Grangeville High School junior Rachael Stevens (left) had the opportunity to meet with National Economic Council and special advisor to President Trump Ray Starling (middle). They are pictured with (far right) GHS agricultural sciences teacher Katie Mosman.
As of Tuesday, May 8, 2018
In April, at the the FFA State Leadership Conference I got the opportunity of a lifetime. I was able to meet with Ray Starling, part of the National Economic Council and the special advisor to President Trump for agriculture. Along with being a keynote speaker at the convention, he met with a small group of FFA members to tell us a little bit about himself and answer our questions about current agricultural standings.
Mr. Starling regularly meets with the president to discuss agriculture, has written several proclamations signed by the president, and speaks at FFA events nationwide. He was raised as a North Carolina farm boy and is passionate about communicating with the public, he keeps an active Twitter account @NCAgLawyer.
He began by stating that he believes ag is fully capable of solving technical and scientific challenges in the future. He is more concerned with increasing conversation about agriculture through communications and political policy. A current goal under Trump administration that he is a part of is increasing the economy by 3-4 percent per year. They plan to achieve this by finding both highly skilled and domestic ag workers, regulation reform, and building infrastructure.
Some questions he answered related to changes in the FFA organization, agricultural news sources, root level scientific development, labor demands, and ag literacy. When I was personally given the opportunity to ask him a question, I asked him his opinion of the potential foreign trade tariff issues and his personal influence in the matter. I asked this because it is a principal issue in the media and there is a lot of anxiety about a potential “trade war”, specifically with China.
“We believe in playing fair,” Mr. Starling explained, but there are others in foreign trade who are playing selfishly and strategically for their personal interest, this puts us at a disadvantage. Competition allows the best to rise to the top, but for years there have been tariffs on our exported goods while we avoid this on imported goods. Ideally, we would have a worldwide free market, but we cannot do this when we face such market barriers from our foreign trade partners.
For years the government has been discussing this issue with foreign powers, specifically China, and has seen no change. Trump's policy of raising tariffs on imported goods is aimed to take action on the issue so we may finally attain an equal, free market by resetting the trade balance. The main concern of the media and public is the escalation by competitors, ag would be the first community affected. Mr. Starling explained that this is a long-term strategy with short-term discomfort.
Although agriculture would be the first industry negatively impacted, it would also be the first to benefit. We have been passively discussing this issue for decades, avoiding confrontation. Mr. Starling urged that, if we don't take a stand now, then when? We must take action and hope for the best. Simply talking has not been effective.
After answering my question, Mr. Starling went on to discuss ag literacy. He explained that public interest in agriculture is growing, but the most important issue is to build public trust through integrity, simplicity, and transparency. When we had finished our conversation, we took a group picture and I had the opportunity to briefly speak with him and thank him for his dedication to our organization. Meeting such an important agricultural advocate has expanded my opinions and understanding and I am honored to have had the experience.
—Rachael Stevens, North Idaho FFA District Secretary, Grangeville FFA Sentinel