Minnesota farmers recently received $681 million in subsidies from the federal government. Ordinarily, that might be a boon. Not this time.
The money is a sop to farmers hurt by President Donald Trump’s trade wars. Exports to China, a top destination for Minnesota soybeans and other farm products, have all but collapsed. Though Minnesota’s subsidy amount is the third highest among farm states, it’s only a patch on an ongoing problem.
Trump’s attempts to wrest a better deal — by measures not all have agreed upon — are taking a grievous toll on farmers also struggling with the impact of a late, wet spring and labor shortages exacerbated by Trump’s crackdown on immigrants who typically have supplied seasonal farm labor.
Farmers have watched as China and other countries slapped with tariffs imposed retaliatory tariffs of their own. The subsidy may help with this year’s losses, but it will do little to stem the effects as those countries find other, more stable trading partners. Already China has turned to Brazil, Argentina and others for soybeans. Minnesota’s other top trading partners, Canada and Mexico, have had their own tariff disputes with the U.S., some of which are being worked through.
Meanwhile, the trade war Trump once boasted would be easy to win drags on. Talks with China are at a standstill. Trump’s recent offer at the G-20 Summit to postpone another $300 billion in tariffs on China was not enough to restart negotiations. And as many anticipated, China’s supposed pledge to make large purchases of American soybeans, wheat and other farm products, touted by Trump earlier as a partial victory, never materialized.
It may just be bluster, but a top agriculture official in Beijing recently warned that American farmers could lose the Chinese market for good. Han Jun, vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs, recently told the official Xinhua News Agency that “if the U.S. loses China’s market, it will be very difficult for the U.S. to regain it.” He predicted the aid offered by Trump would not cover American farmers’ losses for long. Last year China upped its Brazilian soybean imports by more than a third. And, Han noted, “many countries are willing to export more pork to China.”
As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has noted before, China’s aggressive behavior on the international trade scene has long been in need of curbing. But the best way is to create strong alliances with nations that can help squeeze China. Trump’s go-it-alone approach has yet to yield positive results. A course correction is overdue, before farmers lose things that cannot be regained.