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Despite trade war, most American farmers still support Trump 2020

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

As President Trump gears up for re-election after an impeachment trial and amid a trade war, there’s one group he probably won’t have to worry about getting support from: U.S. farmers.

American farmers have faced uncertainty over the last two years with agriculture being caught in the crosshairs of tit-for-tat tariffs between the U.S. and China amid trade negotiations.

To help farmers offset the effects of tariffs, the Trump administration approved $28 billion in farmer aid. U.S. Department of Agriculture has distributed about $19 billion in bailout payments so far, and Trump recently stated that the support would continue until a comprehensive deal is reached.

And although the relief has been lopsided — an NPR analysis found that about 100,000 individuals collected roughly 70% of the aid payments through July 2019 — most American farmers are still highly supportive of the president.

According to the latest Farm Journal Pulse Poll, 83% of farmers approve Trump, with 64% strongly approving. It is his highest approval rating so far in this poll. 

Farmer Bill Sorg (L) works his fields in Hastings, Minnesota. (Photo credit should read KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)

Glenn Brunkow, a Kansas-based farmer who grows soybeans and corn and raises sheep and cattle, voted for Trump in 2016 and still plans on voting for him in the 2020 cycle. 

“At this point, I would say it looks like it,” he told Yahoo Finance. “It depends on the candidate and it depends on their stance on issues as they relate to [agriculture], and any of the other topics that are hot button issues to me. As I look at the field now, he probably aligns the best.”

‘We’re running our razors in margin’

Trade aid is just one of the big issues that matter to Brunkow. He’s also paying close attention to where candidates stand on other agricultural issues like regulations and taxes, which he described as “really important issues” from his perspective.

“I don’t want to see any more taxes — whether it’s an increase in the income tax [or] increase in sales tax,” he said. “The inheritance tax — having that rolled back was a great benefit to us in agriculture. We don’t intend to sell our land when changing generations… We’re running our razors in margin, so any increase in taxes really hurts us.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), currently the Democratic frontrunner, has proposed the “For the 99.8% Act,” which would tax estates worth more than $3.5 million, a big increase from the current $11 million threshold.

Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are also in favor of breaking up major meatpacking companies as an antitrust move. Candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg have called for more regulations in the agricultural sector.

Farmer Andy Stoll walks near one of his drought damaged fields of corn in Idaville, Indiana. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Stances like these are what make Brunkow lean more towards Trump. And there are few things that could change his mind at this point. 

“If [Trump] came out in favor of a big tax increase, more regulations, or cut back in trade, any of those things,” Brunkow said when asked what would potentially change his mind. “You really need to know who the other candidate is. In looking at the Democratic field, it doesn’t look like there’s any [appealing candidates] at initial first blush.”

So why don’t Democrats pay more attention to farmers?

“Because there’s not very many of us,” Brunkow said. “We’re less than 2% of the population. Let’s be honest — we’re not a big block of voters. As important as agriculture is, if you’re strictly looking at demographics, then it’s not a very big issue.”

The tariffs ‘really took a bite out of our bottom line’

In January 2020, during the signing of the phase 1 trade deal between China and the U.S., China pledged to buy at least an additional $12.5 billion worth of agricultural goods by the end of the year. 

That kind of renewed buying would help farmers who haven’t received much of Trump’s bailout.

“I don’t think that most farmers really thought that it was worth it,” Oklahoma rancher and wheat farmer Hope Pjesky previously told Yahoo Finance. “It wasn’t. I know the big overall number looks huge to people, but it really wasn’t enough to help most people.”

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He shake hands after signing the China-U.S. phase-one economic and trade agreement during a ceremony on Jan. 15, 2020.(Photo by Wang Ying/Xinhua via Getty)

Consequently, many of America’s two million farms are feeling pain from the trade war. Farm bankruptcies reached an 8-year high in 2019. According to U.S. Courts data, U.S. farm bankruptcy rates increased by 20% in 2019, an eight-year high. There were a total of 595 Chapter 12 bankruptcies filed by family farmers.

Nevertheless, Brunkow remains optimistic. As a soybean farmer, he had been hit hard by China’s tariffs. Now, he’s “really optimistic” about the deal.

“The soybean price has been really low and stayed there for quite a while,” Brunkow said. “The market was really volatile and still is really volatile. It hurt. It really took a bite out of our bottom line, but I’m optimistic now with a trade agreement in place, maybe things will get better.”

Adriana is a reporter and editor for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at adriana@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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