Trump lost farm votes over his China trade war. Now climate change may cost him more

Mexican workers harvest and pack romaine lettuce in a field near Yuma, AZ on November 23, 2012. The American Farm Bureau estimates that its entire agricultural workforce will be comprised of foreign guest workers in the future. Photo by Peter Haden.

Donald Trump is counting on the votes of the nation’s farmers to propel him to another electoral victory in 2020. But given all the ways they’re being hurt by his policies, he’d better think again.

Nearly 70% of the nation’s farmers cast votes for Trump in 2016. It’s likely that many from that group will do so a second time. But he has made enough of them angry that he shouldn’t count on all of those votes next November.

Between Trump’s trade war with China, in which tariffs have cut soybean sales to the lowest level since 2002, and Trump’s controversial policies of issuing biofuel exemptions to many oil refineries, causing the closure of some farm biodiesel producers, Trump’s support among farmers has dipped. According to a poll from Farm Journal, Trump has lost nearly 10 points in support from farmers since July—from a 53% strong approval rating to a 43% approval rating.

Those are still good numbers, but the more erosion there is in the Trump farm vote, the less likely it is that he can recapture some of the Midwest states that gave him an Electoral College win in 2016 (despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million). From a story on the Farm Journal poll:

According to Pro Farmer policy analyst Jim Wiesemeyer, President Trump realizes support in farm country is dwindling.

“Opinion polls are signaling some trouble for President Trump,” he says. “A ‘Fox News’ poll showed Trump slipping even among groups that have long been his supporters. Trump’s support is weakening in key areas, including non-college educated whites, rural voters and small-town voters.”

Trump’s approval ratings have taken a hit across the country, and farm states are no different. For instance, according to the most recent numbers from Morning Consult, Trump’s approval rating in Iowa has dropped by 18 percentage points since he took office. Only 44% of voters there approve of Trump, while 53% disapprove. His approval rating in Wisconsin has dropped by 19 points, with a 42% positive/55% negative rating. In Michigan, which he won by the slimmest of margins, he’s taken a 21-point hit, with another 42% positive/55% negative rating.

It’s no secret that farmers are being screwed by Trump’s policies on trade—farm loan delinquencies and farm bankruptcies are at a six-year high. Now, you can add environmental policies to the list: A bipartisan group representing some 10,000 farmers and ranchers is now backing—of all things—the Green New Deal. Because they believe it’s ultimately the only way to save their farms and ranches.

A letter sent to Congress by a group called Regeneration International calls for adopting policies outlined in the Green New Deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. The letter had more than 500 signatures from individual farmers and ranchers in at least half the states in the U.S. and from 50 farming and ranching groups that were just as widespread, representing even more in agriculture. The newly formed bipartisan coalition backing the proposal is based in Minnesota and called U.S. Farmers & Ranchers for a Green New Deal.

We support the GND’s call to “. . . secure for all people of the United States for generations to come: clean air and water; climate and community resiliency; healthy food; access to nature; and a sustainable environment.”

We support the GND’s call to “. . . work collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—by supporting family farming; by investing in sustainable farming and land-use practices that increase soil health; and by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.”

We also support the GND’s overarching climate goals, including the goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 – 2050. We believe these climate goals are achievable—but only if the GND includes policies that spur two large-scale transitions: the transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy alternatives, and the transition away from industrial agriculture toward family farm-based organic and regenerative farming and land-use practices that improve soil health and draw down and sequester carbon.

The overall number of farmers and ranchers in this coalition might be small. Obviously, not that many farmers practice organic farming, and there are plenty of farmers working in industrial agriculture. But lots of farmers have been hurt badly—sometimes to the point of bankruptcy—by industrial farming, which has driven many small, family-owned farms out of business. Droughts and river flooding, exacerbated by climate change, make it even worse for farmers.

This video by the co-chair of the group, Indiana farmer Sherri Dugger, explains the group’s purpose:

It would be wrong to dismiss this group and its outreach, however small, as being too far out of the agriculture mainstream. There are currently some 2 million farms across the U.S., a number that has shrunk greatly over the decades. But the number of organic farms is on the rise—there were 14,000 certified organic farms in 2016, the most recent number available from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, and that number has increased 56% since 2011.

Regenerative agriculture is defined as “farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity — resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.” This position paper gives more details.

The new coalition of farmers and ranchers, as described on the group’s website, “is committed to working with Congress to ensure that farmers and ranchers have a seat at the table when it comes to defining and finalizing the specific policies and programs that will form the basis for achieving the goals outlined in the Green New Deal Resolution.” Their livelihoods depend on that seat at the table.

The coalition has several goals:

  • Combat climate change by reducing emissions and drawing down and sequestering carbon.
  • Contribute to a clean environment and restore natural habitats.
  • Provide access to locally produced, contaminant-free, nutrient-dense food.
  • Help build and support resilient local and regional food systems and economies.
  • Provide safe working conditions and living wages for farm workers.

This list of aims describes all of the group’s policy goals. As the group’s letter to Congress points out:

As farmers and ranchers, our businesses and livelihoods are uniquely vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with its increasingly frequent and extreme droughts and flooding. …

Family farmers are essential to combating climate change. A GND can make family farming economically viable again through fair farm prices, parity, and supply management.

Several Democratic presidential candidates also are backing sustainable agriculture practices in policy proposals. From a story on Huffington Post:

Taking cues from those pushing for a Green New Deal, several Democratic presidential hopefuls have made farming practices central to their climate proposals. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) earmarked $410 billion in his Green New Deal proposal to help “farms of all sizes transition to ecologically regenerative agricultural practices.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called for breaking up agriculture monopolies as part of her broad rural platform. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg vowed to “support farmers” by “paying them to capture carbon.”

Trump is still going to capture plenty of farm votes in rural America. The question is: Will he have turned off enough farmers so that they either vote for a Democratic candidate—or just stay home? And will that drop in support make enough of a difference to deny him a second term?

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Mick owens
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Mick owens

United we stand , divided we fall , its that simple America !