Farmers Groups Await More Details From Democrats on Rural Agenda

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By Renee Hickman

Farming groups want more specifics in congressional Democrats’ recently unveiled campaign agenda aimed at rural voters, but they said the overall outline’s message resonates.

The platform, called “A Better Deal” and laid out in the July 24 week, outlines a series of populist goals including reforming antitrust laws and improving rural infrastructure.

Mega Mergers

Barbara Patterson, head of government relations at the National Farmers Union, and Lindsey Lusher Shute, head of the National Young Farmers Coalition, applauded Democrats for taking on the possible mergers of companies like Bayer AG and Monsanto Co.; and Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co., which are among the largest seed sellers and pesticide producers in the country.

Critics said those pending mergers are anti-competitive and would likely drive seed prices too high for small farmers.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a July 24 New York Times op-ed that Democrats would “fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition.”

Such reforms would be “once-in-a-generation,” Patterson said. “We’d love to see more detail fleshed about how you go about repairing this system,” she said.

Patterson recommended blocking the current pending mergers as a first step, and then evaluating the guidelines that the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission use to determine whether mergers can be allowed.

Rural Wish List

Patterson and Lusher Shute also supported the Democrats’ plans for rural infrastructure, particularly a long-awaited expansion of rural broadband access. The Trump administration has also touted a planned $1 trillion national infrastructure package, but the timeline for it remains unclear.

Other issues they said Democrats should prioritize include rising student loan debt—which Lusher Shute said can prevent farmers from getting approval for loans or expanding their operations—and a lack of affordable child care in rural areas, which Patterson said keeps people from moving to or staying in farming communities, having a long-term effect on rural economies.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who has been a visible part of the “Better Deal” rollout, will be listening to feedback with other Democratic lawmakers about the new agenda during the August recess, a spokesman for Bustos said. They plan to see what resonates before they form a more detailed set of legislative goals when Congress is back in session, he said.

“We’ll be interested to see—when it comes to putting all this down on paper and figuring out a strategy that must be bipartisan to move ahead—what that looks like,” Lusher Shute said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Renee Hickman in Washington at rhickman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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