ELLIOT: Trump and farmers

Christine T. Nguyen—The North State Journal
Donald Trump supporters walk into Crown Coliseum before the campaign rally for Donald Trump on Wednesday

According to a poll during the 2016 campaign, farmers favored Donald Trump by a whopping 37 percentage points (55 percent to 18 percent) over Hillary Clinton. That was just a poll in October, but looking at the election results it’s a fair bet that many farmers pulled the lever for Trump in November.Take North Carolina. Duplin and Sampson counties are the most agriculturally intense in the state — they are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in annual market value of crops and livestock, together accounting for about one-fifth of the entire state’s agricultural economy. (If the next two counties on the list, Union and Wayne, were one county, they still wouldn’t equal Sampson’s output.)Suffice it to say that the vote totals for Duplin and Sampson can be a decent barometer for how the agricultural community — including not just farmers but all who depend on the farm economy — felt about their choices for president. Trump won Duplin by 19 points and Sampson by 16.5.While Mitt Romney won both counties in 2012, Trump increased Romney’s margin significantly in both — from 11 to 16 points in Sampson and from 11.5 to 18.9 points in Duplin. So much for the liberal talking point that whites in the South vote on race. While they both ran against northeastern businessmen, a black man from Chicago did significantly better in Hog Heaven, N.C. than a white woman from Arkansas (or New York, or wherever).What does all this tell us about where we are now? While American farmers can take heart in several early actions of President Donald Trump’s administration — most notably the choice of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency — others are more worrisome.Why start trade wars, when U.S. agricultural exports are sure to lose in the fray? Why impose strict immigration controls when foreign workers are so valuable to the agricultural sector?First, the agricultural community voted for Trump knowing full well that he had said, time and again, that he would renegotiate trade deals and crack down on illegal immigration. The liberal and establishment Republican explanation for this phenomenon is that Trump duped the country rubes. They fell for the red trucker hats and bumper-sticker policy stances, the thinking goes, because rubes have a hard time understanding complex issues such as international trade and immigration reform.Looking beyond the Beltway condescension, part of the real answer lies in the choice farmers had. In numerous ways, the Obama administration had shown either ignorance of, or disdain for, farm interests. One example is the EPA’s notorious Waters of the United States rule — which would have enormously expanded federal regulation of farms, especially in areas such as eastern North Carolina. Another issue is Obamacare’s healthcare mandates, which increase costs for farmers already facing tight margins.Farmers knew that Clinton, far from trying to understand the issues facing farmers, would have continued these policies. And perhaps worse, she vowed to raise the minimum wage and increase the estate tax.So not seeing a “design-your-own candidate” box on the ballot, farmers voted for Trump. Trump, in turn, is unlikely to forget the coalition that put him in the White House.When seen in the short term, Trump’s actions on trade and immigration are harmful to farm interests. But when seen as a strategy, they might make more sense. Farmers would be fine if trade deals helped steelworkers, for instance, without hurting farms. And negotiating individual deals rather than sweeping, multi-lateral partnerships could prove a good tactic. Bilateral deals make America the stronger partner in each negotiation. On immigration, it has always made more sense to expand and simplify guest worker programs such as H-2A visas rather than rely on an illegal workforce.For both trade and immigration, Trump’s moves may harm the farm community in the short term, but either be neutral or beneficial in the long term. As president, he has less than four years to prove to agricultural interests that he knows what he is doing, and to produce good results.
Drew Elliot is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.