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Trump To Address American Farm Bureau Federation's Convention


President Trump is going to be addressing farmers today in Nashville. That is where the American Farm Bureau Federation is holding its annual convention. The president's address comes after years of decline in the farm sector, and it also comes at a moment when some farmers are expressing concern about the president's trade policies. For one thing, U.S. farmers sell a ton of corn to Mexico - well, actually 14 million metric tons a year to be exact. And they do that through NAFTA, a trade deal that the president has spoken about scrapping. In past speeches, President Trump has promised that his policies will only improve the livelihood of farmers.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.

GREENE: The president's secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue, is in Nashville for this convention, and he joins us on the line now. Mr. Secretary, good morning.

SONNY PERDUE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So you've been part of the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity that the president set up. It sounds like you have recommendations that have come out today that, I mean, they just - there's a lot, going from access to capital, to Internet connectivity, to the opioid epidemic. We can't run through all of them in the time we have. Can you point to one that really excites you that you think could be a real difference maker?

PERDUE: I think the one difference maker we see in here's broadband connectivity across the United States. The farms of today rely on connectivity. They rely on big data. They've got machines that are GPS guided, and therefore the rural communities need access to health care, education, entrepreneurship. So broadband connectivity, I think, can be a huge difference maker across the country.

GREENE: I saw some statistic that suggested nearly 40 percent of people in rural America might be without Internet connectivity. Is that right, as far as you know?

PERDUE: I think our numbers are about 37 percent. So it's almost 40. And what many people don't understand in urban areas is that, which is taken for granted, is when you have rural areas with no connectivity, that's a sociological impact as well.

GREENE: Yeah. I'm sure in this job you spend a lot of time with farmers. So what is life like for an American farmer in 2018 without using the Internet?

PERDUE: Well, it's tough. Obviously many of them will hound information, as any good businessperson does today. And without that connectivity - as I said, we're building machines today that connect directly there and provide precision agriculture, which is more productivity with less inputs. These things are unavailable when the connectivity's not there.

GREENE: How much money is it going to cost to connect a lot of these communities, and do you feel like you have the backing from, you know, from lawmakers to make it happen?

PERDUE: Well, what we're doing - we're already spending billions of dollars currently there. What we're trying to do is coalesce the federal government in a cooperation with local governments, the private sector, state governments in order to have really a federal program and plan to do this. Similar to what we did with the interstate highway system, telephone communicate connectivity in '34 and rural electrification in 1936. So it's the same kind of need and the same kind of plan that needs to get us there.

GREENE: Secretary Perdue, we're going to hear from the president this morning. I'm sure that he stands with American farmers. But we've also heard President Trump talk tough on trade, and I just want to play you a little clip from over last summer talking about NAFTA.


TRUMP: I don't think we can make a deal. So I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point, OK? Probably.

GREENE: Don't farmers rely heavily on NAFTA?

PERDUE: The farmers do rely on NAFTA. NAFTA has been overall good for agriculture. Most of agriculture, really, in all three countries have been benefited, between Mexico, Canada and the U.S. There are some vegetable growers that have not done quite as well, but for the most part, NAFTA's been good for the U.S.

GREENE: You've actually said - I read in one statement you made - that pulling out of NAFTA could have tragic consequences for U.S. producers. So are you telling the president that this would be a terrible idea for American farmers?

PERDUE: I've told the president that. The president is a tough negotiator. The president has a New York-style of negotiating that believes that unless you're willing to walk away from the deal, you're not going to get the best deal. He's proven to be a good negotiator in his business dealings, and I think also his government dealings, as president. So I've got confidence he will, at the end of the day, have a great deal for American farmers and the American economy.

GREENE: Although he has suggested that making a deal with these other countries might be impossible and that he might scrap NAFTA - so I just want to ask you, is the option of scrapping NAFTA all together, is that still on the table for this president?

PERDUE: Well, I think all options are on the table, just as any kind of negotiation would be. I agree with him. At some point, if you're not going to get a deal that benefits American farmers and American economy then you've got to be willing to walk away. I believe at the end of the day Canada and Mexico understand this has also been very good for their economies, and they're going to want a deal. Canada's been rather reticent in coming to the table and addressing some of these issues. I believe they will. Mexico, less so - more inclined to communicate and do that. But I think at the end of the day, we'll have a modernized NAFTA that's beneficial for American farmers.

GREENE: Do you think the president faces a credibility problem as he addresses farmers today in Nashville when he has talked about scrapping a deal that is so important to many of them?

PERDUE: Look, farmers are the president's people. They know that. They know he listened to them on the very first day I was sworn in. He convened this interagency task force and asked me to chair 22 federal agencies on rural prosperity. These are the people that the president - elected the president. The president knows that. These are the people the president cares about, and he wants them to enjoy the American dream just like all the people in the cities.

GREENE: Sonny Perdue is the secretary of agriculture, and he's going to be with President Trump today in Nashville, where the president will be addressing farmers. Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time.

PERDUE: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.