As I followed last week the effect of the president’s ill-advised tariff war, specifically its impact on the country’s farmers, I became concerned about the consequences on the Mid-Shore. Trump’s politically shrewd decision to offer $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by China’s reciprocal tariffs on soybeans, pork, sugar, orange juice, cherries and other products did not ally my fears about economic injury to farmers.
Trump created a crisis, as he normally does. Then, in response to Republican congressmen representing red states and fearing backlash from agricultural voters in the upcoming mid-term elections, he rode to his own rescue, so he thought, by announcing the $12 billion package.
Republican legislators immediately labelled the program as welfare.
As I read in the Washington Post, “It is unusual for the government to extend financial bailouts to U.S. farmers on the basis of trade-related circumstances precipitated by the White House.”
I spoke to a longtime farm businessman on the Shore. He used words like “crazy,’ insane” and “frivolous” to describe the impact of China’s tit-for-tat tariffs in response to Trump’s initiation of a trade war with China, the European Union and other countries.
This businessman explained that local farmers, as well as those across the nation, have developed long-term relationships with countries in the Far East. For years, farmers have participated in “check-offs,” whereby funds are used to market Eastern Shore products throughout the world.
He characterized the tariffs as “insulting,” oblivious to the reality of deals made one or two years out for the sale of soybeans, for example. He further criticized Trump’s actions as “not sophisticated, condescending and unhelpful.”
Soybean prices have dropped 18 percent since the silly trade war began.
Like many in the farm community, this businessman decried the $12 billion bailout as something that would alienate farmers from fellow citizens who see the aid as a corporate handout, though unwanted.
During my immersion last week into the plight of the farmers, I listened on NPR to a Wisconsin dairy and soybean farmer react to questions on July 26 about the tariffs on farm products and Trump’s election-year gift to constituents who generally supported him in 2016.
Brad Kremer, of Pittsville, Wis., said, “And, you know, with the tariffs that have just hit, we’ve lost $2 a bushel in the last 30 days. So our farm, we generally produce about 30,000 bushels of beans a year, somewhere in that neighborhood. So that’s a legitimate hit on our bottom line of about $60,000 on our personal farm (roughly 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat).
“And that’s a significant blow to a mid-sized farm. And you know, these are real numbers that are affecting family farms.”
Asked his opinion of the $12 billion in aid to farmers, Kremer said, while acknowledging China’s abuse of the World Trade Organization, “We’d still like to see, in my personal opinion and I think most farmers I’ve talked to, at least here in Wisconsin, we want trade, not aid.”
Uncertainty is the bane of a businessperson’s existence. Trump’s governing by constant chaos, as epitomized by the tariffs, affects multiple sectors of the American economy.
A $12 billion gift, though politically adroit, is insulting, as the Mid-Shore agricultural businessman said.
Butt out, not bail out, Mr. President.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.