Of all President Trump’s critical constituencies, none have been asked to sacrifice as much as America’s farmers. Many midwestern farmers were already in a difficult spot when President Trump first came on the scene, hammered by low crop prices and farms teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
But in the nearly three years since Trump’s inauguration, the situation for most farmers has gone from bad to worse. In retaliation for President Trump’s trade war, China has cut off imports of American soybeans. And even Trump’s farm bailouts haven’t quite made up for the damage to the midwestern economy that has occurred under his administration.
Despite this, most farmers remain loyal to Trump, and plan to vote for him again in 2020. Instead, Reuters reports, many farmers are directing their anger not at the Trump Administration, but at the USDA and the Washington bureaucracy, which believe is working to thwart President Trump’s true agenda.
Unfounded conspiracy theories have reportedly been circulating online and among farmers that the USDA is the true source of American farmers’ financial malaise. This has led to farmers threatening a USDA employees during a crop study earlier this year, prompting the agency to withdraw its personnel from the field.
According to a Reuters poll, Trump’s approval rating in rural areas has fallen slightly to 71% from a peak of 79%. Still, many farmers are struggling to “emotionally process” their pain.
Farmers are struggling with how to emotionally process their pain from the Trump administration’s policies, and anger at the USDA may be a coping mechanism, said Ted Matthews, a Minnesota psychologist who has spent 30 years counseling farmers and rural residents across the Midwest.
“The question I hear from farmers who voted for (Trump) is, ‘We believed him when he said he would help make the farm economy better, that we could save our farms. Now, who do we blame?'” Matthews said.
Of course, directing their rage at the faceless Washington bureaucracy is easier than directing it at Trump – someone they supported and voted for.
“It’s much easier to be angry at a faceless Washington bureaucracy than at the man you voted for,” said Jere Solvie, 69, grain and hog farmer from west-central Minnesota who voted for Trump and still supports him.
According to Reuters, the USDA enjoyed a brief honeymoon with farmers thanks to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s southern charm. But the secretary was booed last month in Minnesota, after his agency made a few critical missteps, including releasing a crop estimate that prompted the biggest drop in corn futures in three years.
This is a sharp contrast to early days in the administration, when Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was a reliable point person. His folksy southern charm and his appeals to patriotism helped sell Trump’s policies to farmers, even the trade war.
But Perdue’s honeymoon in farm country has ended. Farmers booed the agriculture secretary in Minnesota last month after he joked: “What do you call two farmers in a basement? A whine cellar.”
“He’s supposed to support us, especially during times of distress,” said Gary Wertish, a fourth-generation Minnesotan who farms 500 acres of corn, soybeans and navy beans, and heard the remarks in person.
Grain farmers were already furious that corn futures prices Cv1 posted their biggest drop in three years after USDA estimated a bigger-than-expected crop on Aug. 12, despite floods that slowed planting.
As desperation sets in, more farmers might finally turn on the president, particularly after a difficult harvest season.
Wes Hitchcock, a corn farmer and Trump supporter in Sparks, Nebraska, wrote a 1,700-word paper titled “USDA vs. Trump” and has repeatedly posted it on Facebook in a grain market discussion group with 13,000 members.
Hitchcock said he was unable to plant about 30% of the 2,200 corn acres he had planned to grow because of heavy rains this spring. The corn he did manage to plant is not looking great, either, he said.
“I’m going bankrupt and everybody else will this year too,” he said in a phone interview with Reuters.
After all, farmers might change their minds if they end up bankrupt.