Trade War Creates Tension Between Farmers And Trump Administration
“It’s really, really getting bad out here. There’s no incentive to keep farming, except that I’ve invested everything I have in farming, and it’s hard to walk away.”
After President Trump announced new rounds of tariffs on Chinese goods last week, Beijing retaliated by letting its currency fall and canceling its purchases of all U.S. agricultural products. While the White House walked back its tariff threat on Tuesday to placate an ailing stock market, China has yet to rescind its cancellation of U.S. agricultural goods, putting American farmers who have suffered the worst collateral damage of the trade war in a continued state of uncertainty.
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, is among numerous agricultural leaders who have recently vocalized their discontent with the administration’s trade policy. Johnson told Bloomberg that Trump’s “strategy of constant escalation and antagonism” has “just made things worse.”
Losing China’s import market has been a devastating blow to farmers who have already struggled through a year of heatwaves and record flooding. U.S. agricultural exports to China fell from $19.5 billion in 2017 to $9.2 billion in 2018 as the trade war intensified.
Global overproduction has also contributed to declining farm income, which has “plunged by nearly half over the last five years, from $123.4 billion in 2013 to $63 billion last year,” as per Huffington Post. “It plummeted by 16 percent last year alone.”
“It’s really, really getting bad out here,” Bob Kuylen, a farmer of 35 years in North Dakota, told CNBC. “There’s no incentive to keep farming, except that I’ve invested everything I have in farming, and it’s hard to walk away.”
White House Dismissive of Farmers’ Struggles
On Tuesday, Trump dismissed the claims of agricultural strife as fake news, pointing to the $16 billion in bailouts his administration has issued to farmers as evidence. Notably, most of the administration’s federal aid has gone to the country’s biggest and richest farms.
“Through massive devaluation of their currency and pumping vast sums of money into their system, the tens of billions of dollars that the U.S. is receiving is a gift from China,” the president tweeted. “Prices not up, no inflation. Farmers getting more than China would be spending. Fake News won’t report!”
“I’m very grateful to get subsidies, but they won’t result in making a loss into a profit for most grain farms,” farmer Allen Williams told CNBC. “And I don’t think it’s right for the American taxpayer to subsidize this segment of the economy just because of what I see as a mistake of a trade war.”
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue similarly made light of complaints he had received from U.S. farmers, despite dropping income and a soaring increase in bankruptcies.
“I had a farmer tell me this in Pennsylvania,” Perdue told an audience of thousands of farmers gathered for a listening session hosted by House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson. “What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar.”
The joke was met with both laughter and booing, according to Agri-Pulse. Some condemned Perdue’s quip as dismissive of the real suffering experienced by America’s farmers as a result of his administration’s policies.
“It was definitely not an appropriate thing to say,” Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, told HuffPost on Monday. “It was very insensitive. It took everyone by surprise. He doesn’t understand what farmers are dealing with, and he’s the head of the Department of Agriculture. He’s supposed to be working for farmers.”
Farmers And The 2020 Election
Rural America formed an essential pillar of support for Trump’s 2016 election victory, and maintaining the agricultural sector’s backing will be essential for a 2020 reelection.
According to the Washington Post, more than 2,300 counties that voted for Trump in 2016 have received money from the farm bailout program, and counties that switched from voting for Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 were more likely to receive aid than counties that voted red during both elections.