Why Farmers Love Trump
And Why Trade Probably Won’t Change That
There’s very little doubt — farmers love President Trump.
And despite that, there is no more desired story in the mainstream than “how the middle of the country is about to turn on the President.”
Logically, it seems like a story that should exist. Trump policies have not all been winners for American agriculture. Before the President even moved into the White House, he was meeting with Bayer and Monsanto, who recently won approval to merge into one of the world’s largest agricultural companies — with a tremendous amount of control over farm inputs — by Administration officials at the Department of Justice.
On one of his first few days in office, he withdrew from the TPP, an agreement that favored US ag. It took him weeks to appoint a Secretary of Agriculture, his last nominated cabinet member. Since then he’s proposed making huge cuts at USDA, backed work requirements in the House Farm Bill that threaten to sink it, insisted on renegotiating NAFTA and continuously threatens to cut ag off from it’s three largest international markets — namely Mexico, Canada, and China.
He also agreed to meet with Texas Senator Ted Cruz to discuss potential changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard that could favor Big Oil over ethanol, and has turned a blind eye on the EPA administrator offering exemption after exemption to refiners who would otherwise be required to blend biofuels and thus buy American corn.
Though It would be misleading to say the Trump Administration has not done anything for farmers. He’s rolled back some burdensome regulation, and supported an end to the Estate Tax (dubbed by detractors “the Death Tax”). But President Trump has done something much more important for American agriculture than provide policy favors.
Namely to the main ballroom of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville in January of 2018. The atmosphere was electric. Thousands of American Farm Bureau members and guests were on their feet as Secretary Sonny Perdue welcomed President Trump to the stage. The American Farm Bureau National Convention is one of the largest annual meetings of American farmers, and despite extending an invitation to the White House every year, farmers haven’t seen a President in more than 20 years.
Trump first introduced his entourage, including Senator Pat Roberts- who Trump noted will “come in, we’re talking about a different subject, he’ll say ‘what about the farmers!’” The kudos earned the Kansan, who’s also the leader of the Senate Ag Committee, hardy applause. Trump would later brought farmers to their feet with his commitment to “support a [Farm] Bill that includes crop insurance, unless you don’t want me to.”
Trump spent a majority of the speech celebrating tax reform, but as farmers I spoke with throughout the conference noted, tax breaks only work if you make enough money to pay taxes. Going on five years of declining farm incomes, too many farmers don’t. But one tax issue, President Trump’s pronouncement on the end of the Estate Tax, did bring farmers to their feet.
“Obviously you love your families, otherwise you wouldn’t be standing for that.” The President added mischievously, “It’s not going to help you much, but it’s going to help [your families] a lot.”
The crowd cheered for Trumps efforts to “put an end to the regulatory assault on [the agricultural] way of life.” The audience celebrated the 22 regulations the President says have been eliminated for every new regulation his administration has authored, including the Water of the U.S. or WOTUS, an Obama-era Clean Water Act definition that the ag community has long had in its sights.
Family and country were the common threads between the biggest crowd reactions. Trump’s call for respect for the flag and the national anthem led to spontaneous “USA” chants, and his brief nods to 4H and FFA received some of the afternoon’s longest standing ovations.
A striking absence- trade. The most difficult issue between Trump and his rural base. The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want played as the President left the stage- leaving farmers to wonder if that was a subtle hint on NAFTA, TPP, China, and beyond.
We’ve all heard the saying;
“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
President Trump may just be the first in living memory who has made farmers feel heard, acknowledged, and cared about. The folks in the audience that January afternoon were not fans in the way Trump campaign rally audiences were — case in point, after Farm Bureau President Zippy Duval named immigration reform the top priority for his organization in 2018, farmers in the audience had a muted response to the President’s call to “Build the Wall.” Farmers were present and excited to hear the leader of the free world spend 40 minutes talking about their issues, speak their language, validate their careers and lives and communities. Not because they agreed with everything he’s said or done.
For a brief moment that day, farm issues; from the Farm Bill to rural broadband to the estate tax, took a lead role on the national stage. That never happens. Rural people, and particularly people in agriculture, are use to their issues and their priorities being overlooked or ignored. Nothing drove home that point more than a conversation I had with an official in the airport; he had been booked to talk about ag issues for NPR’s one hour of coverage of the event, but the coverage was bumped at the last minute in favor of a deep dive on a Central American refugee issue. It was a striking illustration of how the community feels — that American farm issues couldn’t even get an hour on the radio the day the President of the United States came to town.
President Trump talks about farmers, he listens to them, and he stays involved. Over the past week, the President has mentioned US dairy farmers several times at public events, noting their plight in the face of Canadian supply management programs. Trump has built trust with the agriculture community not by doing things in their interest, but by making them feel heard and understood. And by the looks of it, it’ll take a lot more than broken trade agreements to change the way individual farmers feel about their President. Whether or not the Trump Administration’s policies have been good, bad, or a wash for farmers; he is the first President in nearly a generation willing to use his platform to remind the country that farmers are still the backbone of a well-fed and well-clothed America. So if you’re in search of a community ready to turn their backs on the President, you should probably keep on looking.
Perhaps one of Trump’s most important comments in Nashville- that he plans to return to the AFBF Convention next year, for the 100th annual event. The crowd went wild.
Thanks for reading! Looking forward to your comments (and maybe your claps?). I made some predictions early this year about what 2018 might look like in the food and ag space… interested in seeing if I was right? Check it out here: