Trump's trade-war reparations go on

President drops another $5 billion on farmers who insist they’d rather just have free trade

President Trump hasn’t heard the pleas of farmers who’ve asked for open international trade markets instead of government handouts. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

President Trump hasn’t heard the pleas of farmers who’ve asked for open international trade markets instead of government handouts. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Trying to ease the disastrous effects of his trade war on American agriculture, President Trump released another $5 billion in aid this week to farmers hammered by tariffs, but who insist they’d rather just have open international markets.

Trump tweeted Monday: “I am making good on my promise to defend our farmers and ranchers from unjustified trade retaliation by foreign nations.” He added that he had authorized Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to implement a second and final round of what Trump called “market facilitation payments.”

Trump concluded: “Our economy is stronger than ever — we stand with our farmers!”

But according to Politico, 75 percent of what now adds up to $9.6 billion in payments to farmers and ranchers goes to soybean growers — who’ve repeatedly insisted they don’t want it.

“We need access to markets from trade deals and a stable Farm Bill, not short-term aid packages,” said Mahomet farmer Doug Schroeder, vice chairman of Illinois Soybean Growers, in a statement released back in August. “Producers need trade, not aid.”

After the last Farm Bill expired at the end of September, it wasn’t until last week that Congress finally dropped conservative Republican demands for work requirements to receive food stamps and passed a new Farm Bill — which Trump has yet to sign.

But the impacts from his trade war continue to rattle farmers who’ve seen markets dry up for their crops and livestock.

Trump touted his trade war against China in an appearance at the U.S. Steel Granite City Works in July, when he proclaimed that his protectionist tariffs on steel had put hundreds of steelworkers back on the job.

But thousands of Illinois farmers were already feeling the effects of China’s retaliatory tariffs, largely imposed on agricultural goods in an attempt to target voters sympathetic to Trump. Trump tried to bind those farmers to his cause in Granite City, saying, “China tried to hurt the American farmer because that way they would hurt me,” and adding, "We're going to stick together and win together.” At that point, he’d already announced a $12 billion package of handouts to farmers hurt by the Chinese tariffs.

The $4.9 billion in fresh handouts Trump announced Monday was the second and final part of that aid package.

But the damage could be lasting, as China has already shifted soybean purchases to South America. The Illinois Soybean Association posted a story on its website last month from Fortune magazine pointing out that soybean farmers were stockpiling their crops waiting for prices to rise from $8.87 a bushel, down $2 from before Trump inaugurated his trade war early this year.

At the same time, The New York Times was reporting that Lynn Rohrscheib, a Fairmount farmer and chairwoman of the Illinois Soybean Association, was saying she needed to make $10 a bushel to break even. “We don’t want a handout,” Rohrscheib said. “We want trade. We want to sell the crop.”

The new handouts are for the second half of 2018 for producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum, cotton, shelled almonds, sweet cherries, dairy, and pork, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to Politico, there was a thaw in trade talks last week, resulting in the first Chinese soybean buy in months. But “industry groups have said the reimbursement rates are too low to make up for the drop in commodity prices stemming in part from Trump’s trade war. Corn growers, for example, will continue to receive only 1 cent per bushel.”

“One cent per bushel is woefully inadequate to even begin to cover the losses being felt by corn farmers,” Lynn Chrisp, president of the National Corn Growers Association, said in a statement. “USDA did not take into account the reality that many of our farmers are facing.”

The USDA didn’t, and neither did President Trump.