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At The World Ag Expo Farmers Remain Optimistic About Trump, But Wary

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Jeffrey Hess/KVPR
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A group of men inspect a piece of new equipment

The 50th Annual World Ag Expo in Tulare has now officially come to a close. The massive fair draws farmers and agricultural professionals from all over the world to check out the newest in farm equipment and technology as well as cut deals and make professional contacts.

This year, the buzz around the show wasn't just about machinery, it was also about politics. Despite losing California badly in November's election, President Donald Trump drew broad support from the state's agriculture industry. Among the farmers Valley Public Radio interviewed at the show this week, there was broad general hope about the future of the agriculture industry under President Trump.

"I don't think Trump is going to send everybody out but he is going to send out the people who are bad people," farmer Julio Ayaoa

A particularly strong advocate was Robert Franklin, a Trump voter, who splits his time between growing apples in eastern Utah and raisins in Brazil.

He is hopeful Trump will remove what he sees as government interference, like overtime rules and environmental regulation, which he thinks makes agriculture work harder.

“Just leave us alone. Let us work hard. Let us grow crops. Let us feed our neighbors. Let us feed the world. Just let us do it! Trump is a man who would take off the regulations to just let us work,” Franklin says.  

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Franklin is not at all worried that Trump’s approach to trade will make it hard for American farmers to sell their products aboard.

There was also little concern among farmers at the show about the potential for mass deportations of undocumented immigrant workers who are in large part responsible for keeping the farm economy going.

Julio Ayaoa oversees a vineyard in Napa that employees about 60 workers.

He voted for Hillary Clinton but says he now supports Trump.

Ayaoa suspects he employs undocumented workers, although he admits he doesn’t ask too many questions.

Still, he is not worried his workers will be sent packing under tougher immigration enforcement Trump promised during the campaign.   

“They are probably going to go through the process for a while here. And they probably won’t get sent back. They are probably going to go through a process here if they have been good citizens throughout the time they have been here. I don’t think Trump is going to send everybody out but he is going to send out the people who are bad people,” Ayaoa says.

"I believe in business but I don't believe in restrictions. That is my problem with him right now is restrictions," August Agner

Being that this is the World Ag Expo, foreign companies flock to the show.

Lian Yen produces organic fertilizer in China.

Speaking through an interpreter, she hopes President Trump will make that easier to export her products to the US.

“Because of the new president Trump came from is a business, he knows what is valuable for the economy. Because our product is better for the United States we have a positive attitude,” Yen says.

Taking the opposite view is August Agner, an American and self-described Republican, who makes industrial adhesives in Tijuana, Mexico.

He says he has lost faith in the new President because of his loose talk about international trade.

“I believe in some of the things he does. I believe in business but I don’t believe in restrictions. That is my problem with him right now is restrictions,” Agner says.

The expo did draw a handful of protestors eager to convince the farmers to abandon their support of the new President primarily based on his perceive animus toward immigrants.

Carrying a sign calling for Immigration reform and an end to deportations, Susan Gundy of Tulare County says she wanted to show her opposition to President Trump right in front of those she thinks supported him.

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Susan Gundy

“And we just want to make sure that people are aware that agriculture needs immigrants. And that they are in agreement with us. We want to have immigration reform so that we can let the people who are already here be here and not be in fear,” Gundy says.

Still, even among people who say they support Trump and hope he helps agriculture there is very much a wait and see attitude.

Josh Greutt grows alfalfa in Colorado.

He says he voted for Trump, and remains cautiously optimistic but wary because he is unsure of how the President’s notable unpredictability will play out in a global market place.

“The biggest concern is consistency. The volatility makes it very difficult to plan. It is too early to tell. I will know a lot more come harvest time,” Greutt says.

And that seems to be the overarching feeling among many at the expo.

Trump may hurt.

Trump may help.

But right now, it’s just too soon to tell.

Jeffrey Hess is a reporter and Morning Edition news host for Valley Public Radio. Jeffrey was born and raised in a small town in rural southeast Ohio. After graduating from Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio with a communications degree, Jeffrey embarked on a radio career. After brief stops at stations in Ohio and Texas, and not so brief stops in Florida and Mississippi, Jeffrey and his new wife Shivon are happy to be part Valley Public Radio.
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