Federal Payments to Farmers Have Tripled Since 2017, and Trump Just Promised Even More

Trump's farm bailouts have cost taxpayers more than $28 billion already, and he just announced another $14 billion in payments as part of his reelection pitch to farm-heavy states.


It was March 2, 2018, when President Donald Trump's top trade adviser appeared on Fox Business Network to reassure Americans that other countries wouldn't retaliate against new tariffs proposed by the White House.

Those tariffs on imported steel and aluminum were the first major battle in what's become an expensive and largely unsuccessful 2 1/2 year-long trade war. But even at that early stage, it was obvious to some observers that the trade war wouldn't be as easy or beneficial as the Trump administration was promising. "Should we expect China and others to come back and say, 'Oh really America? Well take this, I'm going to raise tariffs and retaliate on farm goods," Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo directly asked Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, during that March 2 interview.

"I don't believe any country is going to retaliate for the simple reason that we are the most lucrative and biggest market in the world," Navarro told her.

Well, he was wrong. Retaliation from several countries, but especially from China, caused exports of American agricultural goods to plummet in the years that followed. In 2017, the last year before the trade war began, China imported more than $19 billion in American farm goods, which fell to $9 billion in 2018 and rebounded weakly to $13 billion in 2019. Exports to other countries have been unable to make up the difference and, as a result, overall agricultural exports have fallen since the trade war began—ironically, given Trump's focus on trade deficits, that means America now has a smaller farm goods trade surplus than at any time since 2006.

But to fix one self-inflicted wound, the Trump administration made another. Starting in 2018 and ramping up last year, the White House began making billions of dollars of direct payments to farmers who had been economically injured by the trade war. The Trump farm bailouts are on pace to cost taxpayers more than $37 billion this year—a huge increase over the total cost of direct farm payments, as tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in pre-trade war times.

The farm bailout has already cost taxpayers more than $28 billion—a total that doesn't include $14 billion in spending announced this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—all without a single dollar being approved by Congress. Instead, the White House has activated a long-dormant Depression-era program to borrow the funds directly from the Treasury.

The whole thing is exactly the sort of unaccountable executive overreach that Republicans used to campaign against. Now, Trump is using those bailouts as part of his reelection pitch, effectively telling voters in farm-heavy states that the money will keep flowing as long as they keep him in office.

"I am doing even more to support Wisconsin farmers," Trump said during a rally in Wisconsin on Friday. "Starting next week, my administration is committing an additional—you have been asking for this for a long time—$13 billion in relief to help farmers recover from the China virus, including Wisconsin's incredible dairy, cranberry and ginseng farmers who got hurt badly."

Blaming the coronavirus pandemic is a clever bit of campaign-trail rhetoric, but it's clear that American farmers were hurting long before the world knew about COVID-19. Wisconsin dairy farmers have been hit particularly hard recently—the state saw roughly 10 percent of its dairy farms close in 2019, before coronavirus hit—and the state is, of course, a key battleground in the upcoming presidential election.

If the farm bailouts were an exception, maybe Republicans could be forgiven for looking the other way. But Trump has expanded the cost of government on almost every front during the past four years. For a guy running against the supposed socialism of the political left, Trump sure has embraced a lot of socialism on his own when it has been politically advantageous to do so.

But even if Trump is defeated and the trade war comes to an end, taxpayers may end up footing a larger bill for farm subsidies for years. There's nothing as permanent as a temporary government program, after all.

"It's hard rolling back these things," Joseph Glauber, a senior fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and former USDA chief economist told Politico in July. "The headlines are going to scream when [USDA] puts out a February 2021 farm income forecast that doesn't show any ad hoc payments."

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  1. For some reason the government decided long ago that taxpayers should subsidize outmoded methods for agricultural production. Instead of letting it run like a competitive industry. Somehow this is popular with voters (at least in Iowa, which goes first.)

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    2. And not just the US government, but governments all over the world.

      One reason seems to have been a grand political log-rolling that made farmers the biggest supporters of liberalism, back when liberalism meant something (good). In the USA it may have started with the Whiskey Rebellion, whose resolution was effectively, OK, we’ll let you have a democratic republic as long as we (farmers) get treated as something special.

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    4. “Iowa” which generally swings as a Blue State. No surprise there.. What’s ironic is farmers hate subsidies by a mass majority.

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  2. Boehm links to Shika’s article calling Trump a socialist. Hilarious. What a circle jerk.

    Anyway – better Trump and more conservative judges with a few bailouts than Biden and limp wristed far left wing democrats supporting rioters, on any day.

    1. If anyone should know a socialist it’s Shikha.

    2. Win some, lose some. Just on this site this morning, report of the DOL’s interpretation allowing more workers to be considered contractors, but also of DOJ not wanting to let an old marijuana offender out on compassionate release.

      Still, overall I can hardly think of another administration as good as this during my lifetime, and I’m 66. Maybe Eisenhower’s, but that’s a long time. And when have the Democrats ever been as bad as they are now?

    3. Perfect example of mass media misleading the public. The Farm bill was passed with 100% Democrat support while 13-Republicans States voted against it because; and I quote, “Farmers don’t want to make their living from the treasury department.”

  3. Because farmers are critical to the country; they tend to vote Republican.

    1. …and against farm subsidies…

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  4. Reason doesn’t like farm subsidies.

    So obviously farm subsidies must be a good thing since Reason is a commie rag that’s wrong about everything.

    Yay subsidies! Yay Trump!

    1. Hey look it’s sarc making an argument but pretending it isn’t because he afraid to defend it.

      1. it’s his move

        1. I thought I was a mindless defender of everything Reason. So that can’t be my argument because I’m disagreeing with the magazine. Make up your mind, jeez.

