Knight: Trump and the Family Farm

Family farms are suffering under President Trump.

by Thomas Knight | 5/9/19 2:15am

Everyone’s favorite New England postcard is in trouble. For years, tourists have flocked to the Upper Valley, where antique barns are framed by the rough-hewn fences that rein in gentle and photogenic Holsteins. If they’re lucky, they might even get a glimpse of a farmer who charmingly lacks a few teeth and says “ayup” with that old New England agrarian accent. But you would be hard pressed to find that today. The reality is that the Upper Valley and many rural farming communities around the country are feeling the squeeze. Family farms found some success in the later years of the Obama presidency, but since then, profits have decreased by almost a third. There is no question that family-run agriculture has been in decline over the last half-century, partly due to the changing demands of ever-changing consumer tastes.  

But much blame is to be laid on the governance of the federal agencies, which in recent years, has turned from poor to abysmal. The Trump administration is threatening to decimate what family farms are left in America through a disastrous combination of regulatory reform and tariffs. It may be misleading to say that Donald Trump hates small farmers, but his administration favors large-scale, factory agriculture over the local, family farms that have been the bedrock of rural communities for hundreds of years. By exempting large factory farms from important regulations, President Trump encourages factory-scale farms to emphasize profit and production over emissions and sustainable husbandry. Even though their profits have been rising steadily year after year, large-scale farming operations still receive the lion’s share of federal subsidies. According to a Forbes report, since 2008, the 10 largest recipients of federal farm subsidies each received around $1.8 million annually. These policies are part of the reason why impersonal, industrial-scale farming has grown so quickly in recent times. Although large-scale and non-family farms make up only five percent of U.S. farms, they are responsible for over half of the value of production in America. Not only does this hurt customers who are left with fewer options, but it also threatens to put the land and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of small farmers in danger. Some may argue that this is destined to happen due to the existing pressures of the market, but government policies are expediting the process at a breathtaking and worrisome pace.

There is nothing that Donald Trump enjoys more than a good old-fashioned trade war. He notoriously claimed they are “good, and easy to win,” but if the current state of American agriculture is any evidence, then it is simply a lie. These tariffs hurt many farmers — after a recent Trump tweet about increasing tariffs on China, futures on soybeans and wheat fell to a 42-year low.

I wish I could tell you that I found these things interesting. I don’t go to bed dreaming of alfalfa and corn, nor could I tell you the optimal milking strategies for certain breeds of cows. But little activism has been directed against these policies that are dooming a whole generation of people who have epitomized the ideals of hard work, discipline and living off the land. When these farmers go, the barns will crumble, the fences will rot and the pastures of rural America that once rang out with the sounds and colors of spring will be replaced by industrial feedlots, filthy, packed cages and the smokestacks of rendering plants.

Knight is a member of the Class of 2022. 

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