Farmers

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.

Lawmakers unveiled the much-anticipated farm bill compromise Monday night, ending the months-long impasse over whether a critical piece of legislation that provides subsidies to farmers and helps needy Americans buy groceries could pass before the lame-duck session concludes at the end of the year.

Chris Johnson knows all too well how a promising crop can suddenly be ruined — by poor weather, an economic downturn or bad luck.

This year, he and other soybean farmers in North Dakota are contending with something less common but potentially just as destructive: a trade war between the United States and China that has already driven down the price of soybeans sharply.

"Oh, it's a devastating loss. Soybeans are my largest acreage crop," says Johnson, who farms 3,300 acres in Great Bend, in the southern part of the state.

Angel Benavides, a lanky 14-year-old, dribbles down the basketball court of his school gym in Manvel, N.D. It looks like he's going for a layup, but when he realizes he's unguarded, he stops in his tracks and takes a three-pointer. It's a nice arching shot, but the ball bounces tenuously on the rim and doesn't go in.

It's late June and Angel is already thinking about playing for his high school basketball team in Texas, 1,700 miles away. But he doesn't know if he'll get there in time for November tryouts.

The Department of Agriculture will pay $4.7 billion to farmers growing soybeans, cotton and other products hit by tariffs in the Trump administration's hard-line trade war with China, announcing the first batch of payments from a $12 billion government aid package.

Starting next Tuesday, the agency will take applications from farmers who produce corn, cotton, dairy, hogs, sorghum, soybeans and wheat — products that were targeted in China's retaliatory tariffs, after the U.S. imposed a 25 percent levy on $34 billion worth of Chinese imports.

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