CHICAGO –– Farmers are used to playing the long game. Bad weather comes and goes, prices rise and fall, but they are a patient lot. So it is with their support for Donald Trump.
That's the signal from farmers these days during the partial government shutdown that's keeping some growers from filing for payments to help them overcome crop tariffs resulting from Trump's trade war with China. On Monday, when Trump speaks to the American Farm Bureau in New Orleans, he is likely to face an audience willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for now. Support may be softening but it's not ending.
"It's difficult to say that you support something that financially is a big issue" personally, said Steve Steirwalt, a fourth-generation grain grower who works 1,700 acres in Champaign County, Ill. Still, he said, he likes a lot of the president's policies.
As the shutdown began, Aron Carlson, who grows corn and soy on 3,600 acres in northern Illinois, was just in the process of buying 200 more acres with the help of a Farm Service Agency program that reduces loan interest. The paperwork was snaking its way through the agency, he said, when the shutdown stopped the review process.
Now, Carlson's is worried that he'll have to refile everything if the shutdown continues much longer.
"Obviously I would like to see the shutdown end, but I see where he's coming from," Carlson said of Trump. "There are some serious problems going on with that border."
Other farm matters are also affected by the shutdown.
For example, some producers of ethanol, a biofuel made from corn, are concerned that the shutdown could make it impossible for the Environmental Protection Agency to meet deadlines for allowing summertime sales of gasoline blended with as much as 15 percent ethanol, a change Trump promised last year. The agency was going to propose the E15 gasoline in February, with final action in May, four weeks before summertime restrictions become binding.
The EPA offered some assurance this week. "The ongoing partial shutdown will not impede EPA's ability to keep to our deadline," spokesman Michael Abboud said. The agency still plans to complete the regulatory shift "before this summer's driving season" as it's "a priority for both President Trump and Acting Administrator Wheeler."
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The biggest issue for farmers is the trade war with China. "We send them a lot of soybeans," Carlson said. "They're basically buying every other bushel in the world and we're the last invited to the table, and I don't like to be last. I want to be front and center, as far as that stuff goes."
He voted for Trump and still considers himself a supporter. "I understand his tactics, but I kind of question whether it's going to work in the end." Meanwhile, based on his talks with other farmers, he finds support for Trump "softening a little bit," he said, mainly because of the tariffs.
"The country doesn't quite run like a business, as much as I think he'd like it to," Carlson said of Trump. "I hope he can get the whole trade thing with China figured out. I think we need to quit picking some fights."
(Hill reported from New York.)
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