The sign to the Nebraska Farm Bureau Services building in Lincoln, Nebraska
Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson says he’s optimistic about the future of Nebraska agriculture despite all of the challenges producers have faced over the past few years. Photo by Calvin Damon

Farmers and ranchers remain optimistic despite various hardships over the last few years

Farmers across the nation have been hit hard over the last few years thanks to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in natural disasters such as flooding and blizzards, and retaliatory tariffs placed on U.S. agricultural exports by various countries (particularly China) following the Trump Administration’s placements of tariffs on goods such as steel and aluminum. Despite this, Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said he’s optimistic about the future.

Nelson said of the ongoing trade war between China and the United States in particular that it’s a little too early to tell for sure what the long-term effects are.

According to the Nebraska Farm Bureau, 33% of the money that Nebraska farms and ranches make is a result of international trade. As a result, China’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports resulted in damages of around $1 billion to Nebraskan farmers and ranchers in both 2018 and 2019, according to analyses conducted by Nebraska Farm Bureau Senior Economist Jay Rempe.

But the signing of the Phase One trade deal between the United States and China gives Nelson hope. He cites the deal’s focus on transparency, fair trade, and intellectual property protection in particular as positive effects of the Trump Administration’s tariffs that could help make up for the damage done to farmers and ranchers.

Nelson said that while it’s undeniable that the tariffs have affected Nebraska farmers and ranchers, not all of the blame should be placed on the Trump Administration and its trade policies. He cited the COVID-19 pandemic, blizzards, historic flooding and other weather events as having a negative impact.  

The Nebraska Farm Bureau projects losses of $3.7 billion in the agriculture economy in 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic. The flooding that occurred in 2019 was a “100-year flood,” according to the United States Geological Survey, and it accounted for $440 million worth of crop losses and $400 million worth of livestock losses in Nebraska, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. 

Nelson said there is hope, though.

“When you ask farmers and ranchers, they say that they have a steady level of optimism,” he said.  

There appears to be an increase in confidence among producers following the Phase One trade deal between the U.S. and China, with 69% of respondents to a survey from the Ag Economy Barometer saying that they expect to see an increase in U.S. agricultural exports in the next five years following the signing of the deal versus only 54% of respondents who believed so before the deal was signed.  

Despite the economic damage, farmers have largely continued to support Trump and the trade war with China.  

A survey from The Conversation found 56% of farmers in the Midwest support the Trump Administration’s tariffs on Chinese products. Additionally, 82% of farmers said they planned on voting for Trump, according to an August Farm Journal poll in August, and 75% of large-scale farmers and ranchers who said they planned on voting for Trump according to a Farm Futures poll in July.  

This sustained support among farmers and ranchers is largely due to record-level subsidies and aid administered by the Trump Administration to attempt to mitigate the economic damage done to farmers and ranchers by the trade war, along with weather events and the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal subsidies to farmers are expected to reach a record $46 billion this year, following an already high $22 billion in 2019.

I'm 22 years old and I'm a Senior at UNL who's double majoring in Film Studies and Broadcasting-Media Production. I enjoy watching movies, YouTube, and playing video games.