Let me say at the outset, this is not a political piece, even though it deals with the President and Vice President, farm policy, and trade. It is not designed to paint one side any better than the other, but rather to provide some clarity and balance that is sadly lacking in coverage of the current trade dispute impacting agriculture.
According to what you read in the mainstream media, the President’s trade strategy is erratic, shoot from the hip, reactionary, and not well thought out. According to what you read in the business media, American farmers are failing financially and committing suicide in record numbers. While it is true that producers are suffering financially and that farm income is projected to drop in 2018, it is not as dire as media reports would have you think.
“FARMERS ‘PANICKED’ AS TRADE TENSIONS THREATEN AG INDUSTRY,” screamed one recent headline. “TARIFFS ‘THREATEN TO UPEND’ INDIANA ECONOMY,” proclaimed the Washington Examiner. “NEW JOBS ON HOLD AS TARIFFS SCARE FOREIGN INVESTORS AWAY FROM INDIANA,” said WIBC radio. “INDIANA MANUFACTURERS ARE LAYING OFF EMPLOYEES AS TARIFFS PUT ‘NAIL IN OUR COFFIN,’”said the Jeffersonville News and Tribune. These kinds of extremist and alarmist news stories are being repeated all over the country. Yet, when you actually talk to farmers, you get a much different story.
Randy Kron told me most farmers he has talked with, while not happy with the current situation, are still supportive of the President. In an effort to get behind the media hysteria, White House officials invited a small but diverse group of farmers from around the country to the White House to listen to what they have to say. One of these was Kendell Culp, a soybean grower from Jasper County.
Culp described a rather unique situation to me where Vice President Pence, Ag Secretary Perdue and Trade Ambassador Greg Doud met with a group of 8 farmers representing dairy, apples, pork, corn, and soybeans. Culp said the farmers did much of the talking, expressing their support, their concerns, their criticisms, and their outlooks. The meeting was held in the Roosevelt Room just off the Oval Office. Near the end of the meeting, Mike Pence went into the Oval Office and brought the President into the meeting to talk with the farmers.
Culp told me he came away encouraged that the administration had a plan and a sound strategy on trade. Furthermore, he feels confident there is an understanding of agriculture in the administration. The President expressed his confidence in Secretary Perdue. Culp noted it was obvious how much confidence the President has in the Ag Secretary. Culp also expressed his belief that the Vice President, who has a fair knowledge of agriculture, does have daily meetings with the President and is also a good representative for the interests of American agriculture. These points are noteworthy because it is not what you hear in the media today.
Regardless if you support or abhor the policy and actions of the President, keep in mind the image often presented in the media is not accurate. The White House has a plan on trade and right now most farmers support that plan. That may change with time; and, without some progress on trade issues, the farm economy will continue to get worse. That may result in a change in attitude by producers. Just remember that the best coverage in the media of what is really happening in agriculture can be found on the pages and airwaves of the agricultural media, not the general media.
By Gary Truitt