Monday, November 11, 2019

Perdue runs interference for Trump as trade war wears on; farmers may get more trade aid soon, but money is short

Secretary Sonny Perdue at Minnesota FarmFest
(DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Chris Clayton)
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has increasingly served as a key surrogate for President Trump on plowed ground, "traveling the country to give folksy pep talks to frustrated farmers who have seen their incomes drop and exports hit hard by tariff disputes," Annie Gowen and William Wan report for The Washington Post. "But patience is waning for Perdue’s sunny bromides in rural America, where farm bankruptcies and loan delinquencies are rising," possibly along with suicides. And Perdue has had some notable stumbles in his attempts to reassure farmers.

At a festival in Minnesota in August, crowds booed Perdue when he suggested in a joke that farmers were whiners. And in early October at a dairy expo in Wisconsin, Perdue predicted that small farms would be increasingly struggle to compete with large agribusinesses. "Critics said Perdue’s 'go big or get out' line played into existing fears that the Trump administration is more interested in helping large corporations than the little guys," Gowen and Wan report. "Perdue later said he was only acknowledging the current market reality."

However, Perdue might soon have some good news for farmers, sort of: a third round of trade bailout payments could be authorized soon. According to two anonymous Agriculture Department economists, "a third round of payments for farmers increasingly is seen as inevitable, particularly if a trade deal with China is not reached soon. The amount has not been determined," Gowen and Wan report. A trade deal, and the end of tariffs, would be the best scenario, but "a third round of aid could be crucial to shoring up Trump’s support in rural America as the election looms, analysts say."

Though a third round of bailout money would help, Missouri cattle producer Darvin Bentlage told the Post that "it won’t make us whole and we don’t want to be making our money at the mailbox. We’d rather be making it at the marketplace."

The money has come from the Commodity Credit Corp., an agency that was created in the Great Depression, but the authorized $28 billion is close to the agency's $30 billion limit. "White House aides for the first time are pressing Congress to increase how much the administration can distribute through the farm bailout before hitting the program's legal spending limit this fall -- even though farmers have already been promised billions in additional funding," Jeff Stein reported for The Washington Post in September. The issue is likely part of negotiations for appropriations to avoid a government shutdown.

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