We’re beginning to see just how disastrous President Trump’s trade wars have been for American ag producers. The American Farm Bureau Federation reports that farm debt in the United States has grown to unprecedented heights:
Moreover, farm debt in 2019 is projected to be a record-high $416 billion, with $257 billion in real estate debt and $159 billion in non-real estate debt. The repayment terms on this debt, according to data from the Kansas City Federal Reserve, reached all-time highs for a variety of categories.
And that debt is causing losses that are causing farms to declare bankruptcy, especially in Montana. According to the AFA, Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings by farms in the Northwest region which includes Montana are up by 74%, more than anywhere in the country.
It’s so bad that the Los Angeles Times reports that almost 40% of all farm profit this year will come from federal subsidies and other assistance:
Almost 40% of projected farm profit this year will come from trade aid, disaster assistance, federal subsidies and insurance payments, according to the report, based on Department of Agriculture forecasts. That’s $33 billion of a projected $88 billion in income.
In total, farm aid necessitated by President Trump’s disastrous trade war has required the federal government to spend more than double the amount it spent bailing out U.S. automakers in 2009.
But there’s plenty of blame to go around. Montana Republican leaders who claim to have the ear of the President—and often brag about the time they spend with him—have not only failed to reverse his trade policies; they’ve been cheerleaders for it.
Consider this story from 2018. Despite the warnings from every major Montana ag group, Matt Rosendale defended the masterful strategic thinking Trump was putting on display. He told the Montana press that all the ag producers and economists critical of Trump’s decision must be wrong:
Trump, he [Rosendale]said, is “walking in from a very strong position and saying, ‘This is where we’re going to be.”
Even after Montana farmers started reporting losses, Rosendale chose the President’s bad policy over them. From the Missoulian last August:
Rosendale, who has worked to tie himself as closely to Trump as possible, said the president’s actions have brought countries to the table and spurred discussions that otherwise wouldn’t be happening. Officials from China and the United States are expected to meet this week in an attempt to restart trade negations that petered out earlier this year.
Senator Daines has been no better, telling the Missoulian as late as two months ago that he still supported the President’s trade war:
The Republican senator from Montana also said he’s very supportive of President Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods coming to the U.S., which in turn caused the Chinese to implement tariffs on U.S. goods. Those actions have caused higher prices for U.S. consumers, provoked Chinese businesses and consumers to do business with other countries, and slowed economic growth around the world, according to some economists.
And Congressman Gianforte, who bragged earlier this week that he was having dinner with Trump at the White House? He trusts the President more than ag producers:
“Understand that we have a unique man in the president’s office. He’s doing a very public negotiation, and I will say to his credit he is standing up for America’s interests,” Gianforte said. “I am concerned about the potential impact on Montana ag producers, but I trust the president, that he’s working to an end point that will be helpful.”
Agriculture is in crisis, both in Montana and across the country. In some areas, the worry is as great as it was in the late 1980s, when American agricultural production nearly collapsed, but rather than fighting for Montana ag producers and opposing the President’s disastrous trade war that threatens the livelihoods of family farmers across the country, Montana’s Republican leaders are hoping they can buy off farmers with government aid, the vast bulk of which goes to massive, corporate producers:
Highlighting an uneven distribution of the bailout, which was designed to help offset effects of the U.S.-China trade war, the Environmental Working Group said the top 1% of aid recipients received an average of more than $180,000 while the bottom 80% were paid less than $5,000 in aid.
It takes a special kind of hypocrisy for Republican politicians who call healthcare for children “socialism” to support massive wealth transfers to corporate juggernauts while family farms fail, but I’m less concerned with their obvious personal failures than their failure to do the jobs they’ve been entrusted with: to fight for Montana’s people and economy.
Is it too much to ask Daines, Gianforte, and Rosendale to put the ag community and rural Montana they claim to love ahead of their blind obedience to the President? It would appear so.