A Farmers Roundtable hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump on April 25 should have been all about newly sworn-in Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. farmers.
But read the remarks made by Trump at the roundtable, and you will learn that the focus was lost.
Yes, Trump congratulated Perdue for his confirmation, which passed the Senate by a comfortable 87-11 margin, and used the time to announce an executive order that establishes an Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which Perdue will lead.
But sadly, before all was said and done, the president got sidetracked.
Fair trade with Canada or border wall?
Trump praised the people who work the hardest to put food on people’s tables, and vowed to help them further feed the world with fewer trade restrictions.
“Today, America’s farmers feed not only our nation, but millions of people around the world, and we’re going to open that up much more for you folks, because, as you know, it’s not totally open, to put it mildly,” Trump said.
The president addressed how dairy farmers in Wisconsin and upstate New York were being harmed by not being able to sell their dairy products into Canada. Trump vowed to put a stop to that, pledging to put a “very big tariff” on lumber coming from Canada.
When the roundtable was opened up for questions, one good question was asked: “Mr. President, do you fear a trade war with Canada?”
Trump said he did not, because Canada has a trade surplus with the United States.
Things devolved from there. The next question was whether Trump would sign a continuing resolution to fund the wall at the Mexican border. A video on the Fox 10 Phoenix YouTube channel of the roundtable, as well as the White House transcript of the proceeding, revealed that the remaining time left at the roundtable was devoted to talk about the wall. Breaking it down by time, roughly a minute and a half of a video that wasn’t even seven minutes long was about the wall, which is only scantly pertinent to agriculture.
Conversation could have been steered back to agriculture
In fairness to Trump, he wasn’t the one who brought up the subject of the wall. You couldn’t even tell who asked the question if you were not there. However, reports have revealed that Trump has some control over what journalists are allowed into his press conferences. Were members of the ag media, or at least mainstream journalists who understand the importance of agriculture, invited?
A press release from the American Farm Bureau Federation stated this was believed to be the first time such a diverse group of farmers met with a president this early in his term since the Reagan administration. This could have been Trump’s opportunity to be a hero and dispel the perception that agriculture is not high on his priority list.
Trump could have answered the wall question, followed by asking if anyone had any further questions related to Perdue or the USDA. He didn’t.
Instead, he allowed the event to end with discussion of his highly partisan wall proposal. That should not have happened.