Rural America was an important demographic in the last election cycle, helping Donald Trump advance to the White House over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Even though Illinois was an electoral victory for Clinton, only twelve of Illinois’ 102 counties went blue, and more than half of those were located in Chicagoland.
President Donald Trump campaigned on a notion of a "forgotten" or "silent majority" appealing to many of Illinois’ rural residents, including the agriculture and farming community. But, some reports suggest Trump's economic policies may not benefit agriculture.
One dominant issue surrounding the administration and agriculture is trade. In the spring of 2017, Trump threatened to completely withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), creating anxiety within the farming community. Since its implementation in 1994, trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada has tremendously increased. Despite its benefits for the farming community, negotiations for the deal remain ongoing.
....The Wall will be paid for, directly or indirectly, or through longer term reimbursement, by Mexico, which has a ridiculous $71 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S. The $20 billion dollar Wall is “peanuts” compared to what Mexico makes from the U.S. NAFTA is a bad joke!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
In Monday's press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made no specific announcements regarding the NAFTA negotiations, but says the administration does feel they are moving forward and will work to get the best deal possible for America.
Adam Neilson, the National Legislative Director for the Illinois Farm Bureau, says the looming threat of a withdrawal is the biggest concern for Illinois agriculture. "Mexico is our number one market for corn, and we grow a lot of corn in Illinois. There aren't many new demand drivers left. It's a very big market for us. It makes us very nervous when we hear the president, although we're used to it by now, threaten to withdraw from NAFTA. Losing that market would have major implications."
Farmers continue to struggle with low market prices, a trend ongoing since the recession. Last year, Illinois corn averaged just above $3 per bushel, and Nielson says this issue will persist.
"That's the near future that we're looking at. Unless there's a major weather event, price projections are not going to be high. They're going to be below the cost of production so we really do need an emphasis on trade. It would be nice if the administration would get going on some of the bilateral trade negotiations that they talked about."
A bright spot for the farming community is Trump's deregulatory agenda. "We've been happy to have the opportunity to weigh in to several federal agencies over the course of the last year with our ideas, how to make processes smoother," says Neilson. "My feeling is that the agencies are taking this executive order very seriously and some things are going to change."