They loved President Donald Trump at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Nashville, cheering during his speech and praising his policies. Well, most of them.
On trade, Trump still has farmers worried. The fat “I Support NAFTA” pins spotted on scores of lapels made that clear. While he didn’t repeat past threats to pull out of the free-trade pact with Canada and Mexico -- two of the top three buyers of U.S. agriculture exports -- he didn’t reassure his audience either. He just briefly touched on the deal, saying he was working to “make it fair for you people again” without saying how.
Attendees like Ray Allan Mackey, who farms grain, cattle, hogs and tobacco in Hardin County, Kentucky, had been hoping for a clear message that would, as he put it, “console our minds” as commodity prices remain depressed and the trade future looks so uncertain. Mackey was pleased Trump at least brought the matter up but disappointed not to hear “a convincing note” that the White House has farmers’ backs.
“These markets we’re looking at are flat, and if we don’t push exports they’re going to remain flat,” Mackey said. “We’re going to be looking at even a bigger surplus if we don’t push these products overseas. You clear that out and the face of American farmers will look a lot brighter.”
It didn’t seem to be cleared out in Nashville. Farmers for Free Trade, the group behind the lapel pins, issued a statement after the president’s speech: “Taking withdrawal off the table is the only way to provide American farmers and ranchers with the certainty they deserve.”
The talks the Trump administration called for to revamp the pact and its 24-year-old common market have been going on for months, with little signs of progress between the three sides of yet. Round six is scheduled for the last week of January in Montreal.