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Commentary: How Much Can We Take? How Much Can We Stand?

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By Gary Truitt

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could build a very convincing case that there was a revolution brewing across rural America. The facts are that farmers are gathering in local meetings, behind closed doors, out in fields and forests. Farmers are calling in threats to the USDA forcing them to withdraw employees back to Washington for fear of harm. Farmers actually booed the Secretary of Agriculture in Minnesota, of all places, where being polite is a way of life.  Is this the beginning of a modern day grange movement? No, it is not; and I am not a conspiracy theorist. It is, however, a sign that the mood of rural America is getting very ugly — and with good reason.

The trade war with China has been going on for over a year; the USMCA agreement has become a political football; Mother Nature has started smoking crack and has totally goofed up the weather; and market prices have been doing more dips than the rides at Kings Island. Add to this farm businesses are shutting down; the EPA has turned a deaf ear to producer complaints; the National Ag Statistics Service has taken up writing fiction; even the Peterson Farm Brothers have stopped making funny videos. So, all this begs the question, how much more can we take and how much more should we stand?

It was this time last year that we ag journalists were asking how long farmers would support the Trump trade policy. The answer by most farm leaders is that farmers understood this was going to take a while, and it has. Yet, I don’t think most of us foresaw things getting worse with the lack of progress on USMCA and continued foot dragging by EPA on ethanol.  The fact remains that, while the Trump administration has been good at writing checks to farmers, real progress on some of these issues has been slow.  The newly announced framework for an agreement with Japan holds promise as does USMCA, but getting them implemented must be accomplished. The political polarization that grips Washington is making it impossible for real “governing” to take place.

An unconfirmed media report said during a two-hour cabinet meeting recently, a frustrated President challenged his cabinet officials to, “Find a way to make these Midwestern farmers happy,” which is a legitimate concern since their support will be needed in the upcoming election. This also demonstrates just how out of touch Washington is with reality in rural America.  During a telephone call from the President to Ag Secretary Perdue during his presentation at the Farm Progress Show, there was a small, but noticeable, walkout by some farmers.

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance recently stated that by the year 2050, food production would need to increase by 70% in order to meet world food demand.  There are only 30 harvests between now and then. If U.S farmers are going to be a part of this, we need to be about policies that promote trade and provide markets for which farmers can profitably produce.  The ability of the White House make that happen in the next 12 months will play a large role in how long farmers will support the current policy.

So, how much more should we stand? Not much.  A year ago, I predicted some dark days ahead for the farm economy. An armchair ag economist told me I was “exaggerating.”  From what I hear and see, there is a good deal of anger, frustration, and even desperation out there today. While making threats on USDA officials is unproductive, it is time we send a strong message to Washington that things are not well on the farm. Don’t let checks in the mail mollycoddle you into believing Washington cares about you.  Demand real progress on trade and policies that increase demand and raise prices. No matter what your political ideology, you should demand policies that promote growth in agriculture and profits for producers.