Trump Is Losing Farmer Support in the Climate Crisis. Will They Swing the Election?
By Leanna First-Arai
In a push to capture the rural vote, 62 percent of which went to Trump in 2016, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are ramping up efforts to appeal to farmers and ranchers.
On September 22, the Biden campaign launched a new radio ad blitz in eight battleground states, in which Biden appeals to older voters whose families have lived in rural areas for generations. "No longer are we going to be faced with children or grandchildren believing that the only way they can make it is to leave home and go somewhere else to get that good job," Biden's voice assures. "There's no reason why it can't happen here."
In a contrasting approach, at a rally in North Carolina, just a few hours ahead of the opening of the Republican National Convention in August, Trump claimed that, under his administration, "The American farmer has done very well. I never hear any complaints from the American farmer." Remarks later that week during the convention followed suit. "The economy is coming up very rapidly, our farmers are doing well because I got China to give them $28 billion because they were targeted by China," Trump said on the first night of the convention.
But that assessment doesn't square with the hardship many U.S. farmers are facing — particularly small farmers. U.S. farm bankruptcies increased 20 percent in 2019, reaching an eight-year high, on account of factors like the trade war, increasing costs of production and crop loss related to the climate crisis.
Since April 2020, farmer support for the incumbent president has fallen from 89 percent to 71 percent, according to an August 2020 survey by DTN/The Progressive Farmer. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office revealed that under the Trump administration, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Market Facilitation Program payments to farmers harmed by the trade war went disproportionately to large-scale cotton and soybean farmers, ignoring the needs of small farmers who grow food. On account of Trump administration changes in payment maximums for the USDA's Market Facilitation Program, the top 1.3 percent of payment recipients received an additional $519 million, while the average individual farmer in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania got $11,829 and $8,661, respectively. The finding is in line with earlier analyses revealing Trump's disproportionate financial support for the largest capitalist farmers.
According to the USDA, more than half of the 2 million farms in the United States are "very small farms," grossing less than $10,000 annually. When asked what political capital this group could hold, Wingate University Assistant Professor of Political Science Chelsea Kaufman told Truthout that the increased pressure small farmers face from forces like the overlapping COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis could make them a "relatively unique" political force, as has been the case with farmers experiencing economic shocks during past election cycles.
In 1932, incumbent President Herbert Hoover lost votes from normally Republican-voting northern farmers, and the same happened for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. Academics attribute this to low crop prices during election years. According to the Cook Political Report, many of what are expected to be key battleground states in 2020, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, are also top agricultural producers.
The majority of the smaller farmers Truthout spoke with for this story want to see a federal government that tackles climate change head-on and restructures agriculture to be a solution by encouraging diversified farming that stores (rather than releases) carbon. Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, through its reliance on chemical fertilizers, the manufacturing of which releases carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and depletes the soil of nutrients. It's a system that farmers are "stuck in," says Tom Rosenfeld, who grows apples, blueberries, strawberries and peaches on 120 acres of farmland in southwest Michigan. Rosenfeld purchased a conventional orchard in 2005 and has been converting it to organic ever since, which he says has been a challenge in a system that prioritizes conventional practices. Dealing with climate change has made it even more difficult, a sentiment that reflects a wider experience among farmers. In 2018, 75 percent of Farm Aid hotline calls were related to extreme weather and weather-related crises like wildfires.
Rosenfeld says more frequent late freezes due to climate change have been all but impossible to bounce back from. After temperatures dropped to 25 degrees Fahrenheit in May 2020, he lost 65 percent of his strawberries, 40 percent of his blueberries and all of his Red Delicious, Gala, Empire and McIntosh apples. On top of that, the changing climate has brought new pests to the region, like the apple flea weevil, which destroyed a full season's worth of crops when it first appeared in 2010. "Every year I keep thinking, is this it?" he tells Truthout. "I can't afford this financially; I can't afford the time and energy and it doesn't seem to be getting to any kind of manageable place."
In 2018, when President Trump signed the latest Farm Bill, he reauthorized the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which provides financial and technical assistance to farmers who implement certain conservation practices like mulching to protect soil, or "karst sinkhole treatment" to protect runoff from reaching groundwater supply.
But Rosenfeld, who is in the midst of transitioning all 110 acres from conventional to organic, says the program doesn't offer the kind of assistance he needs. When government representatives paid his farm a visit to assess what kind of EQIP program they might support, Rosenfeld says they proposed he build a retention wall near where he fills his sprayer, to help catch runoff. "But what good does that do?" he said, referring to his ultimate goal of moving away from using any kind of hazardous material on his land. "They're not offering the types of programs that are relevant to me as an organic grower."
