As a large portion of America’s heartland is in flames, there’s no talk from the president about it. Did “Make America Great” exclude ranchers?
We are in a state of disaster. The major wildfires that have swept across parts of central US have caused a significant amount of damage to our economically significant agricultural industry. Catastrophic images of fires charring vast acres of land across parts of Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado are more than just heartbreaking. While Donald Trump continues to regurgitate his “Make America Great Again” slogan, many of our brothers and sisters in agriculture have witnessed their own piece of the American Dream go up in flames. As the granddaughter of a former business owner who ran small farm in Scotland, I know full well the complexities of the industry and just how vulnerable it is to not only politics, but also our physical environment.
At the time of writing, it is difficult to even put an estimate on how much it is going to cost to repair the damage done to infrastructure, and also the emotional turmoil that continues to directly affect our ranchers and farmers who are coping with mass death and injuries of their livestock. One rancher in Kansas, David Bouziden, provided a first hand account, outlining that not only has he lost his home, and no acre on his ranch was spared from being scorched, but he also estimates that he has lost 90% of his cattle. It is also saddening to read the reports of several human fatalities, and like many other Americans my heart goes out to the victims families, friends, and to the local communities at large.
The Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, has been quick off the mark and most certainly deserves credit for his leadership during a time of crisis. The Governor’s state of disaster declaration includes the authorization of “the use of all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions” to help those impacted cope with the devastation. In addition, his move to suspend certain statutes and rules that could very well impede efforts to deal with the crisis ought to be widely applauded. The US Government should be taking a leaf out of Texas’s book, and it more than appears that the White House has been slow to react to what is unfolding. A copy of Gov. Abbott’s proclamation can be accessed publicly here.
One aspect of the declaration, in particular, that caught my attention is Abbott’s strong calls for assistance and support at federal level. The Office of the Governor included the following statement in its press release regarding the state of disaster:
“In addition to the disaster declaration, the State of Texas has asked the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a Secretarial Disaster Designation to activate the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Emergency Loan Program to help eligible farmers and ranchers rebuild and recover from losses sustained by the wildfires.”
It is absolutely crucial for there to be a significant marshaling of federal funds to not only help alleviate the financial devastation that has rocked many in the agriculture sector, but to assist business owners to recover as quickly as possible. After all, according to official statistics provided by the USDA, in 2014 agriculture and its related industries contributed $985 billion to the US economy in terms of GDP, and in the same year 17.3 million jobs were linked to the industry. The agricultural sector is a significant source of revenue for Texas, and it cannot be ignored how important the state’s economy is to the entire US. Texas is not only one of the leading economies within the US, but also plays a key role in providing exports to other countries. The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) has clearly underlined the importance of trade, and it is important to point out that in 2012 Texan agricultural exports to other foreign nations was valued at $6.5 billion. Furthermore, the TDA website states that beef alone is a high-ranking commodity, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Gov. Abbott is on the ball, and is not only taking steps to prevent a crisis widening further within his own home state, but his actions have far reaching consequences for the rest of the country. It is indeed a welcome relief to read updates that our proud firefighters have been stalwartly tackling the blazes, including the stellar efforts of US citizens who have rushed to aid those directly affected. It cannot, in any way, be underestimated how vulnerable this has made one of our key sectors. Vulnerable is a key word — it affects all of us, including our crucial trade partners.
We have an elected President who has no qualms taking to Twitter to start squabbles with Hollywood figures, and to cruelly mock journalists and political opponents. However, neither of his official accounts have exactly been front loaded this week with the disaster happening in front of our eyes. With millions of followers and the not so insignificant fact that he is our President, he ought to be more socially responsible. The POTUS account recently put up the following promotional tweet:
— President Trump (@POTUS) March 11, 2017
What about the future of our agricultural economy, the future and fears of many of those who work directly or indirectly in the agricultural field? It is not advanced economics to work out that the prices of commodities are intrinsically linked with production and consumption. The impact of the wildfires and any incompetence in terms of managing the situation could be felt when millions of Americans go to their grocery store for products. Like the vast majority of US households, I run a tight budget and I do closely follow developments in agronomics. While Reuters has published an article citing that livestock “losses are not having an impact on cattle futures or prices of cattle ready for slaughter,” it is imperative to keep abreast of possible future consequences for agronomics — especially if the US is affected by any more of these horrific natural disasters.
The wildfires are certainly a pressure facing the industry, but tensions and strains also go beyond the current crisis. Richard Parker, a lecturer at Texas State University, penned an invaluable commentary piece for Dallas News following Trump’s threat of a trade war with Mexico days before he was inaugurated. Mexico is a crucial trading partner for our nation, and if the US Government seriously takes any steps to upset trade flow between the two countries, then the economic consequences are likely to be a complete disaster. Of course, cattle ranchers across the US will not be the only ones to feel the economic pinch. Much attention needs to be given to the livelihoods reliant on agriculture and what is readily available on our shelves for consumption. As Parker points out: what about our grain farmers, those who work the corn fields in Iowa, and tomato producers in the tropical climes of California and Florida? It is well known that ranching and farming are difficult occupations as it is, and the last thing we need is this incredible uncertainly over the future of one of our nation’s key industries.
Considering Trump’s avant-garde style of governance and his unpredictability, it is crucial that attention is paid to our agricultural industry. No doubt there will be much development over the course of the next few days, weeks, and months with regard to the devastating wildfires, and Practical Politicking will be keeping abreast of the issues. On behalf of the entire team, I would like to reiterate that our thoughts and condolences are with all victims of the crisis.