After promising that “we have your back,” the Trump administration announced a $12 billion aid package for farmers impacted by the current trade war. It is something the ag community had been hoping for but, when it came, the reaction was mixed. “We want trade not aid” was the chant from most farm sectors, but surprisingly most consumers were supportive of the plan.
There was a howl of protest from the anal-retentive tightwads who oppose any spending on agriculture. They called it another massive farm subsidy that would return us to the days of government price fixing and supply management. Yet, for the most part, they were ignored. A poll by Morning Consult and Politico shows nearly six in ten voters favor President Trump’s $12 billion plan. Nearly 2,000 registered voters were surveyed, and 57 percent either somewhat or strongly support the farmer aid package.
Support came primarily from Republicans, with nearly eight in ten saying they strongly or somewhat support the idea; while 54 percent of independents and 38 percent of Democrats agreed. Rural voters in the poll also showed strong support for the aid plan, with 63 percent reacting favorably to the proposal. The poll was conducted over a four-day period and found that nearly half of respondents favored free trade, indicating that free trade agreements have a somewhat or very positive impact on the U.S. economy. Meanwhile, 48 percent of voters polled indicated support for the use of tariffs on foreign goods competing with U.S. goods.
Reaction by farmers was more subdued. Farm Bureau Deputy Executive Director Dale Moore said, “Our members are telling us straight up that ‘We would much rather have the trade restored, have the markets back in place,’ but we don’t have that option.” Yet, support for the President’s trade action remains strong among many farmers. “The Chinese have been getting away with unfair trade for so long, it is time to try to make them a little more honest,” said Steve Wollyung, a Fayette County, IN grower. “It ought to be fair; if they’re doing it, we ought to be able to do it.”
Most producers I have spoken with are skeptical about the package and fear that, by the time it gets down to the farmer level, the aid will not be that much. Most admit every little bit will help.
I find the consumer support both surprising and encouraging. If indeed the public sees this for what it is — a short term, one time aid package —then that is a good thing. My concern is that this could reinforce the outdated myth of farmers living off the government dole and getting paid not to grow things. It is important that we frame this issue correctly for consumers and for the general media. It is important to communicate that farmers are being hurt by the current trade sanctions, yet they support free trade and the need to make changes in our current trade relations with key nations like China, Canada, and Mexico. Ensuring the general public “has our back” is even more important than the President having it.
By Gary Truitt