Danielle Endvick: Farms need more than ‘Trump money’
Summary: When election season ends and the subsidies run out, rural America will still be suffering — that is, unless we start pushing for long-term solutions, rather than one-time payments.
There’s a term swirling around the countryside these days: “Trump money.” It refers to the growing pile of subsidies hitting farm country during this election year.
At a recent campaign rally in Wisconsin, President Donald Trump announced a new $13 billion federal aid package. It will benefit farmers through another round of payments from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, a $16 billion relief package overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Coupled together, we’re entering record-breaking territory on farm subsidies.
Don’t get me wrong, these payments are deeply appreciated. Here in America’s heartland, we’re still reeling from the impacts of a years-long dairy crisis, extreme climate events like the crop-devastating “derecho” storm, the trade wars, and pandemic-related market and supply chain disruptions.
But there is also something that feels just a little bit dirty about 2020 farm subsidies — they’ve nearly tripled since 2017, coinciding with Trump’s efforts to shore up the rural vote in key states like here in Wisconsin.
Although my rural — and red — corner of the Badger State is hurting, what’s needed more than short-term payoffs is long-term sustainability.
Family farmers need fair prices for our goods. We need smart — and more stable — trade policy. We need a fair share of the food dollar, enforcement of antitrust regulations and a strong look at the consolidation in agriculture that is emptying the pockets of the family farmer, even as corporations pull in record profits. And we need leaders on the local, state and national ballot who will stand up on these issues.
In the meantime, farmers are making 4.8% less than they were a year ago, cutting into already razor thin margins.
In my father’s childhood, our country neighborhood was a patchwork of family farms. My grandfather’s generation was able to make a decent living, raise a large family off their farm income and even invest in the farm operation through the years.
But in the past 20 years, I’ve watched as the dairy crisis hit America’s Dairyland. When my dad bought our family farm in the early 1990s, there were nearly 30,000 dairy herds in Wisconsin. Now that number hovers just over 7,000. We’re down to only two operating dairy farms in the neighborhood, and I worry over how long they’ll be able to hang on.
Though the farm subsidies are essential for many, the money has largely been going into the hands of the wealthy. For instance, 80% of aid from the Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program was allocated to just three commodities: beef, dairy and corn — with some more diversified farm businesses being overlooked entirely.
Worse, the top 1% of recipients got more than 20% of the funds, while the bottom 10% received just 0.26%. In terms of payments, the largest 1% of U.S. farms received an average of $352,432 in coronavirus aid, while the smallest 80% of farms received an average of $4,677.
When election season ends and the subsidies run out, rural America will still be suffering — that is, unless we start pushing for long-term solutions, rather than one-time payments.
Danielle Endvick is an ex-dairy farmer’s daughter from Holcombe, Wisconsin. She now raises beef and works as the communications director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, a grassroots family farm organization. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.