It has been a truly, historically awful year for American farmers.
Purdue University puts out a monthly report called the Ag Economy Barometer, a series of surveys aimed at measuring the state of the American agriculture industry—and, more specifically, how farmers are feeling about the industry. They are currently…not feeling good.
The report is made up of interviews with 400 farm producers, asking them all kinds of things. How confident are you about making large investments in your farm? How confident are you in the value of your farmland? Do you expect your financial position to improve, decline, or stay the same in the next year?
The results were discouraging. Torrential flooding in the Midwest, lowered prices, surpluses of products like dairy, and, above all, the ongoing trade war with China have hit farmer sentiment like a heat-seeking missile. One year ago, 35 percent of respondents said they believed their equity will decline in the next year; in May 2019, that number leapt to 55 percent.
Farmers also increasingly believe their farmland to be less valuable; a year ago, 52 percent of farmers believed their farmland would increase in value, while in May, that number dropped to 39 percent.
Much has been made of farmer support for Donald Trump and his presidency. But payouts to help farmers through the trade war have been inadequate, slow, and unbalanced; New Food Economy reports that some farms are receiving millions of dollars, far above the allowed limit. China, the largest international buyer of American soybeans, is looking to other suppliers, like Brazil, potentially setting up a situation where even after the trade war theoretically ends, American farmers will have lost their buyer. Farmers still, despite this, mostly support the trade war, but support is waning. In March, 77 percent of farmers said they thought the trade war would ultimately benefit American agriculture; in May, that was down to 65 percent.
As a whole, the Purdue study finds that farmer sentiment is now lower than it’s been at any point since before the Trump presidency, the lowest since October of 2016.