Farming is one of the toughest ways to make a living there is. Despite all the fancy new tractors and farm equipment, despite government price supports, despite advances in pesticides and fertilizers that create higher yields per acre than at any time in history, it is still a backbreaking struggle fraught with enormous challenges from the weather. And then there is the pressure put upon farmers by politicians.
2019 has been the rainiest year in memory throughout the American Midwest. “I can’t even hardly put it into words, it’s just so defeating,” Bev Lydick, whose family has been farming along the Missouri River in Nebraska’s Burt County since 1857, tells the Washington Post. “We have water standing in some fields that we’ve never seen water stand in.”
The unrelenting rain this year has made it impossible for many farmers to get their crops started. The US Agriculture Department released new data this week showing that over the past 5 years, 90% of the corn produced in the Midwest was planted by the end of May. This year, only 58% has been planted. Only 29% of this year’s soybean crop has been planted compared to 66% last year.
Kendall Culp, a farmer in Indiana, tells the Post he has yet to plant a single soybean. Last year, he was done planting soybeans by the first week in May. “I’ve never had a yield where I couldn’t get my crop planted,” he says and add that his father, who is in his 80s, agrees. “This is unprecedented, what we’re facing.” Just 22% of the corn crop and 11% of soybeans has been planted as of May 26 in Indiana.
Getting seeds in the ground is important for other reasons. Federal crop insurance programs require crops to be planted by certain dates in order to qualify for benefits. Those dates have passed for many farmers or are rapidly approaching, but it is impossible to plant in fields that are underwater.
“Week after week, farmers haven’t been able to get out in the fields to plant corn and soybeans,” says John Newton, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. He says this year has been the worst planting season on record since the USDA began tracking the data in the 1980s. “The frequency of these disasters, I can’t say we’ve experienced anything like this since I’ve been working in agriculture.”
On top of it all, the Midwest has been hit with an unprecedented amount of tornadoes — more than 200 in the month of May alone. “The story of the natural disasters and the flooding that’s been going on in the Midwest sits within a multiyear slump in farm prices,” said Alicia Harvie, an advocacy and farmer services director for Farm Aid. “It’s another wave of an ongoing crisis. It is a perfect storm. It cannot be overstated, the amount of stress and angst in farm country right now.”
Harvie says the Farm Aid hotline has been overwhelmed with calls from farmers who are “actively in disaster triage.” Last year, there was 109% more calls than in 2017, she said. Usually, about a quarter of those calls are crisis related. By the end of last year, nearly 75% of them were related to natural disasters. Now Farm Aid regularly gets calls from farmers who say they are suicidal. (Emphasis added.)
On top of everything they are forced to deal with, US farmers have to contend with Trump’s trade war with China. He boasts that trade wars are easy to win. Just pile on more and more tariffs until the other side folds their cards and begs for relief. Except the Chinese are not all that likely to prostrate themselves in front of The Trump and plead for mercy.
China bought 13 million tons of soybeans earlier this year in a goodwill gesture as trade negotiations continued. Then everything blew up and went to hell a few weeks ago, sending the Tyrant of Pennsylvania Avenue into a rage (apparently he mistakes screaming at people with negotiating).
CleanTechnica has obtained exclusive footage of Donald Trump conducting international negotiations at Mar-A-Lago.
According to the South China Morning Post, China has now decided it doesn’t want any more soybeans from the US and is looking to other countries to meet its needs. “Brazil will supply China almost exclusively from now on,” says Pedro Dejneka, a partner at Chicago-based MD Commodities.
7 million tons of soybeans from the prior purchase agreement are yet to be delivered and China is keeping mum on whether it will honor that commitment.
In general, farmers are slow to adapt to new ideas. It’s in their nature. Their livelihood is tied to the land, and the traditions of the farming life go back many generations for most of them. But one thing they do notice is variations from one growing season to another.
The past 5 years have been especially hard. US farm income dropped 16% last year to $63 billion, about half what it was as recently as 2013. Bev Lydick of Nebraska tells the Washington Post she believes climate change is at least partially responsible, but she and others in her community also lay some of the blame on the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress for the way the rivers and streams in farming country are being managed, or mismanaged as the case may be.
Meanwhile, some of the disaster relief funds that should be flowing to farmers are being held up in Congress by a few Republicans who refuse to vote in favor of aid to farmers — along with funds for Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas after recent devastating hurricanes — unless money is appropriated for the despicable wall the alleged president wants to shove down the throat of the nation.
The Braggart In Chief likes to say he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes, but there are signs some of his supporters are growing weary of his bluster and bullshit and would prefer some actual leadership instead. Climate change may or may not be real, but Trump fatigue certainly is.
As election day 2020 grows nearer, the Twitter Tyrant may be in for a rude awakening. People assume all farmers are staunch Trump supporters, but they have been hammered by his policies so far. It’s not a stretch to think more than a few are fed up with his asinine antics. The rest of us certainly are.
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