Farmers

Farmers in the rural Midwest say they are struggling because of President Trump's ongoing trade war and a recent decision the president made on renewable fuels made from corn and soybeans that benefits the oil industry.

"We're tightening our belt," farmer Aaron Lehman says while driving his tractor down a rural road near his farm north of Des Moines, Iowa. "We're talking to our lenders, our landlords [and] our input suppliers."

It’s a difficult year for many farmers in the United States.  A wet spring flooded crops and delayed planting across the Midwest, while trade conflicts with China and other countries continue to wreak chaos on incomes.

For some farms, this year’s losses, even with federal trade-relief payments, will force them to file for Chapter 12 bankruptcy. And that's easier now that a new law raised the level of debt allowed for a Chapter 12 filing.

If you're caught in a trade war, it's good to be a farmer.

Lots of American companies have lost sales since the Trump administration and China embarked on the current cycle of tariff-raising and retaliation. Few, if any, have been compensated as handsomely as farmers.

Standing next to his mud-splattered red pickup in Central Arkansas, a tired Robert Stobaugh watches an osprey soar over a field of flooded rice. If anything can survive flooding, he says, it's rice.

"But even rice doesn't like this," he says, looking at the swamp of rust-brown water in front of him.

Updated at 6:15 p.m. ET

The Trump administration will provide $16 billion in aid to help keep farmers afloat as they reel from the yearlong trade war between the U.S. and China, the latest sign that the world's two largest economies are still far from striking a long-term trade agreement.

The bulk of the support, or about $14.5 billion, is direct aid to farmers, which producers will start to see some time this summer, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters in a briefing on Thursday.

U.S farmers have long depended on foreign buyers for some of their corn, soybeans, pork and other products. And federal officials have used some agricultural commodities as tools of diplomacy for decades.

But as the Trump administration has pursued hard-line moves with major trading partners, especially China, farmers have found themselves with huge surpluses — and on the receiving end of government aid.

Modern farming became permanently entwined with both politics and export markets in the mid-20th century, says Mount Royal University historian Joe Anderson.

A couple of federal agencies you probably haven't heard of keep track of what farmers grow, what Americans eat and how the country's entire food system operates. And the Trump administration wants them out of Washington, D.C.

Last summer, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would relocate somewhere that's closer to farmers and public universities doing agricultural research. But critics, including many scientists, balked, saying the agencies won't be as effective.

Every state has a "right-to-farm" law on the books to protect farmers from being sued by their neighbors for the routine smells and noise created by farming operations. But this year, the agriculture industry has been pushing in several states to amend those laws so that they will effectively prevent neighbors from suing farms at all — even massive industrial livestock operations.

There was a moment, about 20 years ago, when farmers thought that they'd finally defeated weeds forever.

Biotech companies had given them a new weapon: genetically engineered crops that could tolerate doses of the herbicide glyphosate, also known by its trade name, Roundup. Farmers could spray this chemical right over their crops, eliminate the weeds, and the crops were fine.

Farming can be a difficult profession — it’s vulnerable to the weather, fluctuating crop prices and trade wars. There are high rates of depression and suicide among American farmers and ranchers. But now there’s a place they can go for support: the hashtag #AgTwitter.

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