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Some farmers turn on Trump amid coronavirus pandemic and China tensions

·Senior Editor
·6 min read

President Trump’s support is waning among one of his strongest constituencies: Farmers.

“The president just doesn’t have the leadership necessary to get you through a crisis,” Darin Von Rudin, a dairy farmer and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, told Yahoo Finance. “When you look at what’s happening around the world, there’s other countries that have been able to stymie the crisis a lot more, and they addressed it head on rather than trying to blame somebody else for it or not listening to the experts.”

A new poll from DTN/Progressive Farmer, an agriculture website, surveyed 500 farmers across the country from Aug. 4-16 and found that 71% planned on voting for Trump — an 18% decline from April 2020. And the approval rating of Trump’s coronavirus response fell to 43%, which is 41% lower from April, with 20% stating that they were not satisfied and 37% saying they were undecided.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds "Make Our Farmers Great Again!" hats during a "Make America Great Again" rally in Evansville, Indiana, U.S., August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump holds "Make Our Farmers Great Again!" hats during a "Make America Great Again" rally in Evansville, Indiana, U.S., August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

"More than any president in my lifetime, he acknowledged the importance of farmers and agriculture,” Cris Peterson, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, said at the Republican National Convention this week. “Our entire economy, and dairy farming, are once again roaring back. One person deserves the credit and our vote, President Donald J. Trump.”

There are approximately 2 million farms in the U.S., with roughly 98% of them being family farms. And while farmer support for President Trump took a hit, the survey found that the overall Agriculture Confidence Index actually increased by 27 points from its record pessimistic levels in April 2020.

The rise “has more to do with optimism for the future than for where farmers find themselves today,” according to DTN/Progressive Farmer. The score for the “present situation” sits at 46.9, a record low, with Midwestern farmers currently more pessimistic than farmers in other regions.

Farmer sentiment of the "present situation" is at an all-time low. (Chart: DTN/Progressive Farmer)
Farmer sentiment of the "present situation" is at an all-time low. (Chart: DTN/Progressive Farmer)

People just aren’t going out to eat as often’

Farmers are being hit on two fronts: Trade tensions between the U.S. and China — a massive market for American agriculture — and the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S.-China trade war, which began in March 2018, led to the two countries imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s agricultural goods. Farm bankruptcies in the U.S. reached an 8-year high in 2019.

To help farmers offset the tariffs, the Trump administration approved $28 billion in farmer aid. More than $23 billion has been provided to producers, according to a USDA statement provided to Yahoo Finance.

Wisconsin had the highest number of Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies in 2019. (Photo: American Farm Bureau)
There were a total of 595 Chapter 12 bankruptcies filed by family farmers in 2019. (Photo: American Farm Bureau)

The coronavirus pandemic added to farmers’ problems, sending the U.S. into a sudden recession in early 2020 that hahs severely hampered consumer spending.

“Aside from the trade issue, people just aren’t going out to eat as often,” Dave Walton, an Iowa-based farmer who grows crops like soybeans and corn, told Yahoo Finance. “They’re not driving, so they’re not burning ethanol in the fuel. They’re not burning biodiesel as a diesel fuel. Those things are direct impacts on us.”

Early on in the pandemic, many meatpacking facilities were shut down after experiencing coronavirus outbreaks among employees. The loss of production hurt hog farmers and led to fears of a national meat shortage.

“At a basic level, if you wear clothes, if you eat or you drive, you better be thankful for agriculture,” Walton said. “Because without it, you wouldn’t have any of those things. You would be naked, you’d be hungry, and you’d be walking.”

Butchers chop up beef at Jones Meat & Food Services in Rigby, Idaho, May 26, 2020. - As coronavirus clusters in slaughterhouses around the world continue to multiply, health experts are calling for better virus monitoring to prevent further infection. Slaughterhouses are shutting down across the United States after thousands of cases were confirmed. Four managers responsible for ensuring social distancing barriers have died. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that at least 5,000 meat and poultry workers have contracted the virus in the US alone. Local meat processors are swamped with orders in the wake of the closing and interruptions of large packing houses caused by the COVID-19 virus.  Owner Brent Jones says his business is three or four times busier than normal with his employees processing up to 100 cows a week. Local demand for meat is very high, but the cost of hamburger is what used to be the price of steak. To bypass the high prices and shortages, locals buy animals from ranchers and farmers and have local butchers kill and process an entire cow of pig, then store the meat in freezers. (Photo by Natalie Behring / AFP) (Photo by NATALIE BEHRING/AFP via Getty Images)
Butchers chop up beef at Jones Meat & Food Services in Rigby, Idaho, May 26, 2020. (Photo by NATALIE BEHRING/AFP via Getty Images)

The state of the U.S. economy was the biggest concern among farmers (42%) polled by DTN/Progressive Farmer, while the health of family, friends, and employees was a close second at 40%.

In April 2020, President Trump approved an additional $19 billion in aid for farmers to deal with the fallout of the pandemic. About $9 billion has been distributed so far, according to the USDA, raising Trump’s farmer bailout to more than $32 billion.

We’ve lost that market and I don’t see that coming back’

Walton said that a Trump re-election would be best way to salvage ongoing trade talks with China, while Von Rudin blamed the Trump administration for creating problems in the first place.

“The trade wars that the president started have caused a lot of instability,” Von Rudin said. “And then in the beef market, the dairy industry… there just was that loss of the markets that we’ll probably never get back — or it’s going to take 15 to 20 years to build those markets back like it did prior to President Trump starting the trade wars.”

Farmer Terry Davidson walks through his soy fields July 6, 2018, in Harvard, Illinois, the same day China imposed retaliatory tariffs aimed at the US soybean market. - Davidson, 41, is a fifth generation farmer, a Democrat among mostly Republicans. He expects to be farming long after the US-China trade tariffs become a distant memory. "We've survived since the 1800s and we're still going. So, I think we'll keep going," Davidson says. (Photo by Nova SAFO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read NOVA SAFO/AFP via Getty Images)
Farmer Terry Davidson walks through his soy fields July 6, 2018, in Harvard, Illinois, the same day China imposed retaliatory tariffs aimed at the US soybean market. (Photo by NOVA SAFO/AFP via Getty Images)

If former Vice President Joe Biden were to be elected president in November, Von Rudin argued, farmers would become more optimistic over the promise of stability and the leverage that would come with “starting to work more and more closely with our allies versus pushing them away.”

If Trump were to be re-elected, according to Von Rudin, farmers would become even more pessimistic about reaching a comprehensive trade deal China since President Trump consistently blames China for the coronavirus pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, and spread globally.

“I don’t see that happening at all with the rhetoric that’s coming out of both places right now,” Von Rudin said. “I think there’s going to be way too much friction for either side to say we can work together, which is disheartening as China’s probably one of the bigger importers of American goods and especially agricultural products. We’ve lost that market and I don’t see that coming back.”

Adriana is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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