Trump winning farm vote despite pinch of trade policies, pandemic

Trump winning farm vote despite pinch of trade policies, pandemic

After a chaotic several years for the agriculture industry, many farmers say they will vote for President TrumpDonald John TrumpPoll: Trump leads Biden by 7 points in Iowa Biden campaign cancels event in Texas after pro-Trump cars surrounded its bus Obama shooting three pointer while campaigning for Biden goes viral MORE again, even as his policies have hurt their bottom line.

Trump’s trade wars with China, Canada and Mexico rocked the industry, closing markets for farmers and pushing commodity prices down further. His pendulum swing on ethanol policies has also irked corn growers, while the coronavirus pandemic has delivered the latest gut punch.

Yet despite his support among growers being tested over the last four years, Trump is still expected to win the farm vote.

“I’ve lost so much money under him it’s really a crime, and COVID really took another chunk out of me, but I’m voting for Trump because I’m worried about the country,” said Tim Burrack, who grows corn and soybeans on a 2,000-acre farm outside Arlington, Iowa.

Burrack said his concern over law enforcement issues, immigration and “liberal policies,” as well as what he sees as media bias toward the president, have pushed him toward Trump again after he questioned whether he would do so last year. That’s despite losing an estimated $265,000 in 2019 due to Trump’s trade war and ethanol waivers given to refiners.

“You got to decide whether you support Trump’s trade policies or you don’t. I don’t, so I didn’t vote for him because of trade, I voted for him for the bigger picture,” he said.

Daryl Haack, a corn and soybean farmer near Primghar, Iowa, echoed the sentiment. Haack said his personal views on abortion and socialism – not farming – drove him to vote for Trump. And while he was hurt by the trade war, he said he felt it was necessary to counter China.

“I think most farmers realize that needed to happen. China was taking and still is taking advantage of us,” said Haack, who also voted for Trump in 2016.

Trump’s approval rating among farmers has been dented since he carried farm country in 2016, but he continues to enjoy wide support among the industry.

A 500-person survey from agriculture information service DTN in August found support for Trump at 71 percent, down from 89 percent in April.

Still, those margins could make a difference in swing states like Iowa and Minnesota, both of which Trump put on his campaign travel schedule for the week leading up to Election Day. Trump won Iowa in 2016, while he lost Minnesota by less than 2 percentage points to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Trump leads Biden by 7 points in Iowa Biden campaign cancels event in Texas after pro-Trump cars surrounded its bus Trump, Biden trade insults as they duke it out in key battlegrounds MORE.

“There are a lot of farmers that are disappointed in how Trump turned out for them, and I think he’s going to lose those guys, but then there’s another other group of farm Trump supporters and when I bring up tariffs and how much damage it’s done, they say, ‘Well China was an unfair trading partner so we have to do this,’ ” said Tim Dufault, who grows wheat outside of Crookston, Minn., and plans to vote for Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Trump leads Biden by 7 points in Iowa Biden campaign cancels event in Texas after pro-Trump cars surrounded its bus Obama shooting three pointer while campaigning for Biden goes viral MORE.

Pam Johnson, who recently served as the Biden surrogate at a Farm Foundation debate, said she “cannot figure out why someone would vote against their own business livelihood.”

“I feel like we’ve given Donald Trump a chance, and he’s failed us,” she said.

Johnson, who spent two decades working to expand markets for Iowa agriculture products overseas, blasted Trump’s trade policies, saying she’s seen 20 years of work virtually vanish.

“We want trade, we don’t want aid. We want our markets back that we helped create,” she said.

Nearly every farmer who spoke with The Hill, regardless of party, condemned Trump’s style of “trade by tweet” that have sent agriculture markets flying.

Even for farmers accustomed to good and bad years, falling commodity prices and narrowing markets plunged agriculture into a particularly bad cycle.

But fortunately for Trump, things have somewhat stabilized. Prices are up, and subsidy payments for the losses farmers incurred under the trade war and coronavirus have numbed a bit of the sting.

The Trump administration has given out $28 billion in assistance to offset trade losses over the last two years along with another $30 billion in aid for coronavirus. Despite the high totals, farmers say the payments only cover a fraction of their losses.

“I pay taxes, and when the government controls my industry and does things that hurt my industry, I don’t feel bad for taking payments that make up for the hurt,” Haack said.

While farmers, a group known for their independence and resilience, have complex views on the subsidies, many cite other issues when explaining their support for Trump.

Jeff Samuelson, who grows corn and raises pigs near Tipton, Iowa, expressed concern over Hunter Biden and a Democratic Party he fears is moving too far left.

“I hope that whoever is elected president understands agriculture has a vital role in the national economy and that there are a lot of jobs that are tied back to farming,” Samuelson said. “But I’m not selfish enough to vote for someone who’s just going to be ‘good for the farmers.’ ”

Samuelson estimated he lost between $75,000 and $100,000 last year due to a decrease in demand for corn.

He is not sure yet if he will make a profit this year. As coronavirus stalled the meat market, Samuelson built additional housing in order to avoid euthanizing any of his pigs before ultimately selling them for far below market price.

“I hate to have to take government money. I’d rather it went to someone who needed it, but we needed it this year, so that part of what he did for us we appreciate,” he said.

Johnson, the Biden surrogate, said farmers are getting too complacent about taking aid that leaves farmers “surviving, not thriving.”

“It’s socialism if it’s the other guy getting the money, but if it’s me getting the money, that’s OK?” she said in reference to Trump backing farmers who say they are doing so to fight socialism.

Curt Knutson, a Republican who describes himself as “kind of a Trump supporter,” expressed frustration that so many fellow farmers feel the need to vote GOP across the board even when there are Democrats who are better on farm issues.

He said he thinks Trump will be better for farmers — the trade issues have begun to sort themselves out — while he thinks Biden’s pledge to transition away from fossil fuels would hurt the industry.

Still, Knutson has been campaigning hard for Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonDemocrats seek wave to bolster House majority Energized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade MORE (Minn.), the Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. Peterson is in a tight reelection battle this year against Republican challenger Michelle Fischbach.

“I fight everyday with people who think it’s more important to vote red than it is to vote for Collin Peterson and the farm economy,” Knutson said.