The struggle of family farmers is real

The struggle of family farmers is real
© Getty Images

There’s been an effort lately to paint a rosy picture of the farm economy. A recent opinion article in The Hill argues that the oft-cited negative effects of the president’s trade wars are nothing but an “overblown” narrative. This perspective couldn’t be farther from the truth.

This week nearly 400 of National Farmers Union’s family farmer and rancher members will descend on Capitol Hill to explain just how tough the situation is in farm country. Many of them are struggling through yet another year of crop prices that are below the cost of production. With little cash flow and worsening credit conditions, family farmers’ financial challenges are only growing.

To be clear, farmers’ financial woes didn’t begin with this administration. In fact, 2019 is projected to be the fifth consecutive year of below-average net farm income. But the trade wars made a bad situation much worse. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), agricultural exports are expected to decline by $8.9 billion this year.

ADVERTISEMENT

The effects on prices have been obvious. Since the tariffs went into effect last June, soybean exports have fallen by 25 percent. Over that same time frame, soybean prices have dropped by nearly two dollars per bushel. The average acre of soybeans in the U.S. netted a loss of $5.62 last year. The net return on corn and wheat is even worse. The bottom line is that many farmers are losing money on every acre they plant.

Supporters of the trade war with China have often recited the mantra: “short-term pain for long-term gain.” But this pain will be long term. According to new projections, the prices for corn, soybeans, wheat and several other crops are projected to fall even lower next year and will take years to rebound to pre-trade war levels. So, as farmers struggle to keep their operations afloat, they’re also trying to prepare for even rougher waters ahead.

So far, the president’s response to the financial stress in farm country has been the ad hoc Market Facilitation Program. As illustrated by USDA’s recently updated projection for net farm income, these payments have provided desperately needed short-term relief. However, the expected boost isn’t due to any market improvements. Our reputation as a reliable trading partner is all but ruined, and with future MFP payments far from certain. farmers have little cause for optimism moving forward.

Long-term challenges warrant long-term solutions. And that’s what Farmers Union members will be advocating for on Capitol Hill. In addition to encouraging Congress and the administration to improve existing trade deals and resolve disputes with China and other trading partners, we are urging our elected representatives to develop a long-term plan that ensures the viability of U.S. farmers and ranchers — regardless of exports.

Farmers need a safety net they can rely on and mechanisms to reduce chronic overproduction. Long before this trade war started, American farmers were already growing far too much food, which pushed down the prices of commodity grains and dairy. It is clear that we cannot rely on export markets to take our surpluses off our hands. Instead, we’re asking Congress to create programs that balance supply with demand, ensuring farmers a fair price and reducing waste.

The struggle of family farmers isn’t overblown — they’re experiencing the fallout of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE’s trade war every single day. But Farmers Union aren’t traveling all the way to D.C. just to whine about it. They have real, long-term solutions to guarantee a financially sustainable future for American agriculture.

Roger Johnson is president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), a grassroots organization that represents nearly 200,000 family farmers, ranchers, fisherman and rural communities across the United States. Johnson is a third-generation farmer from Turtle Lake, North Dakota, and previously served as North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner. Follow NFU on Twitter @NFUDC.