Trump’s Trade War Leads to Increase in Farmer Suicides

Evelyn Ford, Scarlet Staff

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Somewhere in the heart of America, a small farm closes. Forced to choose between exorbitant debt, bankruptcy, or selling their livelihood, another farmer is left jobless. 

Since President Donald Trump increased tariffs on Chinese imports in 2018, sparking a trade war that has yet to be resolved, small farms have struggled to stay afloat. President Trump’s initial tariff increase resulted in a back and forth of raising tariffs and increasing bad blood between the U.S. and China that proved to be detrimental to the agriculture industry. 

In August of 2019, China ordered state-owned businesses to stop buying U.S. agricultural products, a trade worth $19.5 billion before the start of the trade war. From 2017 to 2018, agricultural exports to China have fallen by more than half, dropping from $19.5 billion to $9.1 billion according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. 

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation called China’s move, “a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by,” and added, “Now, we stand to lose all of what was a $9.1 billion market in 2018.”

In defense of his actions, President Trump stated, “China was killing us with unfair trade deals.” He continued, “From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal.”

To quell the outrage from farmers, the Trump administration provided $28 billion dollars in bailouts for farmers facing bankruptcy or closure. For farmers, the money was only a start to solving the problem. 

“The aid package that has come in is a relief, and it softens the landing, but it’s not a solution, it’s a Band-Aid,” farmer Stan Born told Bloomberg. He added that he would rather have free trade. Like Born, many farmers are losing faith in the Trump administration and are considering casting their votes for another candidate in 2020. 

While Trump boasts that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” farmers sink deeper into economic turmoil and mental distress. Annie Gowen, writer for the Washington Post, reported on a dramatic increase of suicides among small farmers. 

Faced with impossible decisions born from the trade war, some farmers have resorted to taking their lives. Gowen transcribes texts from Chris Dykshorn’s phone, a farmer who ended his life in June. He wrote to his wife, “What am I supposed to do. I am failing and feel like I’m gonna lose everything I’ve worked for the past how many years.”

Dykshorn was not alone in his struggle. According to mental health experts, calls to suicide hotlines have risen in America’s farm country under Trump’s presidency so much that the administration has had to create federal programs to monitor and care for the mental health of farmers. 

Although the trade war continues, negotiations are taking place. As of November 30, President Donald Trump stated that Washington was in the “final throes” of a deal to end the trade war. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been invited to Beijing for in-person negotiation. The gesture raises hope that the dispute may be coming to an end.

As the ramifications of the trade war become more severe, the steady support for Trump has become shakier. The question is: will threats to their livelihoods convince farmers not to vote for Trump?

Few farmers have definitively said they will not vote for Trump. An August survey by Farm Journal showed that 71% of over 1,100 voters approved of Trump’s work. 

With small farms increasingly falling into debt and bankruptcy, farmer suicides increasing, and no agreement reached in the trade war, a second question arises. What more will it take to change farmers’ minds about Trump?