"Although the farm bill is important, trade is even more important right now. The price of wheat, the price of cattle, the price of sorghum, the price of corn - that is what farmers are most concerned about."
From the Bartlett Grain facility that sits along Highway 96 near Great Bend, it’s easy to see the impact of trade agreements for Kansas agriculture.
On any given day, Bartlett crews work to ship wheat out quickly - by 110-unit trains that often go straight to Mexico.
Dr. Roger Marshall recalled touring the facility in 2016.
A year later, President Donald Trump announced he wanted to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which would impact trade with Mexico.
Trump's proposal, however, didn’t last more than a day. Marshall retold the story of how newly confirmed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue rushed over to the White House with other Trump advisers urging him to change his mind. Perdue, however, also bought a map to remind Trump who voted for him.
“‘These are the states that carried you, Mr. President,’” Marshall said, quoting Perdue. “‘These are the people who voted strongly for you. If you get rid of NAFTA, you are going to kill rural America.’”
Trump backed down on his proposal, saying he would instead renegotiate. But Marshall, a freshman Republican congressman from Great Bend, said trade, along with the farm bill, tax reform and the farm economy, is still one of the top concerns he hears from Kansans as he travels the state for town hall meetings.
“We’ve already done 26 town halls and 20 or 30 round tables,” he said, adding trade seems to top the list wherever he goes. “Although the farm bill is important, trade is even more important right now. The price of wheat, the price of cattle, the price of sorghum, the price of corn - that is what farmers are most concerned about.
“I think opening the trade markets up is the only way we can drive these prices up,” he added of the low commodity prices that are hurting farmers’ pocketbooks. “We still have mountains of grain sitting in rural Kansas with no place to go with it.”
Marshall spoke to Kansas Agland Friday morning in a brief visit to the Big First. He planned to stop at Irsik and Doll grain elevator at Ingalls, Beef Empire Days in Garden City and then head back east to the Symphony in the Flint Hills this weekend.
Trade issues, however, has been one of the bigger rural Kansas issues that he has dealt with in his first six months on the job.
Marshall said he has met with several trade representatives from other countries, including on Wednesday with six representatives from Canada to discuss NAFTA.
But trade wasn’t the only thing Marshall talked about Friday. Earlier this week, during a House Agriculture Committee meeting, he listened as Dighton-area farmer Ron Suppes talked about the the importance of food aid and his recent trip to Tanzania where he viewed programs that used wheat.
The United States is the top leader of food aid donations and total development assistance. But it is one of the programs that would see cuts in Trump’s budget, along with crop insurance.
Trump’s plan would reduce crop insurance by 28.6 billion over 10 years - or 36 percent, according to the president's fiscal 2018 white paper. It would also limit the total crop insurance subsidy to $40,000 a year.
Marshall said he was excited that Trump submitted a balanced budget. Now it is time for Congress to prioritize and figure out what happens next.
Marshall said he plans to work with his colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee to preserve the crop insurance program because it gives farmers a risk management tool. Moreover, without it, food prices could increase significantly.
“Crop insurance costs America about $28 a person,” Marshall said. “And with that crop insurance, it gives us a safe, reliable, affordable food source.”
Other issues in Washington
On the Trans-Pacific Partnership: The president doesn't support TPP. Still, Marshall said, he wants to make sure Kansas has a way to move its product in the global marketplace. He hopes they can use the same principals from TPP in bilateral agreements.
“I don’t want to go down a path that is a dead end,” he said. “I don’t care how we do it, I want to get the markets open in China. I don’t care how we do it, I want the Japanese beef tariff to come down - and maintain NAFTA. Canada and Mexico are still our biggest trade partners.”
On SNAP: The president’s budget would reduce the nutrition title by $193.287 billion over 10 years.
“My hope is as we make the economy strong, that we will spend less money on nutritional assistance,” he said. “Certainly I want to make sure we reach out and help all those people who need it. We have food insecurity issues in my own district. … But as the economy improves, you’ll see more and more people coming off food assistance, which should open up some money for crop insurance priorities.”
On Waters of the U.S.: “I think it is great we have an EPA director in Scott Pruitt who actually understands what WOTUS does to farmers. He is from Oklahoma and has total understanding of WOTUS. Just in general his attitude is let’s talk about the cost benefit analysis of regulations - and let’s not make EPA regulations for the sake of making them - let’s study them and see if they make sense.”
On former FBI Director James Comey: “Comey’s testimony vindicated the President. There is no smoking gun connecting the president to any wrongdoing, and in the former director’s own words, the president never ordered him to stop an investigation, and never obstructed justice. Additionally, Comey’s testimony also confirmed our concerns regarding the interaction of President Clinton and Attorney General Lynch, where she asked him to minimize the Clinton investigation.
“This tells me what my colleagues and I have thought for some time – it is time to get this Congress focused back on the people’s work, and set petty politics aside.”
Tax policy: “We want to go after the death tax. I hope we can repeal the death tax but at minimum lift the numbers," Marshall said. Currently the limit is $5.4 million for individual and $10.8 million for a husband and wife. That means an individual can leave $5.4 million of their farm’s worth to heirs and pay no federal estate or gift tax.