Flickr/Michael Vadon
President Trump will speak to the Farm Bureau in Nashville on Monday. Farmers hope he'll touch on trade and immigration.

Farm News

NASHVILLE — President Donald Trump is expected to visit the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention on Monday—the first time a president has done so in nearly thirty years.

Mr. Trump will be visiting the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tennessee, a massive, labyrinthine conference venue and hotel replete with tropical indoor gardens, larger-than-life country music-themed chandeliers, and one indoor boat ride. His visit will likely eclipse the other keynote speaker, singer and actress Reba McEntire.

The president will find many supporters at the Farm Bureau convention, which has drawn 7,000 registrants this year and more than double the usual number of members of the press. In his opening remarks, Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall crowed over this administration’s apparent willingness to prioritize farmers. “Folks, I can tell you that it has been a breath of fresh air to be able to advocate for getting things done instead of having to constantly defend agriculture against a steady stream of challenges from our own government.”

We’re going to see a huge benefit—everybody in rural America is going to see that benefit—but we’re really hoping to see and hear something trade bill-wise.”

But in a press conference on Sunday morning, Duvall added that he hopes to communicate to Mr. Trump the Bureau’s most pressing concerns: immigration, trade, and the upcoming farm bill, in that order.

Trump’s proposal to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement has caused much concern among farmers, prompting many to sport large “I support NAFTA” buttons.

Billy Bruce, a farmer in southwestern Missouri, says he sold his calves 30 days earlier than usual last year out of NAFTA-related anxiety. “One tweet or decision could fluctuate the market 20, 30 percent, just like that,” he says. “I’m a Trump supporter but even the riff-raff—the talk of it—had a downturn in the market … if we fall out of this trade deal, it could affect our bottom line 30, 40 percent.”

“Give me a shine of hope that I can take back home and share.”

Still, Bruce says he still trusts the president. He supported withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he says would’ve helped farmers enormously, because he believed the administration had good reasons for its decision. He hopes Monday’s planned speech by Mr. Tump will address trade. “Give me a shine of hope that I can take back home and share, some information, to just keep that attitude and that overall feeling with ag. Keep it moving in the right direction, keep it positive.”

Kalena Bruce, Billy’s wife and the chair of the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, says the president’s tax bill was a big win for farmers. She should know—she’s a Certified Public Accountant. “We’re going to see a huge benefit—everybody in rural America is going to see that benefit—but we’re really hoping to see and hear something trade bill-wise, farm bill-wise, we really want to hear some positive there.”

The president may also touch on his plans for infrastructure and regulatory reform, both of which are relevant to farm operators. The Farm Bureau has been a vocal opponent of President Obama’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the process of re-evaluating.

The Bruces were upbeat about the president’s visit, and Kalena looked forward to greeting him personally in her role as chair of the Young Farmers and Ranchers. “It is an exciting time to be involved in agriculture right now as a young farmer and rancher,” Billy says.  

“There’s a good vibe, there’s a good attitude, you know. Moving forward, are we receiving a lower price for our product than we have in some time? Yes. Most definitely,” he adds. “As farmers, we like a struggle. We hit it head-on. We’ll make it work. But it is an exciting time to be in ag, to grow in ag, to get involved in ag, and so what I’m looking forward to from the president is the positive words that he’ll bring to us.”

H. Claire Brown

Claire Brown is a staff writer for the New Food Economy focusing on food policy and the environment. Her reporting has won awards from the Newswomen’s Club of New York and the New York Press Club. She is based in Brooklyn. She can be reached via email at claire.brown@newfoodeconomy.org or on Twitter at @hclaire_brown.