Trump touts more farm country aid, but many farmers and ranchers doubt it will cover their losses

Trump touts more farm country aid, but many farmers and ranchers doubt it will cover their losses
World-Herald News Service

WASHINGTON — President Trump is talking up farm country bailouts once again as the escalating tariff wars tank crop prices.

“Hopefully China will do us the honor of continuing to buy our great farm product, the best, but if not your Country will be making up the difference based on a very high China buy,” Trump wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “This money will come from the massive Tariffs being paid to the United States for allowing China, and others, to do business with us.”

Earlier in the week, Trump had thrown out the figure of $15 billion in additional farm aid. But the details of a new round of government aid are still murky.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee — which oversees trade issues — said Tuesday that he would favor another round of payments if the pain continues for agriculture. The Iowa Republican said the most likely route would be similar to last year’s Market Facilitation Program payments.

“The easiest way to get it done would be to do that again that way,” he said.

But many farmers and ranchers are skeptical about relying on government aid. They say it won’t cover the magnitude of the hit they’re taking, including the long-term loss of market share.

If the answer is going to be additional government assistance, Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen told The World-Herald, it needs to be a much broader program than last year’s, and that’s going to carry a big price tag.

Hansen said the data shows a looming crisis, with agricultural loans not being renewed and farm bankruptcies on the rise.

“We’re already facing the worst economic and financial meltdown in agriculture since the mid-1980s,” Hansen said.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson spoke to reporters last week about the prospect of more aid. He said it would be better to wrap up trade agreements with Japan and China, and replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“All of those things are certainly better solutions than additional government programs that might help offset losses — because we know that in the end, those programs, while helpful, do not offset all of the losses,” Nelson said.

Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Joni Ernst of Iowa, both Republican members of the Agriculture Committee, hesitated Tuesday to endorse additional farm aid payments.

“I think a good idea would be to get the disaster payments in and then get the trade deals done,” Fischer said.

Ernst also stressed trade and said pressure has to be brought on China.

“We can’t point the finger at the president,” Ernst said. “It’s China.”

Pundits have devoted plenty of speculation to whether the pain that farmers are feeling will hurt Trump’s reelection bid, but Grassley suggested that his constituents are sticking with the president.

“It’s going to have some impact on elections, of course,” Grassley said. “But I think that people all realize that China is just cheating everybody around the world, and they can’t get away with it. And this is the first president that has stood his ground. So we got to compliment the president for doing something that four or five presidents before were afraid to do. And I think that’s important to remember. And so far I haven’t seen farmers abandoning Trump.”

Trump campaign officials, speaking to reporters on the condition they not be identified, recently rejected the idea that trade-depressed crop prices will harm the president’s reelection bid.

Their view is that farmers understand the need to confront China for its unfair practices and that Trump can appeal to farmers’ patriotism.

Hansen said his group has long supported a tougher stance against China, but he questioned the wisdom of the administration’s overall trade strategy. He said farmers are facing questions of cash flow rather than patriotism.

“I have borrowed hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in my lifetime, and I have never once ever had a banker accept my patriotism in lieu of cash,” Hansen said.