By Philip Brasher
President Donald Trump on Sunday declared that the “best days for America’s farmers and ranchers are yet to come” following his new trade deals, and he repeatedly thanked producers for standing behind him amid the tariff war with China.
Speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention for the third year in a row, this time in Austin Texas, Trump focused a substantial part of his address on of his recently concluded “phase one” agreement with China and the revised U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement that received final congressional approval last week.
He called the China agreement, under which the Chinese have committed lower non-tariff trade barriers and to purchase $80 billion of U.S. commodities over the next two years, “a bonanza for American farmers.”
“I don’t think the farmers and ranchers have been in this position, maybe ever,” Trump told the crowd of about 5,000 Farm Bureau members. “I think it’s going to work out well. I think China is going to go all out. … I think they’re looking to prove that it’s going to be great for the farmer.”
Trump, who announced that he would return to the AFBF meeting next year in San Diego, sought to remind producers what his administration had done over the past three years and to revel in the strong support he has enjoyed from farmers despite the trade war with China.
At one point Trump held up a Wall Street Journal report about a recent poll showing how his support among Midwest farmers was ticking up this month even as the China trade details were coming out.
Trump told the crowd that net farm income had risen 50% under his administration. Trump was referring to data from USDA’s Economic Research Service. Net farm income reached an estimated $92.5 billion in 2019, up from $66 billion in 2016, according to ERS. Trump didn’t mention that his trade assistance and other government payments accounted for more than $22 billion of last year’s net farm income.
“You stayed in the fight,” Trump said of the trade war with China. “You protected our economy and our security. And together … we prevailed. You were always with me. You never even thought of giving up, and we got it done.”
Trump also ticked off some regulatory relief measures that his administration had taken, including the repeal of the Obama-era “waters of the U.S.” rule that expanded federal jurisdiction over some wetlands and streams.
“As long as I’m President, government will never micromanage America’s farmers. You’re going to micromanage your own farm and that’s the way it should be,” Trump said.
But Trump didn’t announce, as had been expected in recent days, the release of a new WOTUS rule to replace the one the Obama administration finalized in 2015. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler was scheduled to speak to the convention on Monday, but on Friday canceled his trip.
Trump did, however, announce that the Army Corps of Engineers would withdraw a lesser known rule that would have allowed the government to charge for water taken from federal reservoirs.
Trump also trumpeted the increase in spending on rural broadband that has started under his administration. “It’s about time,” Trump said. Internet providers “take care of their cities but they don’t take care of you.”
Trump made a passing reference to what is a major issue for producers across the country — access to workers.
“We want them (immigrants) to come in, legally, and we want them to come in so they can help the farmer, just so you understand because I want them to be able to come in to help our farmers, and we’re going to give you plenty of help,” Trump said. He didn’t offer any new steps his administration would take.
AFBF members had to start lining up early in the afternoon for the speech, which started after 5 p.m. CST, and Trump received several standing ovations from the audience.
“Actions speak louder than words, and he had quite a list of the actions that he’s taken,” said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Johansson noted that Trump at one point asserted that his administration had eliminated eight rules for every one new one. The president had originally pledged to kill two regulations for every new one.
“If you want a quick way to a farmer or ranchers heart in California, you get rid of eight regulations for every one that you put in place,” Johansson said.
Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap wanted to hear about ethanol. Trump didn’t mention the small refinery waivers that the EPA has issued. “My take home message is when he told us that I want to help you sell your products. It’s all about trade. We heard a lot about trade. We’ve had big news. We need to continue that momentum rolling,” Paap said.
Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said Trump was “positive and upbeat.” He made a “lot of promises made about the benefits of trade deals, and we are hopeful that these will come true,” Hurst said.
Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert said Trump’s comments were “on target. It has been a tough year with uncertainty on weather and trade. Our farmers are appreciative of the progress the administration has made on trade agreements with Japan, USMCA, EU on beef, and now the phase one with China,” he said.
Johansson said Trump’s speech this year had less of the feel of a rally than his two previous appearances. “This was more of a dialogue between the audience and the president, and I appreciate that because he has some accomplishments,” Johansson said.