RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump travels to New Orleans today to address the 100th annual convention of the Farm Bureau Federation. The farm belt has been struggling with years of low crop prices, and the president's trade policies have not helped. But the president is still likely to get a warm welcome. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Trump showed up at last year's Farm Bureau convention and joked about being disappointed when he learned it was the 99th annual meeting. With a marker's eye for round numbers, Trump promised he'd be back for the centennial. Farmers are a core constituency for the president who won 62 percent of the rural vote in 2016. Trump is eager to cultivate that support. He cheerfully spread some political fertilizer at the farmers' convention last year.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You embody the values of hard work, grit, self-reliance and sheer determination we need to - did you ever hear this expression? - Make America Great Again. Has anybody ever...
HORSLEY: Many farmers have cheered Trump's efforts to roll back regulations, but they're not necessarily sharing in the fruits of the booming U.S. economy. Executive Vice President Dale Moore of the Farm Bureau says net farm income fell an estimated 12 percent last year and about 40 percent from its peak in 2013.
DALE MOORE: We've got to get that net farm income - we've got to get the farm economy booming again not only for the farmers and ranchers. But when our folks are prospering, that also helps our industry sector partners.
HORSLEY: The drop in farm income is partly the result of cyclical factors - overproduction and a resulting decline in the price of farmed goods. But Trump has added to the farmers' woes by picking trade fights with China, Mexico, Canada and the EU.
KRISTIN DUNCANSON: We weather the weather across the world well. It's weathering the politics that makes managing our businesses a little tougher than they have in the past.
HORSLEY: Kristin Duncanson raises hogs, corn and soybeans in Mapleton, Minn. China, which had been a major export market for American soybeans, all but stopped buying them last year in retaliation for Trump's tariffs. Duncanson says she understands the president's push to confront unfair trade practices by Beijing, but she and her fellow farmers are caught in the crossfire.
DUNCANSON: The idea is good. We need to have a better way to do business with the Chinese. The path to get there that we've taken has been very disruptive for a lot of farmers.
HORSLEY: There are early signs of a thaw in the U.S.-China trade talks, and the president's new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada is awaiting approval by Congress. Duncanson's hopeful that'll mean more buyers and perhaps better prices for U.S. exports in the coming year. But this is still a nervous time as she and other farmers try to decide which crops and how much to plant this spring.
DUNCANSON: You can't plan on just expectations. You've got to see results. So we're optimistic but yet cautious - very, very cautious.
HORSLEY: Farmers are also having to make do without crop forecasts from the USDA thanks to the partial government shutdown. And farm service agency offices, where growers would ordinarily apply for crop loans, make payments and gather tax information, have been temporarily closed.
DUNCANSON: So the shutdown has made that a little trickier to do, too. And, you know, the people we work with at those offices are our neighbors. They're a part of our operation, and you've got to feel bad for them not getting a paycheck.
HORSLEY: Some farmers are getting checks to offset part of the pain caused by the trade wars. Growers say that $12 billion compensation fund will help them pay some bills, but they'd rather have open markets. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH'S "ENCRYPTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.