Rural America’s priorities have been on Washington, D.C.’s back burner for what feels like ages. Over the past year, we have begun to see a realization from Washington that the area coastal elites call “flyover country” is actually what binds our nation together.
In his first State of the Union address, President Trump highlighted his efforts to roll back overreaching regulations. Regulatory reform has been among the least-noticed actions of the past year, but for farmers and ranchers it has probably been the most impactful. From the completely irrational Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule to overreaching and unnecessary rules on farm labor practices, the Obama administration made little effort to hide its lack of compassion and understanding for Middle America.
The Trump administration has certainly changed the assumption – no longer are additional rules presumed to be needed; now extra rules are presumed to be unnecessary unless proven otherwise. This is more in line with the ethos that brought America to greatness and allowed her to prosper.
The President also outlined several priorities for the future that would have a huge impact on farmers and ranchers. His push for investment in infrastructure is sorely needed in rural areas, and streamlining the permitting and approval process would be extremely helpful in getting projects rolling.
While he did not specifically address rural infrastructure in his speech, a purported White House document leaked a week beforehand laid out a plan to devote 25 percent of the total package specifically to rural needs, including broadband internet infrastructure. If this becomes part of a final package, it could be a game-changer for rural areas, many of which have been struggling for years to even maintain their existing infrastructure.
A single line in the speech touched on the need for “great vocational schools” where “future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.” These programs and skills are essential to the rural job market, and presidential support of them is valuable.
President Trump’s harsh words for our existing trade deals formed the only part of his speech that raised true concerns in most of farm country. He referred to existing trade deals as “unfair” and said they have “sacrificed our prosperity.” While there may be truth to this in other industries, America’s farmers and ranchers sell far more to other countries than we import, and our free trade partners buy the vast majority of these products. Let’s just hope any trade deal renegotiations don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Most of the policies President Trump outlined in his State of the Union address sounded like music to the ears of American farmers and ranchers, especially after so many years of feeling neglected and unheard. Of course, speeches are not laws, so we must continue to press for these words to be turned into actions. But if this State of the Union address was any indication, things are looking up for rural America.