Put bailout away and let farmers work

Farming can be more of a game of chance than any you’d find in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, and the stakes are much higher. There could be too much rain, or not enough. Maybe some uninvited insects decide to set up shop and ruin the crops. A tornado might mow down the cornfield, or a wildfire might destroy your fruit grove.

Still, farmers go to work every day. Why? Well, we’ve got to eat.

More importantly, the farmers have to make their living. When there’s not enough money coming in from crops, they cannot upgrade their equipment, hire enough workers to harvest the fields or milk the cows, and some eventually go out of business.

Farmers are now seeing a new scourge that threatens their livelihood — tariffs. What started out as a supposed effort to make sure the United States is getting its fair share in trade deals has turned into an all-out war fought not with guns and missiles but with steel and soybeans, and our friends and neighbors are getting caught in the crossfire.

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $12 billion plan to keep farmers from going under. The three-pronged approach would borrow money from the U.S. Treasury to pay farmers for their losses, buy the surplus of commodities as a result of tariffs from other countries, and finally to help farmers find new markets for exports.

On the surface, it might seem like a plan of benevolence. However, there are two things wrong with this plan.

The first is that the farmers don’t want it. They want renegotiated deals, not money for compensation.

Many of them were plowing along just fine working with their customers until the government decided to interfere with their livelihood. Instead of a deal between two businessmen being left to its own devices, the Washington bureaucracy — many of whom have never spent a day sweating in a field of green or cleaning manure off their shoes — decided it was going to arbitrarily establish tariffs, not realizing that the ones really being hurt are hard-working Americans.

Instead of a bailout over something that wasn’t their fault, farmers would rather see any lopsided deals renegotiated so that any impact to their wallets is gradual. The Associated Press reported this week that soybean prices are down 18 percent, while corn and pork prices have dropped 15 percent. How many of us would be in a world of hurt with a loss of income that steep?

The farmers would not be in this situation if the government hadn’t decided that their current customers needed to be paying more and that farmers should be catering to different customers. What other business would be allowed to not work with Chinese or European customers? They’d be labeled racists and run out of town. Farmers believe in working with anyone willing to pay for their services, regardless of nationality, so the government should have stayed out of it.

The second problem with the plan is it’s a handout. Blue-collar workers subscribe to the philosophy of offering a hand up, not a hand out. They don’t relish being in a state of perpetual welface while the government figures out how to dig out of the sizeable hole it’s in. This was not a hurricane or another natural disaster that put these people in a world of hurt; it was meddling by outside forces.

When farmers find themselves in a fix, they figure out a different arrangement themselves. If they find themselves in too big of a hole, friends and neighbors will lend a helping hand. That’s what neighbors do. However, since many of these farmers’ neighbors are in the same situation — all this food and no one to sell it to — it’s going to be hard for them to help each other this time. Once again, it’s because the government thinks it knows best.

No one likes the idea of rebuilding. Once you’ve established a good working relationship with customers, you work hard to make sure that relationship lasts. What the tariffs have done is force farmers into a quickie divorce and required them to start from scratch. That’s wrong.

The administration needs to reverse course. It needs to meet world leaders at the negotiating table, not sending them nastygrams that their costs for American products are shooting up and treating the people who produce our food like clueless children. When will the government realize we can think for ourselves?

Lee Pulaski is the city editor of The Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@wolfrivermedia.com.