WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will lay out an economic road map for rural America today that includes an emphasis on innovation and technology, including expansion of high-speed Internet access.
Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen said he hopes the president also emphasizes the dire situation now facing farmers and ranchers.
“First and foremost we need a president who knows and understands just how much financial trouble production agriculture is in,” Hansen said, citing the toll that years of low crop prices have taken.
Trump will speak at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention in Nashville. Administration officials previewing the speech said it will be the first time in 26 years that a president has addressed the convention.
While many economic sectors have recovered from the economic downturn, the nation’s rural areas have lagged in almost every indicator, said Ray Starling, special assistant to the president for Agriculture, Agricultural Trade and Food Assistance on the National Economic Council.
“The administration recognizes that those challenges exist and is committed to not overlooking them or ignoring them,” Starling told reporters on Friday. “So that’s number one. There’s challenges there. It’s real.”
Starling went on to say there’s agreement that a great potential economic driver for rural America is increased connectivity and that the administration will make a priority of expanding access to high-speed Internet.
“That is the seminal finding, but it’s not the only one,” he said. “You’ll also hear and read about quality-of-life issues, the rural workforce, the technological innovation, and in particular for ag, the biotechnology possibilities that we have and other tools we’ll have at our disposal to develop the rural economy.”
Hansen said improving Internet access has been and remains an important issue for rural America, but he stressed that the top priority right now is to keep those who make a living from the land in business.
“While we really support any kind of efforts to actually help us be able to achieve the long-promised dream of high-speed Internet broadband access, it won’t do any good if we don’t have anybody left out in the country to produce food and fiber,” Hansen said. “We are in trouble, and we need a president who understands that and is going to be our advocate.”
He said that means pressing for robust funding in the next five-year farm bill, with the current one expiring later this year.
Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson cited the importance of the farm bill, as well, particularly areas such as crop insurance.
Nelson also said he would like to hear the president talk about creating a good trade environment for agriculture and noted that the White House has employed harsh rhetoric on trade.
“We know how important trade is to agriculture and even those comments can send a signal to our foreign buyers that we’re not as reliable as they had thought we were,” Nelson said.
Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said by email that he’ll be looking to see how the administration talks about the next farm bill and how it can open overseas markets.
But he also suggested that farmers and ranchers are concerned about the status of health care, saying rural areas are facing unaffordable or simply unavailable health insurance policies.
“Iowa farmers want to hear how soon a healthy health insurance market can be restored,” Hill said.