Trump’s “strategy of constant escalation and antagonism” has worsened the situation, Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest general farmers group, told Bloomberg. Family farmers and ranchers “can’t withstand this kind of pressure much longer,” he added.
“It’s really, really getting bad out here,” Bob Kuylen, a North Dakota farmer of 35 years, told CNBC. “Trump is ruining our markets.”
China canceled all purchases of U.S. agricultural products last weekend. The retaliatory action came after Trump announced 10% tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese imports set to begin in September.
China’s move is a “body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by,” Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, told Bloomberg.
American agricultural exports to China dropped by half last year due to Trump’s trade war, and farm income fell 16%, Time reports. And over the last five years, net farm income has plunged by nearly half, from $123.4 billion in 2013 to $63 billion last year.
Farmers unloaded on Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue last week at a listening session at the annual Farmfest in Minnesota.
Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, criticized Trump’s “go-it-alone approach” and the trade war’s “long-term devastating damage.”
Brian Thalmann, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, attacked Trump for saying farmers were doing “great” again. “We are not starting to do great again,” he said. “We are starting to go down very quickly.”
Others expressed concerns that trade will be lost forever.
“There is a lot of stress out there,” Perdue conceded at the listening session, and attempted to reassure farmers that markets will return once a deal is negotiated. But he also scolded the crowd of thousands: “If your solution is to forget about what China has done and sell and trade with them anyway with cheating, then I just fundamentally disagree with you.”
The agriculture secretary also appeared to indicate that farmers were whining too much, joking, “What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar.”
The Minnesota Farmers Union responded in a tweet, writing, “Farmers are not ‘whining;’ their ability to make a living is threatened. We won’t stop talking about it until this reckless trade policy stops.”
Trump has talked about coming up with multibillion-dollar farmer subsidies that could cushion the cost of his trade war. The Trump administration has already rolled out two rounds of farm bailouts expected to total $28 billion. No other industry hurt by the trade war is receiving taxpayer aid.
Wertish cautioned that the aid would undermine public support for all federal farm subsidies, noting that it’s already being blasted as a “welfare program.”
Nine of every 10 counties that voted for Trump in the 2016 election — 2,300 counties — have received the farm trade subsidies, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Environmental Working Group. EWG data also showed that the largest farms are taking the lion’s share of the subsidies.
Allen Williams, who has farmed for nearly half a century in Illinois, told CNBC that the trade war benefits no one — and that the federal subsidies are an unfair burden for taxpayers.
“I’m very grateful to get subsidies, but they won’t result in making a loss into a profit for most grain farms,” he said. “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.”