‘US would like to see the CAP reduced’ – Ted McKinney

The US would welcome a reduction in the level of agricultural subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union, the US Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs has stated.

Speaking tonight, on episode 4 of FarmLand, US Department of Agriculture official Ted McKinney highlighted how farmers stateside would rather operate in a subsidy-free market.

In a special interview – filmed during last months’ Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference – McKinney also outlined how farmers stateside remain committed to tackling carbon emissions, just over one year on from US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement.

As negotiations continue around the 2018 Farm Bill – the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government – McKinney was asked if the US looks to the Common Agricultural Policy for inspiration.

“I would say less than more. You always want to scope what other countries are doing with their programmes like that, and I think there are a lot of similarities in the dedication to good stewardship practices and cross sharing and help on preserving the environment and addressing climate change.

“But, I would say in this case the Farm Bill has, from four years ago, been a pretty good Farm Bill. They are not looking at making a lot of changes here. I think this one is more modelled after modification made from the last US Farm Bill than it might be pulling from other like, or similar, programmes,” he said.

He frankly declared that farmers stateside would “just as soon not be supported at all by the Government”.

“Ideally they would like for markets to determine that and just be out, or at least out of most, support. That’s why several years ago when crop insurance was introduced, which farmers like my own family purchased, that has been wildly successful,” he said.

Other programmes which he says have been very popular among US farmers include: stewartship; sustainability; environmental health; and cost-sharing programmes.

US Agri Emissions

McKinney was then asked about the level of responsibility the US Government places on agriculture when it comes to reducing its carbon footprint.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency agriculture alone accounts for an estimated 9% of total US emissions.

“I don’t think it’s built in perhaps as it is, or as it will be, in the revised CAP. But, I think your viewership know that, never mind what happened at the Paris Accord, our farmers are still very driven to do right by the environment.

“Our farmers, your farmers, have always been the world’s first in original environmentalists and they sustain that.

“Nobody wants poor quality of water, or air, or so forth, so those efforts continue on whether there is a programme or not – sometimes because it’s the right thing to do, sometimes because it’s the cost-share programme. But, I think the dedication to that is very strong and will continue to stay strong for a long time.

A great deal of our cropping is no till or, at best, minimum till. The less you disturb the soil you have greater carbon sequestration – a very, very good thing.

“Many of our larger dairies have moved very much into a capturing of that waste and a conversion into compressed natural gas; so there is a lot of effort to use life-cycle analysis to bring any emissions down.

“I can’t speak for the president; but I can tell you this, movements towards doing the right thing by the environment have remained steady and continue.

It’s not like the US just checked off and said ‘we’re out and we’re not pursuing these things anymore’ – nothing of the sort.

“So, setting aside what the president’s decision might be; things continue in a very happy fashion – at least in my view,” McKinney said.

Ending Subsidies

Highlighted the success of the US Government’s decision to remove heavy subsidies from the US Farm Bill in 1996 – which were replaced by crop insurance and cost-sharing programmes and supports – McKinney suggested that the CAP could yet move in such a direction.

The US would like to see the CAP reduced; but they are not going to mess in your backyard.

“Our farmers want markets to operate and when markets are operating freely you just get rid of subsidies like that; our farmers would love to get rid of just about all subsidies – they would prefer not to have to have it.

“But with competition around the world there is still support at one level or another and so we are where we are,” he said.