(Farm and Dairy watched the presidential address via the White House video channel.)
SALEM, Ohio — For the second consecutive year, U.S. President Donald J. Trump addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation at its annual conference Jan. 14 in Louisiana.
The president spoke about everything from the federal government shutdown — which has been closed for nearly a month — to border security and immigration, repealed regulations, low gas prices and the importance of trade.
Wants a wall
Trump continued his call for a $5.7 billion wall to be built along the United States’ southern border with Mexico, a major promise of his campaign, and a major dispute with Democrats, who have argued a wall is unnecessary and that he is inflating the issue.
“I’m doing it because we have to do it,” Trump said. “It’s common sense we have to do it.”
He warned farmers of the “caravans” of people coming up from Central and South America, many whom he alleges are criminals and drug suppliers.
But the president received lengthy applause when he talked about the importance of immigrants in the farm labor sector. He said it’s necessary to allow legal immigrants into the country, and that his plan will make that process easier.
“We’re going to make that actually easier for them (legal immigrants), because you need these people,” he said. “You’re in that business and a lot of people don’t understand you need people to help with the farms.”
Trump at one point invited Arizona rancher Jim Chilton to the stage, to talk about the miles of barbed wire fence that separates his land from Mexico. Last year, a border patrol agent was shot multiple times while patrolling Chilton’s ranch, and Chilton said he fears for his own life daily.
“Mr. President, we need a wall,” Chilton said to more applause. “We need a wall around the length of the border. We’ve got to stop the drug packers from bringing drugs in to poison our people.”
Democrats have argued that border security should be dealt with as its own issue, and have presented multiple paths to re-open the government and debate the wall separately, but the president has so far turned down their requests.
The president seemed aware of the criticism his trade policy has drawn, which has resulted in retaliatory tariffs from China, and lost potential with Pacific nations in general. He said his approach is to scrap bad trade deals and make them better, while holding other countries accountable and keeping America’s interests first.
“I’m representing our country — I’m not representing those countries,” he said.
Although U.S. commodity prices fell during the trade war of 2018, he said it’s part of a bigger process that will pay off in the end. Farmers have been offered up to $12 billion in assistance for lost market share, but Trump said it will all work out.
“The tough choices we make today reap rewards for years to come,” he said, mentioning a long list of countries, including Canada, Mexico and Japan, where new trade agreements have been made, although Congress still must approve the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The president reminded farmers they have a new five-year farm bill, which he signed in December, and he reminded them that his administration put a stop to the controversial Waters Of The United States rule — which farmers and the president feared would lead to undue regulation by the U.S. EPA.
“Everything inside was a total kill on you and other businesses,” he said.
Supporters of WOTUS had argued that farmers would mostly be exempt, as long as they practiced what was defined as “normal farming practices.” They also argued that builders, the oil and gas industry and other developers would be the big winners if the rule was scaled back.
“We’re going to keep federal regulators out of your stock tanks, your drainage ditches, your puddles and your ponds,” he told the Farm Bureau crowd.
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