Rosenfeld says he wants to shift away from using diesel and gas-fueled tractors and to have on-site renewable energy to power his farm. But no existing government programs make that financially feasible. When he considered investing in solar panels a few years ago, he found one program that would have cost him around $30,000, but with the kind of crop loss he has experienced, he couldn't afford it.
Two hours north of Rosenfeld's farm, in White Cloud, Michigan, Luke Eising is a farmer who uses silvopasture techniques, letting cows, pigs and chickens graze together amid integrated forest and plant landscapes. Rotating the animals to different pastures encourages plants to develop more robust root systems, which returns carbon to the soil and improves soil quality. In addition to producing food for his community, Eising says, being able to help sequester carbon and rebuild degraded soil is a major reason he chose to be a farmer. According to the 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, sequestering carbon in the soil is the most cost-effective option for economic activity generating "negative emissions." "I very much see it as a solution for food systems," Eising told Truthout.
Eising would like to see subsidies for corn and soy cut, because he thinks regenerative practices like his would become competitive. "We're fighting an uphill battle when I can see chicken breasts or pork chops in the store for less than I pay to process [my product]," he says, referring to animals raised in confinement and fed monoculture corn and soy feed the federal government subsidizes. Another issue the current administration hasn't helped with, Eising says, is a major meat processing backlog. Whereas Eising can usually get a date within six to eight weeks at a meat processing plant, given meat plant shutdowns amid COVID-19, leading to short supply of meat processing facilities, it's been hard to find a date any time before 2022. "This is not okay. I have animals outside that are ready to process, I have customers lining up because they're hungry and I have a freezer that's empty," he says. Existing laws prohibit small, local butchers from processing meat headed for market.
Eising tends to vote for conservative or libertarian candidates in local and national elections. In 2016, he voted for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. But Eising says he'll likely vote for Biden if polling remains close in Michigan. "Nobody else is at all interested in what regenerative farming could do for this country," he says. Biden has recently talked about paying farmers for "planting certain crops that in fact absorb carbon from the air," but his climate plan makes no mention of organic, diversified or regenerative farming. According to a report by Data For Progress, conventional farming practices that rely on pesticides and monoculture practices are linked to $44 billion in annual damage related to soil erosion in the United States, which is perhaps felt most acutely in areas where soil can no longer retain moisture in the advent of a heavy rain, leading to catastrophic flooding.
Ecologically minded farmers in swing states outside of Michigan similarly reflect a desire for leadership that addresses climate through agricultural reform. Kemper Burt began farming 40 years ago in California. He now lives in Arizona, where he grows lettuce and other produce on a 40-acre farm powered by solar energy. Burt points out that tackling climate change will entail decolonizing the way we produce food, in direct contrast with the "feed the world" mentality behind the so-called "Green Revolution" of the 1970s, which led to the fertilizer and pesticide-heavy monoculture farming he and other small-scale farmers want to break away from. "Let's just try feeding our community, then let's just try feeding our state, and then let's just try feeding other states," Burt says. Burt is registered as an independent, though he wouldn't say exactly how he'll vote in November. "I look to what people are doing to help protect nature, which then in turn protects you and I," he said.
Many small farmers say they've yet to see a presidential candidate or down-ballot candidate fully address their needs in this election cycle. President Trump's reelection campaign has not yet put out a climate plan. And Biden's climate plan does not yet spell out what small-scale farmers say they want, like a return to the New Deal-era concept of "parity," a supply-management strategy designed to prevent the kind of wasteful over-production of soybeans and corn that wipes the land of biodiversity and results in unstable prices. Rosenfeld wants to see a shift away from crop insurance, which comprised one-third of farmers' income in 2019, toward income insurance, which would provide financial support for people growing food, rather than cash crops.
As long as agriculture is considered a solution to the climate crisis, whether in a Green New Deal or as part of another climate plan, says Maine farmer Craig Hickman, he'd consider it a step forward, noting that he thinks his neighbors in Maine, many of whom are libertarians, would agree. "Investing in food infrastructure is as important as roads and bridges," he told Truthout.
In 2019, Maine, a "purple" state, passed the first state-level Green New Deal backed by labor unions. Facing increased pressure from forces like climate change, the potential "farm vote" could build swing power, "although it is not clear whether that would happen in 2020 or a later election year," Kaufman said. "We can look to the lessons of history: Farmers had quite unique behavior at points in time where they faced economic instability, which led them to support candidates and parties that addressed these issues."
