Farmers were among U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s biggest supporters. So is it any wonder the annual measure of their confidence levels have soared now that he’s running the Oval Office?
U.S. farm communications giant DTN publishes an annual farmer confidence survey. It’s important for manufacturers, advertisers and indeed the whole country to know the mood of farmers, given their impact on the economy. Are they feeling positive and therefore likely to buy equipment and keep the economy moving? Or are they pessimistic about the future, meaning they’ll likely save their money and ride it out?
Before the American election, confidence levels were at an all-time modern-era low. Crop prices have been in the basement and are expected to stay there for several years. The outlook for livestock wasn’t much better.
But when Trump gained office, confidence soared, for no logical reason.
"There is nothing on the horizon -- not world grain supplies, not weather, not signs of new commodity demand -- that would justify such optimism,” said DTN editor-in-chief Greg Horstmeier. "The only thing we can put our finger on is the presidential election. Farmers and rural America played a large role in Donald Trump's victory, and farmers must feel he's going to make the world right for them."
So what will that take?
Well, to start with, it will take higher prices. And U.S. consumers, like consumers everywhere, don’t want to pay them. So then, it will take new markets. And those are at a premium.
But maybe those future U.S. markets are currently someone else’s markets. Does Donald Trump care? I doubt it. I’m sure he’d shrug and say “Too bad. That’s business.”
Ontario farmers – and indeed, farmers all across Canada, as well as our new foreign trade minister -- need to watch for new signs, other than campaign rhetoric, that Trump is after foreign markets. Because they just might be our markets, fruit and vegetables included.
Even farmers a world away have their antennae up. For example, in Ghana, the Ghana Agricultural and Rural Development Journalists Association (GARDJA) issued a statement pressuring the new national government “to use its vast purchasing power in the interest of the Ghanaian farmer over the Chinese or American producer.”
The journalists recognize the need for a strong domestic agricultural economy. They say government support -- not subsidies -- for initiatives such as school lunch programs will create demand for locally produced food items.
The association has even given the government suggested wording for a buy-local directive, saying national funds must only be used to buy foodstuffs from local producers, unless the capacity to produce them doesn’t exist.
I’m sure farmers everywhere want their governments to also be their champions. Of course they do. But governments can’t do it all themselves. In Ontario, the province gives awards to businesses that do the best job of promoting and supporting local producers.
It must be a total, all-in approach, involving everyone in the food value chain. Not just those at the top. Not just Donald Trump.
But thanks to him, and what will no doubt be exceptional support for U.S. farmers by the Trump government, I foresee years of David-and-Goliath scenarios evolving. And I’m sure the suddenly optimistic U.S. farmers see it that way too, with Trump in the role of Goliath. Very, very fitting.
Support for our local farmers will be critical for controlling this dragon. No question, it will be more important than ever, if the U.S. starts flexing its muscles and closing the door on imports.
Maybe trade wars can’t be averted, but their damaging effects can be better handled if people are committed to not only saying local is better, but by actually buying local, as well. It’s an important message to get across to the public as we approach this year’s growing season.