Farmers see record $40B in aid, but many are uneasy accepting help

Tim Velde says he would rather have free trade than more checks from the government.

“I don’t know a single person out here farming that wouldn’t rather get their money from selling crop,” said Velde, who grows corn and soybeans near Hanley Falls, Minn.

But this year, farmers have received more federal money than ever: more than $40 billion.

Such assistance to farmers has risen throughout the presidency of Donald Trump, shaped mainly as compensation for sales to China farmers lost after that country retaliated in a trade war begun by the U.S. in 2018. Last year, farmers received $30 billion from the government. Trump approved more aid this year because of the pandemic, helping drive farm income to the highest level since 2013.

With the latest round of checks announced by Trump last month, more than 40% of farm income could be from the government, the highest proportion in 20 years, the University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute estimates.

Farmers, who as a group disproportionately vote Republican and support Trump, are uneasy with being seen as on the dole.

“I don’t know any farmers that actually want to receive government aid or payments. We don’t want that,” said Brent Fuchs, a corn and soybean farmer who also raises some cows near Dundas, Minn.

But it can be difficult to find voices critical of farm subsidies, which in normal times consist largely of the ethanol mandate and taxpayer-paid crop insurance premiums. While fiscal conservatives are generally skeptical, Republicans and Democrats both champion them.

U.S. Senate candidate Jason Lewis voiced opposition to government support for farmers in the past, and was criticized for it by Sen. Tina Smith’s campaign in recent months. But he downplayed those comments in his race against Smith this year.

Josh Sewell, an analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, said he is skeptical that these historic levels of subsidy for farming will simply go away after the pandemic and permanent resolution on trade with China.

“Once you start subsidizing people 30%, 40% of their income, it gets harder to turn them back over to the market where there’s downside risk,” Sewell said.

Aid programs have been “layered on top of each other,” he said, and seem disproportionately to be going to those farmers with the most political clout — corn, cotton, soybeans and cattle. Small farmers who sell produce at farmers markets, for instance, have received none of the aid.


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