President Donald Trump, in his second address in as many years to the 100th annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation on Monday in New Orleans, emphasized the need for security at the border with Mexico and alternately pointed to trade wins, while highlighting specific farmers across the country. He even brought one rancher on stage for an impromptu speech.
Trump had spent most of the first half of his nearly hourlong speech talking about border security and the need for a barrier at the Southern border when he called Arizona rancher Jim Chilton to the stage. Chilton, whose ranch lies next to the border, was succinct at the microphone from beneath his cowboy hat: “Mr. President, we need a wall. We need a wall all around, all the length of the border.”
Chilton has been vocal in recent years about the need for a barrier at the border, where he raises about 1,000 head of cattle on 50,000 acres. He and his wife, Sue, have long offered aid to migrants in the desert, but today major drug traffickers run through their ranch, threatening their safety and damaging property. Cameras on his property have captured 1,000 images of major drug packers, and at least one person has been killed on their property.
Chilton told the crowd a wall is not immoral, and referred to the wall around the Vatican, calling it the biggest he’d ever seen. “They have a wall. Why can’t we?” he asked.
Trump continued to make the case for a wall as a humanitarian effort, and said renovation work had already begun on existing sections of the border wall. He told the crowd that 550 miles of border barrier requires renovation or construction.
“Women and children are being ruthlessly exploited at our Southern border by vicious coyotes — human traffickers,” Trump said. “They don’t come in through the port of entry. They come in through our border where we don’t have any barriers or walls.
“We’ll get that stopped. We’ll have a wall. A barrier. We’ll have something that’s very strong,” he added. “You can’t have openings. If you have openings, they find the open spot and they come in.”
The president talked about the narcotics that come across the Southern border, including meth, cocaine, heroin and fentanyl, claiming that 90% of all heroin in the U.S. comes across the Southern border. “Drugs killed over 70,000 of our fellow citizens in 2017 and imposed costs on society in excess of $700 billion,” he said, adding, “We arrested 266,000 illegal aliens last year, many with criminal records.”
To enthusiastic applause from Farm Bureau members, numbering more than 6,000, the president promised an easier process for migrant farmworkers but stopped short of sharing details. He said he wants people to come to the U.S. but “we’re keeping the wrong ones out.”
On trade, the president maintained his administration is “fixing broken trade deals that are horrible.” He also promised big wins in the future for agriculture.
“We’re making trade deals, and you’re not going to believe how good they are. We’re doing things with trade that will have a tremendous impact. You won’t believe it. Farmers are going to be saying, ‘We need to plant more acres,’” Trump said.
He largely focused on trade wins in dairy and wheat with Canada through the yet-to-be-ratified U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, yet many farmers are far more worried about China. AFBF staff say agricultural exports to China were down by $2 billion in 2018, and USDA expects exports to decline by an additional $7 billion in 2019. Once our second-largest trading partner, China is projected to be fifth in 2019.
In pointing to the administration’s move to safeguard intellectual property with China, Trump told the crowd, “I couldn’t believe how complicated your business is with the seeds and the … genetic farming.”
And while Trump told Farm Bureau members that U.S. agricultural trade has declined worldwide over the last 15 years, USDA data shows U.S. agricultural exports peaked in 2014 at $152 billion — the same year U.S. agricultural trade surplus also peaked at $43 billion. He promised new trade deals would turn all that around.
In addition to opening new markets and fixing trade deals, Trump went on to list a variety of “wins” for U.S. agriculture, including eliminating a “record number of job-killing regulations” that probably hit farmers “as much as anybody.” USDA rolled back almost $400 million in regulatory costs, a figure that’s expected to double in 2019. He called the Waters of the U.S. rule a “total kill on farmers.”
“We’re going to keep federal regulators out of your tanks, your stock tanks, your drainage ditches, your puddles and your ponds,” he said, singling out North Dakota farmer Val Wagner, who submitted comments on WOTUS and its effect on her family’s farm. “We’re going to get government off your back so you can continue living and supporting your families doing what you love.”
He told the crowd the recent tax bill had “virtually eliminated the estate tax,” and opened up E15 for year-round use, and got the farm bill passed and signed on time for the first time in over 30 years.
“Nobody else would’ve done what we did for the farmers with the estate taxes and so many things,” he added.
Trump closed his speech with a rallying cry for the farm community. “The American farmer embodies the timeless values of America. You believe in hard work and self-reliance; you follow the laws and respect our great American flag. You support our communities, raise loving families and teach your children right from wrong, and are always loyal to your nation. Now you have a government that is loyal to you, finally, in return.
“To all of the farmers here today and across our country, the greatest harvest is yet to come. The future for America’s farmers is bigger, better, bolder and brighter than ever before.”