We’re going to hear a lot of rosy campaign trail pronouncements about the strength of the U.S. economy in the months ahead. But the nation’s agriculture sector still faces a long road to recovery.
Farm bankruptcies jumped 20 percent in 2019, according to the American Farm Bureau. The increase came even though the Trump administration pumped billions of dollars of relief to struggling farmers who lost critical markets amid a trade war. In Iowa, the number of 2019 farm bankruptcies doubled compared to 2018.
The administration and its Republican allies are touting the benefits of a phase one trade agreement with China and ratification of the USMCA trade deal with Mexico and Canada as proof that farmers’ woes have been remedied. Although the deals are good news, USMCA basically upholds trade access established by NAFTA and the China deal rests on promises yet to be kept.
And even as the administration celebrates trade deals, the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to grant a series waivers to refineries exempting them from blending fuels with ethanol continues to undercut the biofuels industry. Iowa is the nation’s leading ethanol producer.
Trade disruption and ethanol waivers piled on top of an agricultural economy that was in the midst of a downturn before President Donald Trump took office. Bankruptcy numbers are one indication that problems in farm country have only deepened.
Administration officials have insisted that another series of farm relief payments is not needed, although damage inflicted by Trump policies continues to harm farmers. At the very least, the president could live up to his big promises to ethanol producers and push the EPA to change course on ethanol.
The administration could stand down from its trade belligerence and look for more markets for farm commodities. Or Congress could reassert its trade authority and chart a new course.
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The president is running to “keep America great.” But as the bankruptcy numbers and other factors suggest his first order of business in Iowa should be keeping farms afloat.
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