NC farmers face unprecedented run of hardships
North Carolina farmers received more than $105.1 million in payments from the federal government to compensate for losses due to retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other nations, according to a data analysis by The Associated Press.
The vast majority of the money — nearly $100 million — went to soybean and cotton farmers in the state. But the federal government also made payments to farmers for wheat, dairy, corn, hogs and sorghum losses. Tobacco farmers, however, were not included.
The payments included in the total began in late 2018 and continued through May. In late July, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced another $16 billion in support for agricultural producers.
John Fleming, a fifth-generation farmer, received about $125,000 for soybeans and cotton. He said the money enabled him to pay others — including employees, the bank and those he rents land from.
“People talk about, ‘This is a bailout for farmers.’ In essence, it is. But I didn’t cash a check and go on a month-long vacation in the Caribbean,” said Fleming of Fleming Brothers Farms in Halifax County in northeastern North Carolina. “It’s not just me reaping all the benefits. We spread it out.”
Fleming said that troubles — brought on by the trade war, as well as storms, reduced demand for soybeans in China because of an outbreak of African swine fever that decimated the country’s hog population and lower oil prices that resulted in increased competition for cotton from polyester — have not pushed him away from his occupation.
“I have no intention of walking away from it because of a couple years of pain. This is a legacy deal for us and a legacy deal for a whole lot of farmers,” he said. “That ‘can’t any more’ line varies from farm to farm.”
Despite that pain, Fleming said the country has no alternative now. He wants a more unified voice out of Washington to help the negotiations. He said most of his tariff-related losses were covered, but he was still behind when you consider storms and other events.
“It is exactly what it is: a trade war. Whether or not I support it, we’re in it. We’ve got to win it at this point to come up with a better deal,” Fleming said.
The USDA lists more than two dozen crops that are eligible for the payments, but tobacco is not included among them due to federal rules that preclude the crop from receiving federal funds to promote its sale or export.
“Tobacco did not receive one penny of that money,” said Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau. “And I’ve got news for you, the new money that’s coming out, tobacco is not going to share in that either.”
Wooten said that North Carolina farmers exported $162 million worth of tobacco products to China in 2017. In 2018, that figure was $4 million. He said the state’s farmers this year have planted the smallest crop of tobacco since before World War II.
“You can lay that squarely at the feet of the tariffs and the trade war,” he said.
Wooten said he was not making a political or partisan statement, but an economic one.
“We need it over. Our farms are hurting. We need a resolution,” he said. “The long-term gain for the short-term pain. We’ve got some farmers that may not make it to the long term. The short-term pain may take them out. We want fair trade all across, but it is tough.”
Cox Brothers Farm in Union County, southeast of Charlotte, received the largest payment in North Carolina, more than $633,000 for corn, soybeans, wheat and hogs. The farm received the largest single payments for soybeans, wheat and hogs.
When reached by phone by McClatchy on Tuesday, no one at the farm was willing to discuss the issue. Soybean farmer Delano Cox told WFAE earlier that she continues to support President Donald Trump.
“What we have gotten back is nothing like what we have lost. But we’re OK with it, because we think President Trump is going to fix what has been broken for years and years and years,” Cox said. “We will probably have one year of suffering because of it, but we hope after this it will be much better. And we have all the confidence in the world in our president.”
Trump came into office promising better trade deals with China and other nations, saying past leaders had made terrible deals with nations across the globe. He has turned to tariffs as a key negotiating tactic.
“China has lost 5 million jobs and two million manufacturing jobs due to the Trump Tariffs. Trumps got China back on its heels, and the United States is doing great,” Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
The payments were handled through the USDA’s Market Facilitation Program. County payment rates range from $15 to $150 per acre. Some individual payments were as low as $2, according to the data acquired from USDA’s Farm Service Agency through two FOIA requests by The Associated Press.
During the eight months of the first round of Market Facilitation Program, $8.55 billion was paid out to 577,713 farmers, according to The Associated Press.
Trump often says the money came from tariffs paid by the Chinese.
“Farmers are starting to do great again, after 15 years of a downward spiral. The 16 Billion Dollar China ‘replacement’ money didn’t exactly hurt!” he wrote on Twitter last week.
Trump often praises the nation’s “patriot farmers,” but Wooten said the farmers are carrying a heavy burden in trade negotiations that are largely about other sectors of the economy — including intellectual property protections.
“Farmers are patriots, but a broke patriot is not of much good,” Wooten said.
Fleming said the payment has certainly helped his business, but he’d prefer to be selling his product on the market.
“We’d much rather have strong prices due to demand than rely on the federal government to keep us whole,” Fleming said.