Many, if not most, American farmers are among Donald Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters, an important segment of his right-wing “base.”
But all is not well in farming country, thanks in large part to the president’s ongoing trade war with China.
After Trump pledged to impose 10% tariffs on $300 billion of U.S. imports from China, Beijing retaliated by cancelling all purchases of American agricultural products. It’s not yet clear if the Trump administration’s decision to push back some of those threatened tariffs until December will help, or not.
For now, American farmers are suffering.
“China’s exit piles on to a devastating year for farmers, who have struggled through record flooding and an extreme heat wave that destroyed crop yields, and trade war escalations that have lowered prices and profits this year,” reports CNBC.
One North Dakota farmer, Bob Kuylen, told CNBC he lost $70 for every one of his roughly 1,500 acres of wheat and sunflowers.
“It’s really, really getting bad out here,” he said. “Trump is ruining our markets.”
Soybean farmers are among the hardest hit, since China is the world’s biggest buyer of soybeans, accounting for about 60% of U.S. exports last year. Analysts cited by CNBC say soybean prices have dropped 9% since Trump launched his trade war.
“It’s killing us,” said Mark Watne, a wheat and soybean farmer who is president of the North Dakota Farmers Union. Watne says he lost $3 per bushel of soybeans he planted this year.
“Net farm income in America has plunged by nearly half over the last five years from $123.4 billion in 2013 to $63 billion last year,” says the Huffington Post. “Farmers have filed a record number of bankruptcies since the start of Trump’s trade war with China.”
Trump has sought to soften the blow by offering farmers billions in subsidies.
But in a tweet, Wisconsin’s governor said he has sent the president a letter “asking him to listen to farmers and stop the unproductive trade wars.
“A government check cannot make up for what Wisconsin farmers have lost financially or personally,” said Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat. “Our farmers want trade, not aid.”
One question hanging over the entire problem for farmers hit hard by the trade war is: does the Trump administration even care?
Perhaps not, based on a recent comment by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
As reported by HuffPost, Perdue was taking part in a panel discussion at Farmfest, a farmers conference in Minnesota, and answered complaints about the trade war with what he apparently considered a joke.
“What do you call two farmers in a basement?” he asked, then answered: “A whine cellar.”
That provoked a mix of nervous laughter — and boos.
“It was very insensitive,” Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish told HuffPost. “It took everyone by surprise. He doesn’t understand what farmers are dealing with, and he’s the head of the Department of Agriculture.”
Still, no one expects farmers to abandon Trump in the coming election year.
“A lot of farmers are in love with Trump,” said Kulyn, the North Dakota farmer who spoke with CNBC and who does not support the president.
“People say the problems have nothing to do with Trump. Don’t complain to me how badly you’re doing, and support the person that put you there. It’s terribly frustrating.”