Deputy Agriculture Secretary Steve Censky, a Minnesota native, traveled to his home state on his 29th day in office to deliver the keynote address at the 50th annual meeting of the Minnesota Agri Growth Council.
The meeting, which each year draws a broad cross-section of who’s who in Minnesota agriculture, had 400 registered attendees representing the state’s diverse agricultural interests. It was held at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Censky was sworn in as Deputy Secretary on Oct. 11, 2017. He previously served as CEO of the American Soybean Association for 21 years.
He spoke about four main themes that have emerged as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has talked with USDA stakeholders: Trade, taxes, regulations and labor.
President Trump is working with Congress to bring about tax reform, Censky said. Trump’s proposal will help farmers, he said, as most farmers file and pay individual taxes. Trump’s goal is to simplify the tax code, allowing farmers to spend money on investments for the farm, rather than tax accountants.
Censky said Trump knows that cash accounting, deduction of interest expense, Section 1031 and stepped up basis are important to farmers.
The House Tax Cut and Jobs Bill doubles the estate tax exemption from $5 million to $11 million by 2024 when it is eliminated. The bill also reduces the number of tax brackets from seven to four.
Farm income is driven by exports, with 20% of farm sales exported, on average, Censky said. Nearly half of the nation’s soybeans are exported and 60% of the wheat.
The North American Free Trade Agreement has increased agricultural trade between Canada, the United States and Mexico and talks to modernize the agreement continue. Negotiators are striving to do no harm to agriculture, while improving the areas that need improvement. USDA also plans to improve the South Korean Free Trade Agreement.
The trade team at USDA will also be on the offense to achieve new trade agreements.
“Our goal is to remove barriers that stifle the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people,” Censky said.
The Trump administration has made great strides in rolling back unnecessary regulations, including Waters of the U.S. under the Clean Water Act, he said.
Censky invited comments on rules and regulations that need changing and said that’s been a focus of the Rural Prosperity Task Force, chaired by Perdue, which is examining what hinders economic growth in rural areas.
Agriculture needs both seasonal and year-round employees, Censky said, and the administration wants to establish a simple, fair and easily administered program to allow workers to come to the United States and work on farms.
- Infrastructure improvements – The Trump administration is developing an infrastructure package. Expect to see details released early next year.
- Broadband – “E-connectivity is the digital superhighway of our economy today and in the coming decades,” Censkey said. “It is the modern-day equivalent of REA and interstate highways.” The administration doesn’t have a proposed dollar amount that it wants to invest in broadband at this time, he said.
- President Trump’s proposed budget cut USDA by nearly 21%, but the House and Senate funding levels are close to the agency’s budget for last year.
- Biotech rules – USDA is starting over with the biotechnology rules, it announced earlier this week. Listening sessions will be held, Censky said, but no timeline has been announced for moving forward. USDA will engage with trade partners as they begin to move forward with the rules.