By Sandy K. Johnson
Agriculture has been one of the bright spots in U.S. trade, consistently posting a surplus over the years even as other sectors of the economy ran big trade deficits. So has President Donald Trump riled a core constituency with his farm tariffs?
Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on agricultural goods comes at a time when farm profits are roughly half what they were in 2013. In particular, producers of soybeans, pork, sorghum, wheat, dairy, cotton and corn are feeling the pain of the tariffs.
“Farmers are going to have a big say in whether there’s a blue wave” in the November elections, said Alan Bjerga, agriculture reporter for Bloomberg News (work, Twitter). “You wouldn’t see Trump tweeting so much about farmers if he wasn’t concerned.”
Farmers make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, not a numerically large number, but the far-reaching ag economy is valued at $400 billion. And in tossup House districts that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, a swing of 10 to 15 percentage points could decide a race. “His popularity is indeed softening,” Bjerga said.
Farmers, who are largely self-employed, are big advocates of free trade because their crops and goods get top dollar on the international market. Under the tariffs, China – which imports huge amounts of U.S. soybeans and pork – is projected to drop from first to fifth among global importers of U.S. farm goods.
The Trump administration is seeking to offset farmers’ anger and losses with trade mitigation, or one-time subsidies based on estimated crop size. For example: A soybean farmer would be paid $1.65 per bushel based on the estimated size of his crop. Other commodity examples can be seen here. Checks from the U.S. Department of Agriculture could be in the mail before the Nov. 6 elections.
Bjerga suggested reporters check out local media websites and Facebook pages in farm communities to get a sense for what’s going on. “Go to the people on the ground who have been covering this for a long time,” he said.
He specifically mentioned some toss-up House districts worth a look:
California-10. A GOP-held district in the Central Valley with a large Hispanic population that was Democratic until 2010.
Kansas-2. An open district that’s ground zero for the trade war as a top soybean and wheat producer.
New York-19. A district dotted with dairy farms and very valuable ag land close to suburbia.
Minnesota-1. A big corn and soybean producer, which Bjerga dubbed “Iowa North.”
Minnesota-8. An Iron Range territory that also includes timber.