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Trump to talk agriculture, internet in first visit to Iowa as president

WH tech meeting

Officials say President Trump will visit Kirkwood Community College during his visit to Cedar Rapids on Wednesday.

Ray Starling, a special assistant to the president for agriculture, told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday that the event, which is a part of technology week at the White House, will highlight the administration's commitment to increasing internet connectivity to rural areas and agricultural exports across the U.S. 

Trump already had been scheduled to address a 7 p.m. rally at the U.S. Cellular Center. White House officials have confirmed that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will join Trump on a tour of the college's agriculture program earlier in the day.

Perdue has been outspoken about the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement to the agricultural sector and helped to persuade Mr. Trump not to withdraw from the agreement in April after he threatened to do so. Ross, who is leading talks to renegotiate NAFTA, said on Monday that efforts to renegotiate may spill into 2018. Starling stressed that renegotiating the deal is still a priority for the administration. 

The president originally was slated to be in Iowa June 1, but that trip was postponed because of a change in his schedule. Wednesday's visit is his first to the state since he took office.

Starling told reporters that there will be a "monetary investment" in the push to expand broadband access to farms in rural areas. However, the administration is still assessing the level of investment on top of leveraging private dollars so as not to "supplant what states are already doing." 

Innovative farming tools depend on access to the web, which has lagged in rural areas because "the private sector hasn't found an economic way into some parts of the country," Starling said on a conference call. 

Kirkwood Community College was the first school in the country to develop a curriculum focused on geospatial technology and precision farming, which Starling says will be especially helpful to farmers this year in one of the "toughest farm economies we've had in recent history." 

"We are literally looking at half the net farming income in 2017 that we have seen in 2013," Starling said, based off of projections from the USDA. 

"I think we are still at a preliminary stage at this point but things are falling into place to get serious about doing work," Starling added. "We want to move forward quickly." 

When asked about plans to make farming technology more affordable for farmers to access, Starling said bringing expensive, high tech tools to the market in an economical way is something that will be a part of Farm Bill reauthorization discussions. Mr. Trump's 2018 budget proposes to slash spending on farm bill programs by $228 billion over the next 10 years. 

"This technology is expensive and we have to be useful in terms of developing it and making sure we don't get in the way of it," Starling told reporters. 

Starling said several members of Iowa's agricultural community will be in the crowd, including former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad who was recently confirmed as ambassador to China.  The rally will also be a send off of sorts as Branstad readies to depart for China, Starling said. 

CBS News' Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report

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