have all the cards, but nobody has ever chosen to use those cards. Honestly, nobody has ever known that we had the cards. They never got it. But we get it now.”
To ease the impact of the tariffs – and keep the rural vote – Trump announced a $12 billion bailout for farmers earlier this year. Trump will visit Cape Girardeau, Mo., this week where he’ll throw his support behind Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley in one of the most hotly contested Senate races. Trump sees the chance to defeat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri as one of the best opportunities to pick up a key Democratic seat.
The tariffs are the wild card in this year’s election.
Only 28 percent of Missouri registered voters think the Trump tariffs and barriers to imports will protect American jobs and help the U.S. economy, according to a recent NBC News/Marist poll. Forty-four percent says it will hurt the U.S. economy and raise the cost of consumer goods.
Mix in other factors such as the absence of a farm bill and unpredictable weather – Missouri experienced a long drought this year – and farming is a high risk industry. Farm income has dropped more than 50 percent in the last five years, according to the American Farm Bureau.
“So farmers are getting squeezed on both sides,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade.
John Block, agriculture secretary during the Reagan administration and who helps build support for Trump’s trade policies among farmers, said farmers understand the difficult challenges involving China. They also accept that commodity prices are low not just because of the tariffs, but because the nation’s farmers had such a large harvest this year.
Block said farmers continue to have faith in Trump – especially now after he reworked a trade deal with Mexico and Canada that involved many agriculture products sold from the region.
“Part of this is just the simple idea that, well, Trump got one thing done. He said he would. Now, let’s get the next one done,” Block said. “There is more confidence that we’re going to keep fixing these disputes and agriculture will be back in there with a lot of customers.”
Climbing down a 3,500 bushel grain bin that holds nearly $30,000 worth of soybeans, Rick Oswald, 68, said the trade war reminds him of the Soviet grain embargo nearly 40 years ago that pushed many of his friends out of the business. At the time, thenPresident Jimmy Carter sought to punish the Soviet Union for invading Afghanistan and announced an embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union.
While the U.S. cuts its own sales to the Soviet Union, countries such as Argentina and Brazil seized on the opportunity and their own grain markets, which they sold to the Soviets to the detriment of American family farmers.
Oswald estimates his six full bins in Rock Port, Mo., would have been worth $216,000 instead of $180,000 if not for Trump’s trade war.
Why would China back down?
“The leaders in China may be worse than the Republicans,” said Oswald, a past president of the Missouri Farmer’s Union, “They really don’t have anyone to answer to.”
In the basement of the Marshall Courthouse, the county commissioners of Saline County hold a public meeting to discuss new programs, including one to encourage young farmers to remain in the community.
Commissioner Richard Clemens, a third-generation farmer and chairman of the Saline County Republican Committee, said it’s unfair to compare Trump’s tariffs to the Soviet embargo, noting the pain was much worse because it happened at a time when interest rates were sky high.
Enthusiasm for Trump remains strong in the rural America, he said, and it could be just enough to push the Republican state attorney general, Hawley, to the U.S. Senate, defeating McCaskill. Clemens points out how Trump endorsements have helped other Republicans win tight primaries, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach in Kansas.
Kile Guthrey, a farmer and Democratic commissioner, agreed. He admits he too found Trump “refreshing” during the 2016 campaign, taking on the establishment Republicans in multiple debates and talking like any one of his neighbors.
But he’s concerned the tariffs will drive out more young struggling farmers.
“It seems they always use the farmer as the whipping boy,” Guthrey said.
Turning his combine to drop off more soybeans, Dowell said he’s never wanted to do anything else but farm. He plans to hold onto his soybeans a while, hoping whispers he’s heard of a imminent deal are true.
“If they get it done in six months, I think that is a very optimistic view,” Dowell said. “It could take a couple years. China is China. They’re pretty set in their ways too. We have a lot to offer the rest of the world at a very cheap price. So I think overtime it’ll be good as long as everyone gives it time. Change doesn’t come easy.”
Shannon Dowell, a third-generation farmer from Marshall, Mo., says he has confidence in President Donald Trump’s tariff policy. “No change ever happens without a little hurt,” Dowell says.