Tariffs, tweets and trade.
These three words until recently didn’t dominate conversations regularly. Now you’ll find them peppered into discussions all across rural America. In small-town cafes, co-ops and churches anywhere community members gather for coffee to discuss the ins and outs of everyday life, people are talking about the economic struggles facing farmers.
The ongoing trade war with China, the negotiation and ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement have impacted farmers and ranchers in unexpected ways. Farmers on top of worrying about the weather and job prospects for their children, now face even more financial uncertainty at the hands of trade negotiators and heads of state in a way that hasn’t been before.
While a sweeping immediate solution likely isn’t on the horizon one thing is for certain people are talking about the issues tariffs causing for American farmers.
National media outlets from the Associated Press to the Atlantic Monthly are all writing about these new recent hardships impacting family farms. How tanking commodity prices have made these family farms and ranches less sustainable.
In September, the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers issued a statement in support of the relief an agreement with Japan provided to local farmers. According to the association, U.S. wheat represents about 50 percent of all the wheat Japan imports each year, currently valued at more than $600 million.
In November the Kansas Livestock Association called for tariff relief, especially in the Japanese markets. In December the KLA strongly supported U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, stating that U.S. beef exports to Canada and Mexico combined are nearly $2 billion per year.
According to a poll sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation, a strong majority of farmers and farm workers say financial issues and fear of losing the farm impact farmers’ mental health. The poll also found that farmers and farm workers surveyed said financial issues (91%), farm or business problems (88%) and fear of losing the farm (87%) impact farmers’ mental health.
This is concerning. We need to do better by our farmers. Policy wonks, politicians and economists should do what they can to support these folks. Really all of us should, as we all depend on American agriculture in one way or another.
This tariff issue may be a recently developing problem, but farmers falling hard times isn’t exactly nuanced. It’s so common it’s almost a cliche. In the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge very famously made the tongue in cheek statement “Well, Farmers Never Have Made Much Money.” At the time William Jardine, a Kansan and secretary of agriculture, worked to address the farm subsides crisis of that time.
Our point of sharing that anecdote is to illustrate that even as farmers have struggled their cries have rarely gone unheard. America has often worked hard not to bite the hand that feeds us. And hopefully, history repeats itself.