David O’Brien, Editor
As the election approaches, the Department of Agriculture is projected to pay $46 billion this year in farm subsidies. The agriculture sector will receive the largest government contribution to farm income since 2005. Government support is projected to account for 40 percent of farm income this year. Without these subsidies US farm income would be poised to decline. Despite these large government payments, debt in the farm sector is projected to increase to four percent this year, to a record-breaking $434 billion.
The combination of the trade wars under the Trump administration and the coronavirus pandemic have led to extreme difficulties among markets for farmers. The trade wars with China and many European nations have led to foreign tariffs on corn, soybeans, lobster and peanuts, drastically reducing sales. As if this was not enough, the coronavirus pandemic has interfered with global supply chains as well as destroyed the hotel and restaurant industries, reducing demand even further. This has led to the lowest cash receipts since 2010. Farmers have been forced to destroy millions of pounds of beans and cabbage and dump vast quantities of milk simply to maintain their way of life.
A bipartisan committee in Congress has agreed on a short-term funding bill for farmers amidst these trying times. The only issue they were forced to compromise on was whether or not to increase child nutritional assistance funding, which Republicans eventually agreed to. However, numerous critics have come out against the unequal method of disbursement. Many believe aid is being dispersed in a method to curry favor for the Trump administration in swing states directly before the election. $13 million have been given to Wisconsin farmers while many people in less valuable electoral states receive nothing. While the tobacco industry is legally prohibited from receiving federal funds, $100 million has been given to them via separate accounts funded by the government. Many believe this is because North Carolina, the largest tobacco producer and exporter, is a battleground state. The Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, has also used his position to support Trump in this election by promising more subsidies and food programs in a speech in North Carolina. Special Counsel is now forcing him to reimburse the government for the event as he apparently used government funding for this event, adding even more controversy to the Department of Agriculture’s use of funds.
These massive subsidies have not managed to quell issues that small-time farmers face. Most of these distributed funds have gone to massive plantations as well as foreign-owned farms rather than small family farms. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have criticized these methods of disseminating funds. Studies show that even if subsidies are given out equally, farmers will only get about $10,000 each, money that will almost fully go to paying off service debt. Despite all of the criticism and controversies, 51 percent of rural adults approve of Trump, 10 percent more than his national approval rating.