Guest Commentary

Farmers shouldn’t bear the burden of government actions

Living and working off the land is an American tradition and labor of love from which too many politicians in Washington are far removed. But in states like Kansas, where the agricultural sector is worth $4.6 billion, farmers and their families are as dependent on predictable, pro-growth trade policies as their crops are on the sun, wind and rain. Unfortunately, even the weather is more predictable than Washington, whose trade policies have had a devastating impact for America’s farmers.

I spent the past week in Kansas, on a bus traveling to Wichita, Overland Park, Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan, Abilene and McPherson. Meeting with dozens of folks, I saw firsthand how, through no fault of their own, American farmers have been placed at the center of a trade war with grave consequences.

If President Trump visited the people of Kansas today, he would encounter levels of emotional distress that reveal just how difficult it is for farmers to compete in today’s global market. Since 2013, Kansas farmers’ real net income has fallen by 65%. Trump’s decision to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership and engage in trade wars is making life even harder for our farmers. The price of wheat fell by 25% between 2017 and 2018, and Kansas’ wheat exports dropped by 29%.

By abandoning TPP and engaging in trade wars, President Trump has given leverage to America’s competitors. Underpriced and heavily subsidized Russian wheat has flooded the U.S. market over the past five years, with Russian production more than doubling — from 37.7 million metric tons in 2013 to 85 million metric tons in 2018.

What’s more, abandoning the TPP hardly puts “America first.” One of the most important goals of TPP was to counter the growing influence of China and expand U.S. influence in Southeast Asia. Had we signed on to the TPP, the United States would have joined countries representing 40% of the world economy to establish the largest free trade area ever, raising U.S. exports and household incomes across the nation. In agriculture, exports would have risen by $2.9 billion per year. Instead, America’s farm exports are reduced by $1.8 billion per year.

Our farmers — and the American people — deserve better. Trump’s tariffs have resulted in major costs to U.S. consumers and businesses from a wide range of industries.

One can forgive an American living in New Yok, Atlanta, or Chicago for failing to understand the complexities of how the weather affects crops. But our leaders’ neglect of our agricultural communities is demonstrative of a lack of understanding about how policies affect real people.

Farmers can’t always count on the weather. But as they pray for rain, we should not ask them to bear the burden of destructive or nonresponsive actions by their government.

Howard Schultz is former CEO of Starbucks. He recently announced that he is considering running for president.
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