“Corrupt politics left our communities hurting, our economy stagnant and millions of hardworking Americans completely forgotten, but they, guess what, are not forgotten anymore. No more,” President Trump told a cheering crowd at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) convention on Monday. “They are forgotten no more. Remember that, you're forgotten no more.”
The President of the United States recognized the important roll farmers and ranchers play in America, and they were glad to hear it.
“You know we really believe this was public endorsement of the important role that farmers, ranchers, and really, rural communities play in the success of our nation,” Minnesota Farm Bureau president Kevin Paap told AgriTalk host Chip Flory on Tuesday. “Clearly President Trump understands the role agriculture plays in our economy.”
Trump also understands how important farmers are to him politically, according to Ray Starling, special assistant to the president on agriculture and agriculture trade. Starling said, the President recognizes that American farmers give our country an “edge.”
“They give us an advantage in our competition around the world,” he told Farm Journal news director John Herath on Monday, adding that’s why the President made time to come talk to farmers at the convention. “We ought to make sure we're doing the things they want us to do on taxes on deregulation, the farm bill, and biotechnology, on forestry and on rural broadband deployment. I think that's exactly the message he brought here today, and Farm Bureau responded. The crowd seemed to enjoy what they heard.”
The one message farmers were itching to hear the President address, he glazed over: trade, specially, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Of the roughly 35 minutes Trump was on the stage addressing Farm Bureau members, he spent just slightly more than 1 minute and 30 seconds discussing trade.
“To level the playing field for our great American exporters, our farmers and ranchers, as well as our manufacturers, we're reviewing all of our trade agreements to make sure that they are fair and reciprocal,” he said. “On NAFTA, I am working very hard to get a better deal for our country and for our farmers and for our manufacturers. It's under negotiation as we speak. But think of it, when Mexico's making all of that money, when Canada is making all of that money, it's not the easiest negotiation, but we're going to make it fair for people again.”
While it wasn’t the promise to stay in the deal many farmers, including AFBF president Zippy Duvall were hoping for, some in the audience were pleased.
“Now I think we ought to turn our attention to what Secretary [Perdue] said,” Duvall said adding that Perdue had more to say about trade including that this president understands the vulnerability that agriculture has in these renegotiations.
“I was excited to hear him say that he realized how important NAFTA was to farmers, because in Missouri it is very important to our Missouri farmers,” Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture told Herath. “But he also said that he wanted to make sure he could get the best deal possible for our farmers and ranchers in the United States. And so you know who wouldn't want that.”
For Chinn, the President’s affirmation that he would “fight” for farmers was a message of hope.
“I feel like he understands the importance of trade for our farmers and ranchers, and that he's going to fight for us,” she said.
Ag exports are critical in several states including Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Jim Wiesemeyer ProFarmer’s Washington policy analyst told Flory on Agritalk.
“Using Farm Bureau's figures, 73% of all exports out of North Dakota are dependent on NAFTA and very high percentages for those other states I've mentioned,” he said. “So that makes trade policy critical.”
According to Paap, NAFTA is critical in Minnesota too.
“In Minnesota, we still remind our members that there's really only three numbers [you need] to remember: 24, 24 and 24,” he explained. “Yes NAFTA's 24 years old. We need to we need to modernize it but not dismantle it. We need to improve it, not withdraw. Over 24% of our Minnesota ag exports go to our good neighbors to the north and almost 24% of our ag exports are going to Mexico. Nearly half [of them are] dependent on NAFTA.”
A deal with a fair and level the playing field that removes some of the inefficiencies in the market creating disadvantages for the American farmer and exporter will help everybody win, Starling said.
“And I would submit at the end of the day the first person that's going to win is going to be that farmer,” he said. “So, for [Trump] to say he wants a fair deal on NAFTA, I do think that's the commitment that the audience wanted to hear.”