Trump touts promises after painful year for farmers

“We’re used to adversity,” said Chadd Strew, a rancher in Comanche, Texas. “Renegotiating trade to try to get more out of our products here is going to be a benefit even if in the short term there is a little bit of a decline.”

Trump addressed the convention on Sunday for the third year in a row, basking in loud applause of farm country’s largest annual gathering. And the visit is crucial political maintenance for a president less than 10 months away from Election Day, with few other venues where he can shore up his support among dozens of voters in farm states from a single podium.

“The best days for America’s farmers are yet to come,” he told the crowd.

And Trump had some successes to tout: the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement Congress passed last week and the so-called phase one trade deal with China. He also plans to release some $28 billion in subsidies his administration set aside for farmers and ranchers targeted by retaliatory tariffs over the last two years.

“This is an incredible success for our entire country. And it was your fortitude, perseverance and devotion that made it all possible,” Trump said of the new trade pact. “China respects us now.”

Trump hailed the $80 billion of U.S. agricultural products China pledged to purchase over two years as part of its end of the deal.

But economists and commodity markets aren’t sure how quickly sales will return to pre-trade war levels, especially after China inserted a caveat about how its purchases will be based on “market conditions.” Tariffs on U.S. farm exports worth billions of dollars will also remain in place — although exemptions will be granted more frequently. Commodity prices, especially for crucial products such as soybeans, have gone down since the deal was signed last week, an indication of the skepticism around the promises.

Despite the agreement, American exports to China have a long way to recover.

Sales of U.S. farm goods there in 2018 were $9.1 billion, a 50 percent drop from a year earlier and much lower than their peak, $26 billion in 2012, USDA data shows. The department is forecasting a boost this year to $11 billion because of higher pork and soybean sales.

Still, farmers pointed to the deal with China as evidence of Trump’s farm-friendliness.

“It’s been a little bit more difficult at times when we couldn’t see which way they were going” on trade, said Ben Moore, a farmer in Northwest Tennessee with 3,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle and hogs. But he said the president “assured us for the past three years that he knew what he was doing, and it’s obvious with his final signing that he did.”

Trump on Sunday also said a spike in net farm income since 2017 highlighted how successful his administration has been for the industry, without noting how much of that increase is due to subsidies from taxpayers, such as the trade bailout for agriculture and the more than $5 billion in disaster aid authorized by Congress over the last two years.