President Donald Trump’s ongoing trade wars are expected to cost the average American family $1,277 a year, according to a new study by the Congressional Budget Office. But for some families, things have been even worse.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith, not their real names, have lost $32,000 this past year from their pecan farm in Oklahoma, and it’s testing their patience with the president. The couple was nervous about speaking out and revealing their identities out of fear that their daughter might lose her job. But she explained to her parents that nothing would change if they didn’t speak out.
The family bought their farm in 1980 with over 400 pecan trees. They started out picking the pecans, one by one, by hand. Then they tried shaking the trees into tarps. By 1985 they bought their first harvester and shaker.
“All of our neighbors were harvesting, so I think we thought we were suppose to do this too,” Mrs. Smith told Raw Story. “We have always purchased used equipment—tractors, harvesters, and a shaker to get started.”
Trump’s administration has worked to justify the trade war by claiming there was never any need for concern.
“Farmers are doing great,” said the president’s top economist Peter Navarro.
Farmers, however, have a different take.
Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, unleashed on Agriculture Sonny Perdue in an interview with Bloomberg News this time last year. He called out the administration for causing “devastating damage to rural communities.”
Luckily, the Smiths don’t depend on their farm income to sustain their life. They both work fulltime jobs to support the farm and have cattle. What they worry about are new farming families that are just getting started.
“We know of young farmers that aren’t making it,” Mrs. Smith said. “It is a catch 22. You can’t make a living unless you invest, and you can’t pay for it if prices are right.”
They live conservatively, and the cost of living in Oklahoma is low. But even they didn’t expect the significant difference between 2017 prices and 2019 prices. Pecan brokers lost about $.40-.50 per pound due to the tariffs.
“When you have harvested 80,000 pounds .50 adds up,” Mrs. Smith explained. “We will not harvest because of the prices. You just hope it goes up.”
As a result, the family said they wouldn’t be buying new equipment this year.
Then there’s the matter of weather. Oklahoma isn’t the most predictable place for weather. There are typical storms with tornadoes that can rip trees from their roots or hail storms that can destroy crops.
Between Nov. 2, 2010 and May 26, 2015, Oklahoma had 239 straight weeks of drought, which affected more than 69 percent of the state.
“Right now, we can’t get the rest of the pecans out because of the rain,” the Smiths explained. “Pecans set in April and there is a lot of weather between then and November. Some years there are no nuts.”
It’s been a month since Trump signed the trade deal with China, proclaiming his own victory in a years-long mess. The Smiths still aren’t optimistic.
“China will do what they want, no matter what they sign. China has affected the price of pecans for years,” the couple explained. “It has just been timing this year that seems to make it more obvious.”
Trump handed farmers billions as a kind of bailout to help sustain them while the U.S. negotiators tried to formulate a deal with China. Farmers got more than $22 billion in government payments in 2019, but the Smiths only saw $3,000 of it. It was a mere fraction of the $32,000 they lost.
Big corporate farms were the benefactor of Trump’s $16 billion bailouts in 2018. According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), the top 1 percent of those who got the funds received on average more than $180,000 each. Family farmers in the bottom 80 percent, on average, received less than $5,000.
But even bailouts aren’t what the Smiths want. They simply want to do what they do best.
“We would rather harvest,” Mrs. Smith told Raw Story. “We did get a payment for this of around $10 a tree.”
What she is most concerned about moving forward is that this will ultimately lead to the destruction of the small family farm.
“I am afraid [they] will be a thing of the past,” she said. “Mega farms or companies control many of our food items.”
Mrs. Smith will not vote for Trump again and neither will their daughter. Mr. Smith is still undecided, but he’s just as frustrated.