Trump’s happy potential for food industry

by Morton Sosland
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Morton Sosland

Looking at President Trump’s record in his first fortnight in the White House does little to help appraise his likely effect on grain-based foods. Mr. Trump is too full of surprise decisions and too inclined toward preventing any certainty about future moves to allow anyone to guess about rulings to come that might directly impact an industry with the active presence grain-based foods has. This is especially so for a man who shows every sign of wanting to rely on executive orders to introduce his policies rather than dealing with a Congress where his own Republican party has majorities in the House and Senate. This is a man who has been called prickly often enough that it may make critics a rarity among flour millers and bakers.

Many of Mr. Trump’s initial executive orders relate to affairs having only a remote effect on domestic food businesses, or so it seems. Even temporary bans on immigration from seven countries, the early Trump step that prompted the strongest outcry, have implications still to be revealed in just how such moves might affect global wheat supply and demand and thus U.S. prices for wheat flour. Many of those nations prohibited from sending refugees, as well as regular visitors, to the United States have been buyers of wheat. If they were to respond by counter-moves to ban imports of U.S. wheat that would have an effect that is startlingly plain. Within the Trump range of actions, though, there is the possibility he would seek to offset any price weakness for a commodity like wheat by a bullish executive decision.

Hardly anything about the first days of the Trump administration would make grain-based foods executives feel better than his choice for the post of Secretary of Agriculture. He named George Ervin (Sonny) Perdue, a former governor of Georgia and most significantly an active participant in the country grain trade, reflecting the business Mr. Perdue created from his upbringing from a Georgia farm. Nothing about Mr. Perdue’s career speaks more directly to leadership than his being a member of the board of directors of the National Grain and Feed Association. It isn’t overreaching to describe Mr. Perdue as the most qualified appointment for the Cabinet made by Mr. Trump. The Secretary of Agriculture nearly alone among the appointees who has had experience in government.

Grain-based foods could not have wished for a better qualified appointment than Mr. Perdue at the start of an administration that will quickly have to make decisions about agricultural legislation soon expiring, meaning important issues need deciding. Once called “price support” legislation that had its start in the New Deal of the 1930s, the law was last amended in 2012 to extend its reach into almost every aspect of agriculture and thus to food production and 
food prices.

What has aptly been called President Trump’s cloud of uncertainty will not only affect such an important act, but the future requires both the President and the Congress to consider a huge range of issues and measures that combined to weigh heavily on the future of an industry like grain-based foods. Involved are regulations directly affecting how businesses operate to application of tax rates, from labeling of consumer food products to recommendations as well as directions on what people should eat. It is only a guess but Mr. Trump does not seem a likely advocate of government programs forcing people to maintain certain levels of dieting, eating less of some and more of other types of food. On balance, grain-based foods has lost more as the result of government eating advice and directives than almost any other industry. If Mr. Trump directs the government to suspend telling people what to eat and not to eat, he will have helped make America as well as the food industry stronger than ever thought possible before his election as President.

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