US-China trade war forcing many farmers to take 2nd jobs to make ends meet

Farmers are dependent on side businesses to earn additional income.

October 5, 2019, 4:58 PM

A nine and a half hour drive from Illinois to Nebraska is a regular day in the life for corn and soybean farmer Mark Tuttle. Five days a week, the DeKalb County native transports seeds and other agricultural products, his workdays sometimes nearing 12 hours on the road.

Despite receiving his first payment from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Market Facilitation Program (MFP), Tuttle told ABC News that many farmers within his community depend on side businesses to earn additional income.

MFP was announced on May 23 by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue as a response to the ongoing trade war between China and the United States. President Donald Trump authorized $16 billion of aid to assist American farmers who might have faced any losses and damages caused by imposing tariffs.

In May, Trump said the aid package would enable farmers to do well and “make the same kind of money.”

"Farmers have been great. We are helping them with assistance as much as we can," Larry Kudlow, Director of the United States National Economic Council, said in August. "We'll help them more if need be."

Yet full assistance from MFP and other government programs remains to be seen, and for farmers like Tuttle, maintaining previous income levels has been a major challenge.

“I’m driving trucks to Nebraska because farming isn’t paying me,” he said. “It’s been a struggle to make ends meet, and MFP is just a small band-aid on an open wound.”

Tuttle considers himself lucky, after seeing another farmer 30 miles away, sell his machinery and shut down his farm.

PHOTO: Farmer Randy Miller is shown with his soybeans, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, at his farm in Lacona, Iowa.
Farmer Randy Miller is shown with his soybeans, Aug. 22, 2019, at his farm in Lacona, Iowa. Miller, who also farms corn, is among farmers unhappy with President Donald Trump over waivers granted to oil refineries that have sharply reduced demand for corn-based ethanol. Miller called it "our own country stabbing us in the back."
Julie Pace/AP, FILE

Soybean and corn farmers have taken a particularly forceful hit as a result of the trade war. Both the 2018 and 2019 tariffs impacted corn, soybean, wheat and dairy producers because of limited markets, and subsequently, a drop in the selling price of soybeans.

Chinese officials are scheduled to hold trade talks in Washington with the U.S. this coming week.

"China's coming in next week," Trump told reporters at the White House Thursday. "We're going to have a meeting with them. We'll see. But we're doing very well."

Tom Corcoran of the New York Corn & Soybean Growers Association said tariffs caused the market to drop significantly. Whereas in 2018 he sold his soybeans at $9.50 to $10 a bushel, Corcoran now struggles to sell them at above $8.50.

As a result, he says trucking constitutes one-third of his income and is necessary to help replace the money being lost from the tariffs.

“I’m always a bit overwhelmed because there’s too much on my plate,” Corcoran told ABC News. “I’m at risk of lawsuits from potential road accidents, and it gets tiring.”

Like Tuttle, the New York farmer signed up for MFP, which he says does not pay very much, roughly less than $40 an acre depending on the county.

“One of the first thoughts in my head, when I wake up in the morning, is how am I going to pay my bills? I’m fortunate to have my sideline. If I lose a little, it’s not good, but it’s not detrimental," Corcoran said. "But for people who have more acres, they don’t have time.”

For some farmers, their frustration does not stop at MFP. Seth Pritchard, a member of the New York Corn & Soybean Growers Association and Trump supporter, says that within his community, patience among farmers is wearing thin for the Trump administration. Though many identify as Republican, Pritchard says the longer the trade war drags on, the harder it is for the group to remain supportive of the president.

PHOTO: A roll off truck drives down dirt road towards grain silos, Laytonsville Maryland.
A roll off truck drives down dirt road towards grain silos, Laytonsville Maryland.
Edwin Remsberg/VWPics via AP Images, FILE

Similarly to other farmers, Pritchard is signed up for MFP and maintains his income by caring for other community residents’ horses, a task he says he would not be doing if the effects of the tariffs were not so detrimental.

He does not see MFP as a solution; instead, he believes farmers shouldn’t be placed in a position where they must apply for payments to support their income.

South Dakota farmer, Nick Nemec echoes this sentiment, believing farmers in his community need open trade, not “government welfare checks” that do not come close to covering market losses.

“Payments are simply an attempt to buy off farmers and to make up for the trade war damage, but it hasn’t made up for the damages at all," he told ABC News. "We still have to make up for lost income elsewhere."

ABC News' Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.