NEW ORLEANS (AP)—President Donald Trump urged farmers Jan. 15 to stick with him even as many grapple with the impact of his trade war with China and the partial government shutdown.
“No one understands better than our great farmers that the tough choices we make today reap rewards for centuries to come,” Trump said, adding that their “greatest harvest” is yet to come.
“We’re doing trade deals that are going to get you so much business, you’re not even going to believe it,” he said.
Trump, in an address nearly 7,000 attendees of the 100th annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the American heartland largely supported him in 2016 and pledged that his policies would ultimately help the agriculture industry despite short-term pain.
The president devoted much of his hour-long address to defending his decision to hold out for billions of dollars to build his long-promised wall at the southern border, which has resulted in an impasse with Congress and the longest government shutdown in history.
Trump said the wall was needed to cut down on illegal immigration, even though border crossings have fallen in recent years, and he said that it would lead to immigration reform that would help farmers get the workers they need for their fields.
“You need people to help you with the farms,” Trump said. “It’s going to be easier for them to get in.”
Bringing his point home on the need for a wall, Trump called on Arizona rancher Jim Chilton, who runs about 1,000 cows over 50,000 acres—most of it leased by the state and federal governments—along the U.S. Mexico border.
“In the last two years, the cameras on Jim’s ranch have captured roughly 1,000 pictures of major drug packers, they call them,” Trump said. “For years, these criminals have damaged Jim’s property, injured his livestock, and started dozens of fire, which Jim estimates cost more than $2 million dollars in 2017 alone.”
The 79-year old Chilton, in a white Western hat and bolo tie, then told his story.
“Mr. President, we need a wall,” said Chilton, who supported Trump’s election in 2016. “I hope we see the need for a wall all around and the length of the border.”
Trump then told of his recent trip to McAllen, Texas, to visit the border, and meet with Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel.
“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, et cetera. Very important,” Trump said. “We’re going to make that actually easier for them—to help the farmers—because you need these people. No, you need these people. We’re going to make it easier.
“I’m going to make that easier for them to come in and to work the farms. You’ve had some people for 20, 25 years. They’re incredible. Then they go home and they can’t get back in. That’s not going to happen.”
Over the course of the second half hour, Trump offered a litany of his accomplishments over his first two years in office. Atop his list was the ongoing matter of trade and the disputes that have remained unresolved.
“We are fixing broken trade deals that are horrible and opening up new markets to export,” Trump said.
Despite Trump’s lofty promises, there has been great unease in the agricultural community over the ongoing trade dispute with China.
Retaliatory tariffs put in place by Beijing have slammed American farmers, many of whom were Trump supporters, and a federal government bailout to the industry has had limited impact. Moreover, despite a pledge to put “farmers first,” his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, which is meant to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, has yet to be approved by Congress and now potentially faces longer odds to win passage in the House.
Other highlights of Trump’s highlights:
“We’ve eliminated a record number of job-killing regulations,” Trump said. “We’re reversing harmful federal intrusion and to keep family farms in the family we have virtually eliminated the estate tax, also known as the death tax. We’re ensuring that ethanol remains a vital part of America’s energy future with E15 and making it available year-round.
“In December, just a few days before Christmas, I was proud to sign the farm bill. We got it done. Last year when I spoke to you, we had just passed our historic tax cuts. Many families will save upwards of four thousand dollars in taxes alone. We’re also leading the most sweeping regulatory reform at any time in our history. We’re saving farmers and ranchers from one of the most ridiculous regulations ever imposed on anyone in our nation—the Waters of the United States rule.”
Trump also told AFBF the USDA was doing everything in its power to help farmers deal with the ongoing shutdown and asked those in attendance to call legislators to pass a bill he could sign.
“We thank you for your support and patriotism. And we fight to defend our nation. We are fighting very hard to defend our nation. And many people that aren’t getting a payment, that aren’t being paid, have let us know in the strongest of terms—a big amount—they said, ‘Sir, what you’re doing is of paramount importance. Do the job right, and we are with you, 100 percent.’ You’d be surprised at how many people have said that. And it’s not easy for them, but it’s a lot of people.
“So I’m asking all of our citizens to call your Democrat lawmakers and ask them to pass a bill that secures our border, protects our country, and now reopens our government, because as soon as they do that, we reopen our government. You would think that would be a very simple task.”
Despite Trump’s assurances, many farmers are feeling the pinch from his policies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is affected by the shutdown, is scrambling to blunt its impact on America’s farmers.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue extended the deadline for growers hurt by Trump’s trade war with China to apply for federal aid meant to offset their losses. But some farmers will still have to wait until after the government reopens to see their checks.
Senior field editor Larry Dreiling as well as Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana and Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans and Juliet Linderman and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.