President Donald Trump tweeted his support for farmers and ranchers Tuesday, thanking them for their hard work and dedication. Meanwhile, his administration is pushing legislation that could have devastating effects on their livelihoods.
In a statement proclaiming March 21, 2017, as National Agriculture Day, Trump wrote that the industry is the “heart and soul” of America.
“The agriculture sector of the United States is endlessly innovative,” Trump wrote. “It continuously builds on its centuries of progress through advances in science, research, technology, safety, production, and marketing to meet the demands of changing consumer needs and complex world markets.”
But progress through advances in science and research could come to a grinding halt under the Trump administration.
Farmers’ crops nationwide are at risk from climate change, but Trump’s budget cut proposals introduced last week take aim at climate change research initiatives across federal agencies. The Environmental Protection Agency faces a 31 percent slash in funding under the proposed budget and would have to ax programs aimed at combating man-made global warming.
Severe weather conditions, such as hurricanes and droughts, have increasingly threatened farmland and livestock, and scrapping climate change action plans would only magnify the potential ramifications.
Last week, The New York Times published a report examining a farm in Kansas where climate change wreaked havoc on its resources. Unusually high late-winter temperatures combined with weeks of low precipitation fueled wildfires that destroyed the ranchers’ land and killed dozens of their cattle.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that humans are contributing to the rapid increase of the Earth’s temperature, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney isn’t concerned by the mounting threat and sees no reason to invest in climate change research.
“We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mulvaney said during a press briefing earlier this month. “We consider that to be a waste of your money.”
The Trump administration has also proposed cutting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s discretionary budget from $22.6 billion to $17.9 billion, a 21 percent reduction.
The proposed cuts would scrap funding for rural clean water initiatives as well as decrease county-level staff and some statistical services that many farmers rely on for planning.
Industry leaders, including Republican lawmakers, have pushed back on the proposed cuts, claiming they could hurt the rural communities that helped get Trump elected in November.
“America’s farmers and ranchers are struggling, and we need to be extremely careful not to exacerbate these conditions,” Rep. Michael Conway (R-Texas), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said in a statement last week.
Americans across party lines have expressed concern over the GOP’s health care bill ― and farmers are no exception.
The Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare would shrink protections for low-income Americans, which could have devastating effects on many rural farmers.
Rural farmers are already struggling with reduced access to health care after the closure of 80 rural hospitals throughout the country since 2010, Maggie Elehwany, a spokeswoman for the National Rural Health Association, recently told NPR.
The bill, she told the station, does nothing to address that problem.
National Farmers Union, the second-largest agriculture industry group, is staunchly opposed to the bill.
“We believe the American Health Care Act would have serious negative impacts on farmers’ and ranchers’ access to affordable health insurance coverage,” NFU President Roger Johnson said in a statement Tuesday.
The agriculture industry could be rocked by Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Dairy farmers and fruit and vegetable growers, both of whom rely heavily on an immigrant workforce, are expressing fears that Trump’s promise to tighten immigration enforcement and build a border wall with Mexico could eliminate much of its labor pool.
States that have passed laws targeting undocumented immigrants have endured decimated workforces and millions of dollars worth of lost crops. In 2011, Georgia passed anti-immigration legislation that resulted in a 40 percent reduction of the state’s agricultural workforce and roughly $140 million worth of crops left rotting in the fields.
U.S. citizens, the farm industry says, simply are not interested in filling ― or able to fill ― the gap left by a loss of migrant farmworkers, and the limited research on the subject bears that argument out.
A study conducted in North Carolina found that, of 245 unemployed U.S. citizens hired to work on farms one summer, just 163 (66.5 percent) of them even showed up to work on their first day. Only seven of them (3 percent) lasted the entirety of the growing season.
The irony of Trump’s proclamation of support amid these pressing challenges to their businesses was not lost on some farmers.
Clare Hintz owns Elsewhere Farm, a 40-acre farm on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin. Hintz grows vegetables and fruit using sustainable methods and also raises rare livestock breeds, including Icelandic chickens and Guinea hogs.
Hintz described her reaction to Trump’s Tuesday tweet in an email to The Huffington Post.
When I read the tweet, I think: 1. Then don’t take away our health care. 2. Start being proactive about climate change and 3. Stop the bigotry against all the people who actually farm: immigrants, Mexican Americans, and so many others!
Despite these frustrations, Hintz said she remains dedicated to helping create a more just, and more earth-friendly, food system — even if it’s without the support of the current administration.
“It’s easy to despair, but we don’t have the luxury of despairing,” Hintz said. “It’s harder now, but the farming community has been farming in resistance to dominant forces for years. The attitude is that we’re just rolling up our sleeves some more. We have to keep working.”