This story originally appeared in Truthout and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Rebecca Niemiec and Kevin Crooks
Colorado voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether the state should reintroduce gray wolves (Canis lupus) after a nearly 80-year absence. Ballot Proposition 114 would require the state to develop and oversee a science-based plan to restore wolves, focused in Western Colorado and initiated by the end of 2023.
Back by Popular Demand?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUzOTQxNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzI4NTkyMX0.BeRR61CH6a-TWwSw1p4kmng4x4tXRaSMKyTRHKIHmOw/img.jpg?width=980" id="1f7fe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="339e3443dc63f3be06e24a82f0b37a03" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9aec767b3325e364a8605524504f95ab"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/wTx_jqpqqfU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Clashing Values<p>Proposition 114 has strong support in Colorado. <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/public-perspectives-on-wolves-and-wolf-reintroduction-8-004/" target="_blank">Statewide surveys </a> conducted by phone, by mail and online over the past two decades have found that 66% to 84% of respondents supported reintroducing wolves. This support is consistent across different regions of the state and diverse demographic groups.</p><p>In a <a href="https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9074" target="_blank">survey of Colorado residents</a> that we conducted in 2019, the prospect that wolves could contribute to a balanced ecosystem was the most commonly cited reason for supporting reintroduction. Other arguments included people's cultural and emotional connections to wolves, and <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/moral-arguments-related-to-wolf-restoration-and-management-8-011/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">moral arguments</a> that restoring a species humans had eradicated was the right thing to do.</p><p>While overall public support is strong, over half of Colorado's 64 counties have passed <a href="https://www.drovers.com/article/wolf-reintroduction-ballot-colorado" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resolutions against restoring wolves</a>. Many ranching and hunting associations are actively campaigning against the ballot measure.</p><p>In our 2019 study, we found that media coverage in the state focused more strongly on <a href="https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9074" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">perceived negative impacts</a> associated with wolf reintroduction than on beneficial effects. Surveys show that resident concerns include threats to <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/wolves-and-human-safety-8-003/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human safety and pets</a>; <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/wolves-and-livestock-8-010/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wolf attacks on livestock</a>; and the potential for wolves to <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/wolves-big-game-and-hunting-8-001/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce deer and elk populations</a>, threatening hunting opportunities.</p>
Who Decides?<p>This measure is the first giving voters in the U.S. an opportunity to weigh in on bringing back a native species. Addressing the issue through a ballot measure adds a unique twist to public and media discussions about wolves.</p><p>Supporters call it a democratic way to ensure that the <a href="https://www.cpr.org/2020/09/29/should-wolves-be-brought-back-to-colorado-a-rancher-and-a-biologist-have-their-say/" target="_blank">public's values are recognized</a>. They also argue that voters are deciding only whether wolves should be reintroduced, while allowing experts at the <a href="https://cpw.state.co.us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">state wildlife agency</a> to create a reintroduction plan <a href="https://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/election/howl-you-vote-wolf-advocates-opponents-ask-colorado/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">based on the best available science</a>.</p>
<div id="4c11f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dec8674441e02372e50b796d848e4130"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1316474105315483649" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">According to a recent poll of 900 demographically representative likely voters, two-thirds supported “restoring wol… https://t.co/74LMG1PYtW</div> — High Country News (@High Country News)<a href="https://twitter.com/highcountrynews/statuses/1316474105315483649">1602706860.0</a></blockquote></div>
Finding Consensus<p>Studies suggest that ballot initiatives like 114 will <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2017.07.032" target="_blank">become more common</a> as public values toward wildlife change and more diverse groups seek to influence wildlife management. For us, the key question is how to recognize and incorporate these differing values as agencies make decisions.</p><p>Research drawing on insights from <a href="https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/people-predators/dialogue-and-social-conflict-about-wolves-8-009/" target="_blank">psychology, political science and sociology</a> suggests that it is critical to run<a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QppmBszEF6zsNnhBJ7Q2-pSWRR-Zx_ln/view" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> truly participatory processes</a> that engage government agencies and people who have a stake in the issue in shared decision-making. Fostering dialogue between groups that value wildlife differently can build empathy and mutual understanding and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.07.015" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">foster compromise</a>. Broadening the conversation in this way is essential for coexisting with carnivores with minimal impacts on predators and people.</p>
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By Brian Bienkowski
Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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