NASHVILLE, Tenn. (DTN) -- President Donald Trump's speech Monday afternoon to the American Farm Bureau Federation is expected to focus heavily on some new recommendations on ways to boost the rural economy from the president's Ag and Rural Prosperity Task Force.
The task force was created by an executive order the day Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was confirmed last spring. Its report also will be released Monday with a heavy emphasis on issues surrounding rural broadband, boosting the use of American forests and further loosening regulations on the rural economy, particularly regarding the area of biotechnology.
Trump will speak to roughly 4,500 members of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which means several hundred or more won't be able to see him. A spokesman for AFBF said there was more demand to see the president speak to the group than capacity at the ballroom in the Gaylord Resort where the convention is being held.
Senior White House officials noted Friday that Trump's speech will be his first major policy address since the tax-reform bill was signed into law last month. The president is expected to point to the role of farmers in the economy and role of agriculture and food production to the nation's overall national security.
Without releasing full details of the report, senior White House officials said the task force emphasized the notion of "minimizing government hurdles that dampen the deployment of technology and, specifically, biotechnology."
Another official added that the rural task force report will also highlight challenges with quality-of-life issues, rural labor, technology and, for agriculture, "the biotechnology possibilities that we have and other tools we'll have at our disposal to develop the rural economy."
Further, the president also is expected to acknowledge in his speech Monday that the farm bill expires later this year as well. However, White House officials indicated Friday that the president also will likely expect Congress to take the lead on drafting the farm bill. As a senior White House official told reporters on Friday, "I think I would say is that we're comfortable acknowledging that, at the end of the day, Congress will write the farm bill. We have a lot of confidence in the chairmen of the committees. We have a lot of confidence in Secretary Perdue and his staff to provide the technical assistance that they need. And so, certainly, there are conversations across the administration about what our priorities might be in that conversation, but we're going to be very careful to give Congress the room to operate because we know that's exactly what they need."
In showcasing the task force report, the president at the time the task force was created wanted a roadmap to achieve agricultural prosperity and boost the overall rural economy. The report will note the rural economy overall is not performing well. "While other sectors of the American economy have largely recovered from the Great Recession, rural America has lagged in almost every indicator," said the official.
A senior White House official said Friday there was major agreement that one of the great equalizers for better economic prospects in rural America is high-speed internet, which the official said "should remain a high priority for this administration." White House officials noted 39% of the country does not have sufficient broadband access. Officials added they will be looking to try to maximize the effect of various broadband programs across the federal government.
White House officials did not focus their comments Friday on the role of trade, but that was a major theme in American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall's speech on Sunday to AFBF members. Further, the group Farmers for Free Trade has put on a full-court press, including getting farmers to sign a banner at the Farm Bureau expo hall. The group wants President Trump to understand the importance of completing the North American Free Trade Agreement talks and begin working quickly on bilateral deals.
"At the end of the day, we're hoping NAFTA gets renewed and moves forward," said Brian Kuehl, one of the spokesmen for Farmers for Free Trade.
In the briefing Friday on President Trump's speech, trade did not come up until a reporter asked about it. The senior White House official said at the end of the day the president wants trade deals that give farmers and manufacturers a fair platform.
Both the president and Perdue will stress that while there are challenges raised in the report, there also are opportunities.
White House officials believe AFBF members also have "warmly welcomed the deregulatory agenda" of the Trump administration and the president will point to his team's work in that arena.
The president also is expected to at least touch upon the opioid epidemic and highlight some of the attention brought to bear on the issue. Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union are hosting a joint forum Monday morning specifically on that topic as well.
For the full report from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, visit http://bit.ly/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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