December 18, 2018
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Farmers voted for Trump. Now he’s trying to assure them they made the right call.

Mark Humphrey | AP
Mark Humphrey | AP
President Donald Trump speaks at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Jan. 8, 2018.

Farmers have grown increasingly anxious with President Donald Trump, who wooed them with promises of deregulation and then threatened to upend programs on which many depend.

In the year since rural America voted him into office, the president has proposed deep cuts to crop insurance subsidies, reductions in the number of immigrants entering the United States and withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement — all of which have rattled farmers.

But in a speech Monday at the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville, Trump sought to put those worries to rest.

The president assured the largely sympathetic crowd that he would end the “regulatory assault on [their] way of life” and put more money back in farmers’ pockets.

“From [day one], we’ve been working to deliver for America’s farmers, just as they work every single day to deliver for us,” the president said. “You embody the values of hard work, grit, self-reliance and sheer determination that we need to — have you heard this expression? — make America great again.”

The speech comes at a time of growing strain between Trump and rural America, which the president won by high margins.

Even as his administration has delivered on several of its campaign promises to farmers, including tax reform and the suspension of some environmental rules, farmers, especially those in the dairy, livestock and grain industries, have grown wary of the president’s positions on trade, immigration and crop insurance.

Since taking office, Trump has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that was expected to raise net farm income by $4.4 billion per year, and threatened to pull out of NAFTA, which has been a boon for U.S. farms.

He has repeatedly called for tighter controls on legal and illegal immigration, the largest sources of U.S. farmworkers, and his 2017 budget proposal included huge reductions in the insurance premium subsidies that the government pays out to farms.

Those actions appear to have soured some rural voters. Trump’s approval rating in that demographic dropped from 55 percent in the first weeks of his presidency to 47 percent in September, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll.

On Monday, however, Trump seemed determined to win naysayers back.

“I would say most farmers and ranchers are feeling confident in the president, and more assured,” said Dale Moore, the executive director of public policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation. “The fact that the president takes time to come to our convention and talk to our members … that signals that he prioritizes agriculture.”

Trump spent most of his 36-minute speech touting his recent tax reform legislation and his administration’s dismantling of Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration rules.

Trump said that his tax cuts would lower costs “for our farmers and our middle class,” largely through reductions in the individual and business tax rates. (A recent study by economists atthe U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the largest farms will see the most benefits under the plan, though most farms will see a slight tax decrease.)

He also trumpeted his January 2017 executive order that required all federal agencies to cut two regulations for each new one passed. Trump earned wild applause from the crowd when he mentioned the rollback of the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule, which was unpopular with farmers.

But most telling were the president’s discussion of the three pain points between farmers and his administration, said policy analysts and farm group leaders who watched the speech. Trump said that he “supported” insurance for farmers who face bad harvests and that his administration recognized the current shortage of agricultural labor.

On NAFTA, Trump said that U.S. negotiators were still at the table, “working very hard to get a better deal.” Even that short statement was a relief to farmers, said Angela Marshall Hofmann, the deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade, a bipartisan organization that mobilized to promote open markets after the start of the Trump administration.

“Entire supply chains and rural communities rely on trade with Mexico and Canada,” Marshall Hoffman said. “We were very pleased to hear NAFTA mentioned.”

Whether the speech will placate farm interests for long remains to be seen. The Trump administration is due to take up a number of issues important to agriculture this year, including the 2018 Farm Bill — the legislation that oversees most farm programs.

Farmers will also be watching the next round of NAFTA negotiations due to get underway in Montreal later this month.

“The proof will be in the next couple rounds,” said Michael Dykes, the president and chief executive of the International Dairy Food Association. But at this point, Dykes said, “we feel very positive.”

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