Poverty is killing us. No where is this more evident than it is with farmers.
“Think about trying to live today on the income you had 15 years ago,” said agriculture expert Chris Hurt. “The current incomes we’ve seen for the last three years … have been about like farm incomes from early in this century.”
And that is made all the worse by the threat of tariffs that farmers face thanks to President Trump’s economic policy. In response to Trump’s protectionist policies, China imposed tariffs on fresh fruit, pork and wine. Trump responded with more tariffs and China levied taxes on imports of corn and soybeans.
This has put the squeeze on farmers, like those in Ohio who lose more than half of their annual net income to the looming trade war.
“We’re bleeding pretty badly,” said National Pork Producer’s Council president Jim Heimerl. “The Midwest elected our president. He has made many statements, realizing the red states in Midwest elected him. He promised to look after our farmers, but talk only goes so far.”
And those wounds are leaving farmers at the end of their ropes. The farms rode high when the rest of the economy collapsed in 2008, but now they’re suffering as they haven’t in decades.
“Farmers were actually doing quite well during the recession,” said Ben Brown, program manager for farm management at the Ohio State University. “In a way, this is our first downturn in the farm economy since the ’80s.”
In the 1980s, the downturn the farming community faced was met with an accompanying spike in suicides. In 1985 a group called Farm Aid was founded in 1985 to advocate for farmers.
“The farm crisis was so bad, there was a terrible outbreak of suicide and depression,” said Jennifer Fahy, Farm Aid’s communications director.
But Fahy thinks today is actually worse than the crisis that prompted Farm Aid to be founded.
“We’re hearing from farmers on our hotline that farmer stress is extremely high,” she said. “Every time there’s more uncertainty around issues around the farm economy is another day of phones ringing off the hook.”
And those times are more common than ever. With the trade wars heating up and on increasingly spreading fronts, the threats to American agriculture are already having effects. Soybean and corn prices are dropping in the time of year they usually reach their peak, according to soybean farmer Tim Shipley speaking to the Newark Advocate.
“The talk of tariffs put it down in the market. Just the discussion of it. We’re in a global economy and I don’t think the president realizes it,” he said. “When prices drop that much, that’s what we have to live on and keep the business going.”
Farmers are a core constituency of the Republican Party, and seeing Trump endanger their profession has put GOP candidates from farmland in a difficult position approaching the November midterms.
But for the farmers themselves, fear for the future is the new normal.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.