In March, the Midwest was hit with what meteorologists call a “Cyclone bomb.” Massive amounts of rain and snow were dumped by this weather system. Less than a month later, a second cyclone bomb hit the Midwest. Nebraska was particularly hard hit.
Dams were destroyed, as were roads. People were isolated and also importantly to the farmers of Nebraska, their herds of cattle were cut off from food supplies.
The timing of these cyclone bombs could not have been worse. The farmers are preparing for their spring crops and need to get some of their cattle to market.
And just when things felt like they couldn’t get any worse, the government delivered more bad news. The United States Department of Agriculture unveiled the latest census of agriculture, which quantified just how rough things have been since the last agriculture census was conducted 5 years earlier.
The country lost 14,000 full-time farms. Farm-related income had fallen nearly 10 percent, while government subsidies were up and seemingly the only thing keeping other farms from going under.
In short, the picture is bleak in rural America and worsening with every storm.
How do we revive the economic engine that is American agriculture?
Most conservatives will say we need to promote more open markets and embrace competition that will drive efficiencies. That is an excellent plan, with one condition. The competition must be free, and competition from foreign agriculture is not always free.
Tariffs and other barriers block U.S. farm goods from flowing abroad. And foreign governments subsidize their industries to the disadvantage of American farmers.
President Trump has taken steps to help.
His trade negotiators have cut deals to provide agriculture with more market access abroad – the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is widely backed by U.S. agriculture. He’s holding trading partners accountable for cheating the system and disadvantaging rural America, even scoring a recent victory over Chinese grain policies at the World Trade Organization. And he’s targeted domestic regulations and taxes that were driving up the cost of doing business here at home.
Still, more can be done. Foreign agricultural subsidies continue to grow and distort global markets. We must systematically target and eradicate those subsidies before their can be free competition.
Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL) has an interesting plan to do just that.
It’s called Zero-for-Zero, and it agrees to eliminate U.S. subsidies and tariffs in exchange for others doing the same. Right now, Yoho’s plan only pertains to sugar, but it could be broadened to all of agriculture.
It makes sense for our farmers and ranchers because they are the world’s most efficient producers, and U.S. farm policy largely exists in response to foreign subsidies and predatory trade practices. End all the market distortions, and a real free market can form.
Conservative principles can help rural America weather the storm they are currently facing. We just need more leaders like President Trump and Congressman Yoho with the conviction to stand up and do what’s right.
If more don’t follow their lead the next agriculture census might paint a bleaker picture yet.