Epic floods and trade wars the US farmers battered by politics and climate

The weather is wild, the tariffs are rising, and as frustration ripples through the Iowa corn fields, rural America is ready to confront its 2020 candidates

Aaron Heley Lehman listened to the rain tap his window pane in the machine shed for two weeks, wondering when he would ever finish planting corn on his central Iowa farm, and watched the markets tank as Donald Trump blustered on in his trade war with China.


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Five inches of rain fell. Just one day in two weeks without rain. Another weeks worth might be on the way. And soybeans are down $2.50 per bushel since the farmers friend in the red MAGA cap assumed the presidency, at least a buck-per-bushel below break-even for most operators.

Its been a miserable spring, Lehman said.

Iowa farmers have been losing money five or six years straight. The climate crisis is making wilder weather the new normal in the Tall Corn state. Spring floods from heavy rains burst the levees of the mighty Mississippi so you could float a boat through downtown Davenport. On Iowas west coast, the muddy Missouri raged through the Loess hills and valleys and took entire towns with it Pacific Junction, population 470, and Hamburg, population 1,187. Tens of thousands of acres have been scoured, perhaps never to be probed by a corn planter again.

The politicians have toured and put their fingers to the wind. Iowa is vital electorally. It was key to Trumps victory, as was Wisconsin, similarly inundated by trade wars and oceans of corporate milk drowning independent dairy farmers.

They went back to DC and answered with a $19bn weather disaster aid package, with $3.3bn for the midwest. But a lone congressman from Texas named Chip Roy was able to hold it up, all by himself, over border-wall funding until Congress returns from a hard-earned Memorial Day vacation. Meanwhile, farm suicide rates are at their highest levels since the midwest depression of the mid-1980s.

Since Trump wiped out our soybean market three-quarters of Iowas beans were bound for China he threw farmers and livestock producers $12bn in trade disaster aid. Farmers call it the Trump bump. Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue announced another bump last week: $16bn to be targeted at the farm counties worst hit by losses in soy and pork trade. Nobody out here knows how much it will be or who gets paid. What they do know is that to get any of this next Trump bump you must plant a crop this year, come hell or high water.

A lot of people will just be mudding it in for the trade aid rather than for the market, said Chad Hart, Iowa State University Extension markets economist. He said it will take weeks for rules to dribble out and months for payments to arrive. Dont plant or not plant based on rumors, he advises. He worries.

Bankers are trying to figure it all out, too. Theyre watching farm working capital erode every year. Government bailouts cant keep everyone whole. If you own the land you are treading water or making a little bit. If you are renting?

Its damn tough making it farming, said Dave Drey, Citizens First National Bank vice-president, who also farms with his brother Dennis near Storm Lake.


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Trump at a rally in Indiana last year. Will his Trump bump be enough to help farmers in the midwest? Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

He, too, is groping for information to help his customers as world events and torrents of water whipsaw markets. He knows that government bailouts inevitably leave some farmers out, that they can be regionally targeted politically, that they distort rational decision-making, and that everyone would rather get their supper from the market and not the soup line.

Thats what all the politicians mouth: trade over aid. Senator Chuck Grassley is chipping his teeth clucking on tariffs. Yet Republicans try to defend Trump in a state that is among the most export-sensitive in the nation. Senator Joni Ernst told Storm Lakers one recent rainy May day that farmers are willing to take the short-term pain for the long-term gain.

Its the easiest thing to tell yourself that, but that is not what theyre saying when theyre talking to the banker, said Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union.

What gain? And how long the pain?

Lehman, 51, said a neighbor, in his 70s and farming with his son, popped by that morning idled by the weather. He was talking about markets and the rain. Not really about the future, how we could turn this all around and make ourselves right again. Everyone is stuck in the present muck.

Spring weather like this usually scares the Chicago Board of Trade pits into a rally. Not this year because of the trade war. Then there is an African virus sweeping China that has culled 40% of its swine herd, further reducing soybean demand. Perish the thought of the flu hitting Iowa, the hog capital of the world with tens of thousands of dependent jobs.

Its like everything is coming together all at once, said Rich Robinson, a 74-year-old farmer near Storm Lake. I really dont know where were going to end up.

It casts a pall over the midwest. Manufacturing profits are off because of rising steel costs. Line workers in Davenport feel it. Regional manufacturing towns are just hanging on. Most everybody in Iowa is one or two generations removed from the farm or the county seat town. They know. They spoke in the midterm elections by sending two new congresswomen to Washington.

Rural America has been in a squeeze the past 40 years. Presidential candidates are awake to it because rural people are confronting them with it: consolidation of the livestock industry (the largest pork producer in the US, Smithfield Foods, is owned by the Chinese), seed and chemical companies bidding for every acre with crops genetically modified for the next poison, and an imploding export market manipulated for political ends. The candidates are responding with serious proposals around anti-trust enforcement and directing more conservation aid to battle climate crisis. They remain abstractions on the 2020 horizon.

Frustration is the word for here and now. It ripples everywhere.

Farmer Robinson recalls five decades of work by Iowans trying to build that Chinese market as an answer to our chronic problem of over-production. Now it looks like it could have been all for naught, he lamented.


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And here we thought we had things under control when former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was appointed ambassador to China. It could take years to restore those lost markets taken by Brazil and Argentina.

Those are some formidable clouds to part. We all hope that they do, as a few sprouts come up from those fields touched during a window of sunshine. Everyone still cheers for corn knee-high by the Fourth of July.

Lehman just wants to plant the farm thats been in his family for five generations. Grumpiness started to fade when the sun peeked through for the Memorial Day weekend, and a breeze picked up to dry out that black gummy soil.

You find a way to work through it, he said, greasing that tractor one more time, an anxious gear jockey waiting for the gate to swing wide.

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

This post was curated & Posted using : RealSpecific

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