U.S. farmers seek answers on trade from Trump

By P.J. Huffstutter

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Thousands of U.S. farmers waited to hear President Donald Trump speak in Louisiana on Monday, hoping for an update on a White House trade war with China that has left them struggling.

Farmers gathered in New Orleans at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention, an event Trump was due to attend for a second year in a row even as a partial government shutdown in Washington dragged into its 24th day.

Trump’s speech, due to begin at 12:40 p.m. ET (1740 GMT), was delayed.

U.S. farmers, numbering some 3.2 million, have been reliable Trump supporters, despite struggling financially since Beijing imposed a tariff on imports of U.S. soybeans in July in retaliation for Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods.

China bought about $12 billion in American soy in 2017, but mostly shifted purchases to Brazil last year because of the trade dispute. The shutdown meanwhile has delayed applications for federal farm loan applications and an aid package meant to ease the pain of the trade war.

“I’m hoping to hear about trade. Trade, trade, trade,” said Brian Duncan, an Illinois crop and livestock farmer and vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau who was at the convention.

The president authorized about $11 billion in aid payments last year, billing it as a promise kept to a key constituency.

The administration last week extended the deadline for aid applications because of delays processing them due to the shutdown over Trump’s demand that Congress fund a wall at the border with Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture would like to reopen Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices, and is working with the Office of Management and Budget, Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Fox Business Network on Monday.

Steven Mayer, a Nebraska corn, soy and cattle farmer at the convention, said he was waiting for a loan from FSA to build storage bins for grain.

“I’m a Trump supporter and I am trying to keep my hopes up,” he said. “These have been tough times for farmers. I really am hoping the president gives us some good news. We need it.”

Trump canceled a planned visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, next week, because of the shutdown.

“With everything going on, he’s coming here to talk to us – to farmers,” said Francine Davies, who was at the convention and said most of her family grows crops and works in Wisconsin’s dairy industry. “That means something to us.”

(Reporting PJ Huffstutter in New Orleans. Writing by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Howard Goller)