          1. so completely your move

            1. bishop to queen’s six

          2. lol sarc doesn’t even understand what he was responding to lololol

            1. lol well played.

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    2. Yay Projection! Democrats is what gave us farm subsidies – check the vote on the last farm bill. Most republican farmers would cheer Trump if he would’ve vetoed that bill.

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  6. Where are the Trump supporters defending farm subsidies? C’mon guys! Gotta pile onto Reason for hating Trump for supporting farmers! Where are you?

    1. I’m certainly not defending farm subsidies. He’s just buying votes with that $14 billion, and I oppose it.

      Are you giving Trump credit for killing a $3.5 trillion stimulus bill–in the middle of a recession and five weeks before an election?

      Because both things are happening, and if Trump weren’t there to do what he did, we’d have already spent that $3.5 trillion.

      1. P.S. $3.5 trillion – $140 billion = $3.486 trillion.

        Somebody check my math.

        1. Pretending you’re not a DNC operative today?

        2. “Because both things are happening, and if Trump weren’t there to do what he did, we’d have already spent that $3.5 trillion.”

          Are you neither an American taxpayer nor an American?

          That’s what I meant by “we”.

    2. “Where are the Trump supporters defending farm subsidies? ”

      You can’t just imagine them into being like you normally do?

      1. I’d like Italian on that word salad please.

        1. “word salad”
          You either don’t know what that means or you didn’t read his comment.

      2. Are you kidding me? This site has gone full on stupid since Trump came into the picture.

        There’s at most a handful of actual libertarians here that haven’t drank the kool-aid.

    3. “Where are the Trump supporters defending farm subsidies? “

      Not here, it’s a colossal waste of money.
      Even as a vote buying exercise it’s a failure, because the bulk of the subsidies go to industrial farming outfits and agricultural co-ops.

      The main reasons for it are to stay “competitive” with the heavily subsidized EU and East Asian farmers, to stay actually competitive with Canadian wheat, South American produce, and Brazilian beef and soybeans, and keep food costs ever so slightly lower in supermarkets.

      Sorry Sarc, I know that’s not the answer you were hoping for.

      1. No, the vote buying probably succeeds, because if a Republican president and Congress weren’t to keep up (and keep adding to) their historic tribute payments to ag, they could lose a state or two they count on now. The money that goes to Big Farm doesn’t just stay there, they have connections. And they’re fickle, because it used to be Democrats who could count on those votes in return for that tribute.

    4. The Trump supporters here aren’t like that. We look at the overall picture and acknowledge some thing he does we dislike. That doesn’t make the good things he does bad, any more than the good things make the farm subsidies bad. Of course, you still have to judge him on historic USA and world standards; ag policy is notoriously fucked up worldwide and since, like, forever, so graded on that curve his ag policy may not look as bad.

      1. Which is not as bad?

        There is another choice. Her name is Jo Jorgensen and she is on the ballot in all 50 states.

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  12. In the state where I live the ranching industry lobbyists have incredible power. They’re subsidized by allowing to lease public land for grazing at below market value, and taxpayers pay to clean up the mess. Cattle are an invasive species. Environmentalists have tried to work with them, but many refuse to give an inch. To be fair there are some who have made compromises and if they’re willing to work with other stakeholders I’d be willing to cut them some slack.
    Many of them have no understanding of natural resource laws. It’s my way or the highway! Just because you live in a rural area doesn’t make you more important than other people. Just because the senate and EC overrepresent rural inbred rednecks doesn’t mean you’re more important than everyone else. Because you’re inbred, obnoxious, and using taxpayer money to subsidize your way of life you’re less important than other people. They always act so fiercely independent, but if they can’t be profitable without getting subsidies then they shouldn’t be in business.
    Many of them are MAGA loving ignoramuses that repeat all of Trump’s lies and complain about welfare queens taking their tax dollars. The reality is many farmers and ranchers are the biggest welfare queens in the country, but they’re worse. A single mom getting WIC is an abomination in their eyes. Them using everyone else’s land to make their failed business profitable is just good ole patriotic hard work. Many are Mormons too. Typical mormons are hypocrites.

    1. Environmentalists typically refuse to ‘give an inch.’ I know this was a typo, but the actual reading is accurate.
      ‘I’d be willing to cut them some slack,’ let us know your stance on world leaders as well.
      It is starting to become apparent that you live in a town or city, and dislike rural areas, and the sensibilities of rural dwellers. My guess is that you will soon graduate from your hatred of Mormons and rednecks to using terms like fly-over, rustbelt, and making arguments about depriving rural areas of aid and representation, like so many progressive bigots. I suspect that your claims are based on hearsay and a select few cases, but you want us to believe that they apply to all. This is a logical fallacy on your part, applying the characteristics of a subset to an entire population.

      1. I live in a small town now. I was raised in a city, but prefer small towns now. I don’t dislike all rural folks. Just the inbred, far right loons. Not going to “graduate” from my hatred of Mormons. I will always hate them. At least till they stop trying to take over our country. I don’t want to deprive rural areas of aid or representation. I simply want them to be represented the same as everyone else. Right now Wyoming has 2 senators and 1 rep in the house when it has less than 600,000 residents. The city I’m from has more people, but it has to share it’s representative with surrounding rural areas. It has nearly 8 times the population of Wyoming, but has the same number of senators. The Senate and EC gives a ton of disproportional representation to rural areas. Why should those shit kicking, inbred hillbillies get more say than everyone else?

        I’m aware of anecdotal fallacies because so many reason commenters rely on them. One thing that is true is ranchers lease public land way below market value, and are being subsidized by taxpayers. If their business can’t be profitable without help from the government then maybe they need to find a new line of work.

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