President Donald Trump addresses the American Farm Bureau Federation’s national convention on Monday — the first president to attend since George H.W. Bush in 1992.
The president will discuss key points of an administration report the White House says is designed to boost the rural economy.
The report calls for a mix of short-term and longer-term approaches to expanding rural access to broadband service and e-commerce, improving quality-of-life services such as health care availability, better training of the rural workforce, tapping technological innovation and modernizing access to capital for rural economic development.
Rebeckah Adcock, a senior adviser to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue who oversaw the report, said the administration is committed to turning the report goals into reality, “and we are very hopeful that we really can see a change, an uplift, and bring rural America and agriculture into the 21st century.”
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said Trump could earn even more points with his members and those of the Farm Bureau by talking about the financial stress many farmers are under after four years of low crop prices, and whether his administration will prod Congress to provide additional money for farm support programs in the upcoming 2018 farm bill. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.
“We’d like to hear that he knows that there is a farm bill that is under consideration right now and that there is a critical need for more money in this next farm bill because there is an enormous amount of financial stress in agriculture today,” Johnson said in an interview.
Trump will mention the farm bill, but it is unclear how much the New York City real estate magnate will delve into the legislation or the role the administration will play in shaping it.
“I think it is remarkable that in the year in which the farm bill expires, the president would address that,” a senior administration official said during a White House briefing Friday. “And certainly, in working with him, he has an awareness of that need and knows that that’s a part of a very packed legislative agenda and an interesting year.”
Last year the administration stirred concerns among anti-hunger advocates and farm-state lawmakers with fiscal 2018 legislative budget proposals that called for $240 billion in budget cuts over 10 years from farm programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
Trump will find a welcoming crowd in Nashville, Tennessee, among the 5,000 Farm Bureau convention delegates who are generally supportive of his policies, such as deregulation. The Farm Bureau was an aggressive and vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s “Waters of the United States” rule, arguing that it was overreaching in its expansion of federal jurisdiction over navigable waters. The Trump administration is in the process of repealing the rule.
But Trump has made many in the farm community uneasy with his dislike of multinational trade agreements and his pledge to renegotiate existing trade agreements, such as North American Free Trade Agreement, to reduce U.S. trade deficits. U.S. agriculture relies heavily on exports. In fiscal 2018, USDA’s Economic Research Service forecasts $140 billion in farm exports, with $117 billion in agricultural imports, resulting in a projected $23 billion trade surplus.
The Farm Bureau, along with other agriculture groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have raised alarms over the president’s repeated threats to withdraw from NAFTA, a strategy designed to push Canada and Mexico to make concessions in renegotiating the 1994 trade pact. The sixth round of talks starts Jan. 23 in Montreal.
The agriculture and business groups warn that the withdrawal threat could unsettle customers and cost them sales in Canada and Mexico even if Trump never makes good on the threat. The effects of an actual withdrawal, they say, could be economically devastating to segments of the U.S. economy.
Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay spoke to the conference Sunday about NAFTA’s importance to his country and the United States. He met Friday with Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton.
Johnson of the National Farmers Union said Trump’s general skepticism on trade and emphasis on reducing U.S. trade deficits aligns more closely with his organization, whose members are generally small to medium-size farmers who rely on income from off-farm jobs they or their spouses hold.
Johnson, who backs Trump’s goals for a revamped NAFTA but not his withdrawal threats, said his organization considers the effects of trade on the general U.S. economy and labor and environmental policies. It wants stronger labor protections and other changes to NAFTA, which it says has favored big businesses.
But Johnson said his members and those of the Farm Bureau share common concerns about a flagging rural economy and the spread of opioid drug abuse in rural communities. The opioid drug epidemic has led NFU and the American Farm Bureau Federation to work together on ways to help farmers and rural areas, he said.