FARGO — Farmers are the new welfare class. Of that there can be no argument. Almost 44% of net farm income in the United States in 2020 can be attributed to federal payments.
Or, as rural Americans call it when taxpayer money goes to urban poor people, government handouts.
Drug testing, anybody? Bootstraps, anybody? Rugged individualism, anybody?
For this we can thank outgoing President Donald Trump, who handed out cash to farmers like it wasn't his. Which it wasn't. It was yours and mine.
Donnie Dollars became a thing when the president started an ill-fated trade war and he knew he needed to buy off rural America to secure Republican votes. That side of the angle worked, to a point. Trump and Republicans remain gods among farmers, but the president lost to Joe Biden, and Democrats took control of the U.S. Senate.
The latest cash handout comes thanks to the COVID-19 relief package passed in late December. While some Republicans were road-blocking $600 payments to individuals and Mitch McConnell opposed $2,000 payments because it would be "socialism for rich people," farmers again were taken care of.
This time to the tune of $13 billion in free government money, following handouts of $16 billion and $14 billion in the first two rounds of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
The centerpiece of ag money in the newest relief deal is a payment of $20 per eligible acre of crop. If you grew 1,000 acres of corn in 2020, for example, you get $20,000. If you grew 2,000 acres of wheat, you get $40,000. And so on.
This cash is on top of the money farmers received for the crop plus any other direct payments they received from the federal government, whether through Farm Bill programs or the first two rounds of CFAP aid.
Some farmers are double-, triple- or quadruple-dipping on the same piece of land because they can.
All while Congress doled out a whopping $600 to individual Americans and shot down the idea of $2,000 checks.
A farmer friend of mine, who admittedly took the government cash, said: "All the money the last couple of years is ludicrous. The payments aren't necessary. Any farmer who struggles at farming these days just isn't managing things very well."
Let's use his farm as an example. He's a small-grain farmer who plants about 2,500 acres a year outside the Red River Valley. Not the biggest operation and not the best land, but he's successful enough.
He will get $50,000 based on $20 per acre.
"Thank you very much," he said.
That's on top of $42,000 he received in 2018 and '19 in Trump's Market Facilitation Payments meant to cover the unjustified trade war that tanked export markets. It's also on top of the $52,000 he received in 2020 for the CFAP 1 and 2 payments. That's also on top of the $133,000 he received from 2018 to 2020 from traditional Farm Bill safety net programs.
He'll also receive a total of $30,000 in 2020-21 from a Farm Bill indemnity program.
All told, my friend will receive at least $307,000 in federal money from 2018 to 2021. Frankly, he doesn't need all of it. He manages a successful operation, which was even more successful before Trump's mindless trade war.
"The system is wrong. It's broken. It's screwed up," he said. "These are all false dollars."
The last few years were made possible by political machinations, of course. Trump and his supporters wanted to buy rural favor, and in some cases reward red states. It provided a sugar high by inflating farm income. The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts farm income to increase 43% in 2020 while direct government payments are forecast to increase 107%.
The short-term rush might lead to long-term problems, according to my friend.
When the next Farm Bill comes up for negotiation in 2023, he expects heavy pushback because of all the government money thrown at farmers during the Trump administration.
And with all the cash in farm country it's a given land, rent and equipment prices will go up. That'll lead to what it always leads to: Larger farms, fewer farmers, bigger operations.
"We have a true safety net with federal crop insurance. We have government programs that are there for us when we need them. Don't abuse them, but use them," my friend said. "Now we just blew it all up. We've become so dependent on government cash. We're out of control."
America's newest welfare class, the country's biggest supporters of socialism, don't live in the big cities. They live on farms. For that we can thank the outgoing president.
Readers can reach Forum News Service columnist Mike McFeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or (701) 451-5655