medicare for all.”
He went on to say that they need to make the markets for health care work, such as with the addition of association health plans.
Kirk Hines, P.E., of the Ohio Department of Agriculture discussed the department’s commitment to agriculture as well as to water quality.
“Ohio’s food and agriculture industry is the state’s largest, accounting for $124 billion in annual economic impact and one in eight Ohio jobs,” Hines said.
Hines said that Gov. Mike DeWine considers water quality of Lake Erie to a “top priority,” adding later that “the budget he plans to introduce will demonstrate the administration’s commitment to improving water quality” in Ohio.
Hines spoke about other priority programs the ODA will be pursuing, including working lands conservation, nutrient management plants and cost-sharing equipment programs.
FFA, 4-H impact in school
Jim Buchy, senior adviser of the Batchelder Company, spoke about 4-H and FFA during the Farm Forum. Buchy, a Greenville native who served in the Ohio House of Representatives until 2016, talked about how he helped bring 4-H and FFA programs to schools in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
“We initiated, through the efforts of Ohio State University extension, 4-H curriculum in the classroom, and we started that in 2013,” Buchy said.
Buchy talked about how the schools saw improvements with their graduation rates after the implementation of these programs, using the example of East Technical High School in Cleveland.
According to data from the Ohio Department of Education, East Technical High School had a four-year graduation rate of 46.5 percent and a five-year graduation rate of 57.8 percent in 2013. It currently has a four-year graduation rate of 62.5 percent and a five-year graduation rate of 79.6 percent, according to recent data. It reached its highest graduation rates in recent years in 2015 with a five-year graduation rate of 80.5 percent.
Buchy attributed that success to the FFA program, saying that last year, “the valedictorian, the salutatorian and the next four ranking members of the class all wore blue and gold; they were FFA members.”
Buchy said that there is a need for agriculture teachers, advocating for more universities to offer accreditation and for more people to pursue that career option.