Without question, however, the Trump bloc that has suffered the most from the Trump administration has been farmers. Sure, Trump has tweeted about the country’s “Great Patriotic Farmers” multiple times. Tweets don’t put food on the dinner table, however. On that front, this administration has been a blight on America’s breadbasket. Indeed, one has to step back and appreciate the devastation wreaked by administration policies. The Trump White House has taken one of America’s leading export sectors and turned it into a group dependent upon government welfare for its very survival.
Trump’s damage to farmers has two prongs. The first has been his administration’s evisceration of the Department of Agriculture. As Michael Lewis documented in “The Fifth Risk,” Trump’s appointees had little respect for the scientific research performed by the department’s scientists. In 2018, Trump’s secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue, centralized control over USDA researchers in an effort to limit the publication of any research critical of administration policies. As a result the Department of Agriculture’s best and brightest began to exit government service. By 2019, non-retirement departures from USDA research agencies had more than doubled compared to the previous three-year average. That exodus will only increase after USDA scientists were given a short date to select whether to move with their agencies from D.C. to Kansas City. White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney celebrated the transparent ploy to purge the administration of scientists as “a wonderful way to streamline government.” One outside expert warned my Post colleague Ben Guarino, “This is the brain drain we all feared, possibly a destruction of the agencies.”
My Post colleague Catherine Rampell explained in a recent column why this is so damaging to farmers:
The small-but-mighty [Economic Research Service] is arguably the world’s premier agricultural economics agency. It produces critical numbers that farmers rely on when deciding what to plant and how much, how to price, how to manage risk; and that other stakeholders and public officials use to evaluate agricultural policy....The many departures also look likely to leave the ERS unable to produce reports required by statute. For example, this fall the ERS is slated to update its estimates for the input costs needed to grow wheat; Congress uses these estimates to determine how to help farmers become more competitive with counterparts overseas. But the entire existing team that produces such reports is either retiring or otherwise departing.Again, maybe that’s the goal.
So, in the interest of draining the swamp, the administration seems poised to deprive farmers of vital information.
The other prong of accidental attack is the Trump administration’s trade war with China. CNBC’s Emma Newburger reports that as the administration’s trade war spins out of control, so do the costs borne by the agricultural sector:
U.S. farmers lost one of their biggest customers after China officially cancelled all purchases of U.S. agricultural products, a retaliatory move following President Donald Trump’s pledge to slap 10% tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese imports....“It’s really, really getting bad out here,” said Bob Kuylen, who’s farmed for 35 years in North Dakota.“Trump is ruining our markets. No one is buying our product no more, and we have no markets no more.”Agriculture exports to China dropped by more than half last year. In 2017, China imported $19.5 billion in agricultural goods, making it the second-largest buyer overall for American farmers. In 2018, that dropped to $9.2 billion as the trade war escalated, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.This year, China’s agricultural imports from the U.S are down roughly 20%, and U.S. grain, dairy and livestock farmers have seen their revenue evaporate as a result. Over the last 6 years, farm income has dropped 45% from $123.4 billion in 2013 to $63 billion last year, according to the USDA....Some farmers say the billions in bailouts and rounds of subsidies they’ve received thus far have failed to cover enough of their profit losses. Many say they’d rather make a profit in the marketplace than through a government program.
It is safe to say that farmers are unhappy, as some Minnesota farmers made clear to Purdue:
It should be noted that many of these trade war stories about America’s hurting farmers are paired with stories about these farmers sticking with Trump — for now. Indeed, the Trump campaign likes to brag about this.
Still, it is impressive how this allegedly conservative government has inverted the relationship between the state and the private sector. In an ideal world, the government provides public goods that enable private producers to be even more productive than they were before. The Trump administration has permanently weakened the traditional public good of scientific information and eviscerated the most important export market for these producers. To make up for this, the administration is essentially providing welfare checks to affected farmers.
This kind of parasitic relationship between the state and the private sector used to be the thing traditional Republicans railed against. Under Trump, however, the GOP are enablers of the Great Emasculation.