While Election Day has passed and some legal challenges remain, barring some unforeseen event, the general consensus is that Joe Biden will likely take office on Jan. 20, 2021, as the 46th President of the United States. What that means for the food industry will depend on some significant unknowns but, based on the results of the congressional races and Biden’s stated goals and policy positions, we can begin to predict what a Biden Administration may mean for the food and agricultural sectors.
Disclaimers first: The ongoing pandemic will continue to govern the trajectory of our day-to-day lives for the foreseeable future. It also appears likely Republicans will retain control of the Senate. Thus, while Biden will certainly pursue a more progressive agenda than his predecessor, he will likely be constrained by virtue of split control in the legislature.
Immigration and climate change are two areas where the policy differences between the incoming and outgoing administrations are most stark. On the issue of immigration, Biden is calling for compromise legislation between farmworkers and the agricultural sector that will provide legal status based on prior agricultural work history. Climate change is one of Biden’s signature issues. Biden aims to lay the groundwork for achieving a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by 2050. Biden also plans to expand the federal Conservation Stewardship Program, a partnership between the government and farmers/ranchers to implement sustainability improvements and reduce emissions.
In terms of regulatory policy, Biden plans to streamline and reform existing regulations. What this means is not entirely clear. Ideally, it means fewer and more effective regulations; however, given the likely increase in environmental regulations under a Biden administration, the agricultural industry should be prepared for more stringent environmental controls and limitations. With that said, we have not seen any signs that a Biden administration would impose or attempt to impose any new regulations prohibiting or restricting bovine flatulence. This is good news for ranchers.
With respect to trade, the Biden administration has yet to articulate a comprehensive approach to international trade policy. Farmers across the country have been affected adversely by the imposition of tariffs on goods exported to China, and the trade war has been especially hard on small farmers. Although Biden has been critical of the prior administration’s approach, his administration has not yet explained exactly how it will deal with the ongoing trade war. Some predict that, at least in the short term, the trade policies currently in place may not change significantly.
Domestically, Biden contends American farmers and ranchers are also being hurt by increasing market concentration (e.g., monopolistic business practices), particularly in the meat industry. To level the playing field and restore competition, he plans to significantly increase federal enforcement of antitrust laws. This policy approach would disfavor the largest corporations in the meat industry that, some allege, have been collaborating to drive down prices. Biden’s eventual choice for Secretary of Agriculture (unknown as of the date of writing) will likely provide substantial additional insight into what the administration’s approach will be.
In terms of infrastructural policy, Biden plans to invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure and triple funding to expand broadband access in rural areas. This would provide much-needed support to agribusiness, which is predominantly located in rural areas that are significantly underserved when it comes to broadband access. Such a program would benefit most rural interests and is supported on both sides of the aisle.
Hopefully this helps you reach a better understanding of what a new administration means for you. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that the future is unpredictable. See you in 2021. NP