BY FROMA HARROP
Our generally strong economy has yet to cast its blessings on American farm country. Incomes there are headed for their lowest level since 2006. And farmers are going deep into debt to keep their heads above water.
President Trump’s budget blueprint would only make things worse for U.S. agriculture. Trump’s hostility to trade deals has already inflicted damage on an economic sector highly dependent on exports. And that’s on top of his deficit-exploding tax bill and cranked-up federal spending, sure to make borrowing still more expensive.
U.S. farmers have been buffeted by the bumper crops of corn and soybeans. The worldwide grain glut has hammered prices. Russia and Brazil, meanwhile, are taking market share from American grain producers. [Small wonder the Russians love Trump.]
The budget would do several things that would further hurt the farm economy. The obvious one would be to chop $47 billion from the federal crop insurance and other farm programs over 10 years.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, said Trump had personally promised him not to cut crop insurance. Trump not keeping his sacred word? Imagine our surprise.
The Northern Ag Network reports that some farmers think agriculture has been disproportionately targeted in the budget cuts. “When you look at the agriculture in the scheme of things of the overall federal budget,” North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring complained, “we are decimal dust.”
The budget plan contains other spending reductions that could do considerable harm to farmers. One would cut what used to be called the food stamp program by 30%. Contrary to a common belief, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was not designed to be a free ride for lazy poor people. Most of the recipients are low-income workers, many trying to feed children. Others are disabled or elderly.
The food stamp program is important to farmers for political reasons. Farm bills pass thanks to a coalition of representatives from rural and urban areas. The more numerous urban reps would see little value in passing expensive bills serving farm country were it not for the food stamps that help their poor constituents. Trump’s plan would take SNAP benefits away from four million people.
As Barry Flinchbaugh, veteran ag economist at Kansas State, recently told a convention of grain growers in Manhattan, KS: “If food stamps are taken out, it will be the last farm bill. The urban Congress won’t support a crop program without food stamps.”
Side note to liberals: Please ignore the stupid food box idea cooked up by Trump’s Agriculture Department. “America’s Harvest Box” would be a government-selected carton of edibles that would replace cash to buy food. It was created to drive liberals crazy. Don’t fall for the distraction.
The budget’s proposed slashing of State Department funding by 23% is another bad omen for farm country. America’s diplomats devote over a third of their communications pushing U.S. exports, according to one analysis.
With Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatening the North American Free Trade Agreement, America’s farmers and ranchers are going to need all the support from Washington they can get.
Flinchbaugh considered TPP the most lucrative deal for farmers in his lifetime. By rejecting it, he said, “the president has played right into the hands of the Chinese.” Losing markets in Canada and especially Mexico would be devastating.
“I’ve been predicting ag policy for 50 years,” Flinchbaugh noted. “It’s never been more difficult than under this administration.”
The strange reality is that good, hardworking farm people helped elect the man currently dismantling their economy. They might spend less time watching Fox News herald the magnificence of Donald J. Trump and more time weighing their own economic interests. How is it they became such an easy sacrifice?
– Froma Harrop’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer