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Love Him or Hate Him? Talk of President Trump Dominates Conversations at Cattle Industry Convention

Beef producers at the Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville this week have plenty on their plates – barely breakeven cattle prices, a wall of competing meats looming in the future, fickle consumer demands, and more.

But those seem secondary compared to the topic that dominates the hallway conversations – the new president. Love him (for regulatory relief) or hate him (for isolationist trade policy)?

Frankly, it’s not much of a debate with most of the cattlemen and cattlewomen here. They love him. Still, they have a healthy dose of worry about his trade policy and other issues. Here are some comments on politics from the early rounds of this great cowboy get-together.

Cameron Bruett is the head of corporate affairs for JBS USA, the Brazilian-based packer and feedlot operator that is now the world’s largest animal protein company. He was keynote speaker at the Cattlemen’s College. 

“It’s a new era with President Trump and Ag Secretary Perdue,” he told the crowd. “There are definitely positive signs for all of us with their stance on things like WOTUS (Waters of the U.S.) and reduced regulations.”

Still, Bruett says Trump’s trade policy is concerning. “Free trade is a wonderful thing, and our company supports it – if you have good negotiators. I think President Trump is a great negotiator. He wants trade, and he wants to get something good for us,” he says.

For the beef industry, Bruett continues, the most significant new importers are the Asian TPP countries, and Trump has scuttled that deal. “Those are critical markets for high-quality U.S. beef. If there’s no trade, there’s no growth.”

JBS is also concerned about the new president’s immigration policy, given that many of their meat-packing employees are immigrants and refugees. “If we have restrictions on our workforce, plus record supplies of pork and chicken, that’s not good for the beef industry,” he says. “Whatever your views are on Trump now, know this: There will be tweaks to his policies. Give it time to see what they are.”

Bill King is a cattle rancher and feedlot operator from New Mexico, close to the front line of the border wall debate.

“I honestly don’t know if Trump’s wall is the right thing or not, but I do think we need better border control,” says King, whose father was a three-term Democratic governor of New Mexico. “I’m really not worried about Mexicans crossing the border; it’s the other people who come through Mexico who are my worry.”

King, who describes himself as a fiscally-conservative, anti-regulation Democrat, fully supports the president’s initiatives to roll back business regulations. 

“And, I think we will like the judges he appoints, not just the Supreme Court, but the others down the line from there,” he says. “I hope he permanently repeals the death tax on inheritances. I’ve been through that once with my parents, and I don’t want my family going through it again when I’m gone.”

King’s big concern is trade. “I think it’s harmful if we become too isolationist. Some trade deals, like TPP, can make things better. As for NAFTA, I think it will be hard for him to improve on it. But, give him time, and let’s see what happens. It’s good to shake things up sometimes.”

Jon Griggs works for Maggie Creek Ranch in Elko, Nevada. He’s one of those ranchers who voted for Trump, yet has plenty of concern about his policies.

“Trump says he wants to renegotiate trade deals with some countries one-on-one, but I don’t think that’s how we do things now. We’re all intertwined. I think we learned that lesson a few years ago that we have to all work together,” he says. “Still, if Trump is good at anything, it’s negotiating deals.”

Immigration policy is also a concern for Griggs. “Rather than build a wall, I’d spend all that money on streamlining the immigration process to get people here legally,” he says. “I’ve worked with many immigrants who have contributed so much to my community. Why does it take them years, even decades, to get their citizenship? Let’s fix that.

“Trump wasn’t my top pick, but if we want to take back our country from some of the ruling class, he’s about the only guy who can do it,” Griggs continues. “I respect his work ethic, and I respect his cabinet picks. If you must protest him, I support your right to do that, but at least give him a while to see where some of this goes. I do wish he’d turn off his Twitter account, though.” 

Jason Locke of Circle A Angus in Stockton, Missosuri, thinks most of the early reaction to President Trump has been the knee-jerk “it’s all bad” variety, when there’s still plenty to shake out.

“Please, let’s just all give it some time,” he says. “I have hopes for a lot of it to turn out positive. He’s looking out for U.S. interests, and I assume that will be good. Like him or hate him, at least we know exactly where he’s going. And having direction is a good thing.”

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