President Donald Trump paid a visit to thousands of American farmers at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in New Orleans on Jan. 14, as they continue to go through struggles after many years of growing burdens from government regulation and now, added pressures from the trade war with China.
In his speech, Trump defended his tough trade policies, saying that his administration is “fighting for our great farmers” and renegotiating fairer trade deals with China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico.
“With China, every year, for many years, we’re losing $375 billion. We’re losing $151 billion a year with the European Union,” he said.
But the president said that with time, he sees his trade policies helping to put America’s rural heartland back on its feet. “The greatest harvest is yet to come. The future for America’s farmers is bigger, better, bolder and brighter than ever before.”
Westin Cobb, who raises cattle with his family in Louisiana and leads the state’s 4-H agriculture organization, told Reuters: “It’s clear he supports the farmers who are the ones who helped him get to where he is today. He kept his promise to us to be here and that means something to farmers.”
The trip was Trump’s second consecutive visit to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention.
President Trump Delivers Remarks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 100th Annual Convention https://t.co/tMWj5zj3K0
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 14, 2019
U.S. farmers, numbering some 3.2 million, have been reliable Trump supporters. The crowd sounded particularly enthused when Trump spoke about his administration’s sweeping regulatory reforms for farmers.
“I got you the biggest cuts in regulations in the history of our country,” Trump said. “And we’re going further. That might be the biggest reason that our country is doing so much better than other countries and why we’re doing so well.”
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture rolled back almost $400 million in regulatory costs last year alone. And this year, they’re projected to more than double those savings.”
However, faced with market uncertainty and the possibility of China increasing tariffs on U.S. imports—which includes a significant portion of agricultural products—farmers said they are still facing financial hardship.
“I would like to have known that there was a fix that was going to be done immediately and that he could have told us about it today,” Illinois grain farmer Robert Klemm told Reuters at the convention.
“We’re fighting very hard for you, we’re making a lot of progress,” Trump said.
“It’s our fault for allowing that to happen. It’s our leaders’ fault. Over the last 15 years, we’ve seen a continual decline in the U.S. share of agricultural trade all throughout the world.”
But the imbalance in trade is already “changing now,” Trump said. “We’re turning all of that around with fair trade deals that put American farmers, ranchers, and, in fact, put America first.”
Trump lauded the hard-won farm bill that he signed into law in December 2018. Included in the bill was $867 billion for food and agriculture programs, including crop subsidies and support to growers seeking access to export markets.
The president said in order to address the processing delays taking place during the partial government shutdown that resulted due to funding being blocked from completing a border wall with Mexico, his administration was extending the deadline for applications for the $12 billion in aid payments that were approved for farmers last year to ease the pain caused by the trade war.
“The USDA is doing everything in its power to help farmers deal with the ongoing shutdown,” Trump said as the shutdown dragged into its 24th day.
U.S. House Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement that farmers and others involved with agriculture “are not doing better than ever—despite the president’s claim. They are struggling because of plummeting prices, a tough farm economy, and the damage of the administration’s trade brinkmanship, but President Trump refuses to re-open the Department of Agriculture,” Pelosi said.
She said after the convention that Trump should sign legislation to fully reopen the USDA and “restore certainty” to farmers’ lives.
But Trump said at the convention, “The government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only.
“We’re dealing with people who think that if they can stop me from building the wall … they think that’s a good thing for 2020.” The time when the United States will hold the next presidential election.
Trump spent a large portion of his speech talking about the problems facing the country because of a weak southern border.
“The drugs coming through the southern border are destroying the fabric of our country. It’s so bad so we have to stop it.
“Heroin alone kills 300 Americans a week, and 90 percent of it—at least—crosses our southern border.
“We can stop it, but we can’t stop it if we’re going to play politics,” he said.
The Democrats say that Trump’s border wall is too expensive and an inefficient solution to manage the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. But according to Trump, the numbers are “peanuts compared, you’ll make the money back numerous times a year.”
Trump also cited the heartbreaking loss of American lives as part of the cost of a weak border. “In 2017, drugs killed over 70,000 of our fellow citizens, that’s like a football stadium loaded up, and imposed costs on our society in excess of $700 billion,” he said.
“They explained that there is no substitute for a wall—these are the ICE people and the Border Patrol people—or a physical barrier.”
“When we have proper security, people aren’t going to come except for the people we want to come because we want to take people in to help our farmers. We’re going to make that actually easier for them—to help the farmers,” Trump said to cheering applause. “Because you need these people.”
“We’re going to have a wall. We’re going to have a barrier,” he said. “What we’re talking about is common sense.”
Arizona farmer Jim Chilton was invited by the president to speak on the situation at the border since members of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel now run a major drug trafficking route through Jim’s ranch where a gap remains in the existing border wall.
“Mr. President, we need a wall. … We’ve got to stop the drug packers bringing drugs in to poison our people,” Jim said, adding, “I would say to speaker Pelosi, walls are not immoral.”
Trump said, “I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally. They have to come in through a process.
“As President, the defense of our nation is my highest and most important duty.”
Trump canceled a planned visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, next week, because of the government shutdown, but followed through on a pledge made last year to return to the farm convention.
Additional reporting by Reuters reporter P.J. Huffstutter in New Orleans.