Washington, D.C. — As President Donald Trump touts the first three years of his administration as a “giant victory for Wisconsin workers, farmers and dairy producers,” and as the damage done by the Trump administration’s protracted trade war with China comes into focus, the Center for American Progress Action Fund is releasing a new video in a social media campaign to educate Americans on the costs of the administration’s erratic trade policies and failed tariff war.
The campaign will tell stories of Americans such as Jerry Volenec, a fifth-generation dairy farmer in Montfort, Wisconsin, whose family farm has suffered from the Trump-enacted retaliatory trade war between the United States and China. Before President Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in 2018, he said that “family farmers are the backbone of America” and that his administration would work to “always support the farmer.” But as Volenec says in the video, the trade war shows that the Trump administration’s priorities aren’t on small farms and that the promises he made were “laughable.”
“With the Donald Trump presidency, the focus isn’t family farmers, it’s the corporate interests,” Volenec says. “The independent family farmer, we’re replaceable.”
Last year, dairy farms across the Midwest bore the brunt of the U.S.-China trade war, as the export of U.S. dairy products to China decreased by more than 50 percent. In 2019, in the state of Wisconsin alone, 818 dairy farms were forced to close, prompting the Wisconsin state Legislature to allocate an additional $200,000 to suicide prevention resources to farmers. This record number of closures came on the heels of several tumultuous years for Wisconsin farmers, who saw 638 farms close in 2018 and 465 close in 2017. Farmers such as Volenec haven’t received any assurances from the Trump administration that the increasing number of farm closures will come to an end anytime soon.
While attending the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, last year, President Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told reporters that he wasn’t sure if small farms would survive the trade war, saying, “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out. I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” It’s that uncertainty that has left family farmers such as Volenec feeling betrayed by the broken promises of the Trump administration.
“They’re not even bothering to lie to us anymore,” says Volenec. “They’re flat out telling us to our faces: ‘The industry will do just fine without us.’”
In December 2019, as Wisconsin farms were nearing record-breaking closures, President Trump said that he was on “no deadline” to make a deal with China to end the trade war, noting that he thought it would be better to deal with the issue after November 2020.
“It was the farmers that had trusted that got left holding the bag—that woke up one morning and didn’t have a place to ship their milk,” says Volenec, who unlike President Trump, does not believe that trade wars are “good, and easy to win.”
Volenec says that the damage done to farmers across the Midwest can’t be undone as easily as President Trump wants them to believe.
“Even when the tariff lifts, the prices we receive as farmers are going to stay low,” he says. “They drop quick, but they come back up very slow. You’re left wondering: What are my options now? How can I carry on this tradition.”
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