Has Donald Trump been good to America’s family farms? He certainly seems to think so: “Oh, are you happy you voted for me. You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege,” the president told members of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville on Monday, where he gave his first major address of the year. Trump clearly enjoyed himself. He preened and smirked, baring his white teeth. “Get up,” he instructed the audience at one point, demanding a standing ovation.
In fact, there is very little by way of policy to support Trump’s claim that his administration is “fighting for our farmers,” though his administration has been good to agricultural corporations and the largest industrial farms. Consider the new tax law, which Trump described as a major accomplishment on behalf of “working families, small businesses and…family farmers.” (And which he overstated the size of by $4 trillion.) According to economists from the United States Department of Agriculture, the new law will actually raise the tax burden for the lowest-earning 20 percent of farming families. The richest 10 percent will capture between 50 and 70 percent of the law’s benefits.
Trump also claimed the law spares farmers from the “punishment” of “the deeply unfair estate tax,” allowing them to “keep your farms in the family.” But very few family farms are impacted by the estate tax: In 2017, it affected some 80 small farms and closely held businesses. “To continue this mantra that you are helping family farmers with tax reform is just not the reality,” said Rob Larew, vice president of public policy and communications for the National Farmers Union. “The vast majority of these family farms are in no way impacted by the estate tax.”
In his speech, Trump bragged about the stock market’s rise—“Everybody happy with your 401(k)?” he asked, never mind that fewer than half of farm households have any kind of retirement account at all. He made no mention of his proposal to shrink the USDA budget by 21 percent. Trump promised to “end chain migration” and “build the wall,” though he said nothing about the shortage of farmworkers exacerbated by his anti-immigration policies. (As many as 70 percent of America’s farmworkers are undocumented.) Trump touted two new executive orders intended to expand broadband Internet in the many rural communities that lack access. But the executive orders don’t provide any new funding, which is the primary barrier. And while Trump boasted of the number of regulations cut during his first year in office, he didn’t say anything about the most significant agriculture-related regulatory rollback: the withdrawal of rules proposed by Obama under the Grain Inspection, Packards, and Stockyards Act (GIPSA) to protect farmers and ranchers from predatory and retaliatory practices by the giant agribusinesses that control the meat market. (Read David Dayen for more on the GIPSA rules.)