, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

For anyone with any sympathy for President Trump’s China and other trade policies (like yours truly), one of the great pleasures of following the news coverage has been reading the bushel of stories that conform to the following pattern: a Mainstream Media reporter jets out to farm country expecting to find the nation’s agricultural community – which voted strongly for Mr. Trump in 2016 – up in arms about lost export sales due to foreign tariffs and other restrictions imposed in retaliation to new U.S. levies. And selfsame reporter winds up grudgingly writing that farmers and ranchers are by and large sticking with the President.  (See this classic example.)

This morning, such coverage took a turn that’s new and especially important given the approach of the next presidential election. In the process, the journalists involved unwittingly demonstrated how ignorant they continue to be about the full relationship between Trump administration policies and American agriculture.

The new turn was made clear by this claim today in a New York Times report: After “remaining resolute” in support of Mr. Trump, the difficulties faced by U.S. Farmers is finally “becoming a political problem” for the President. Indeed, wrote correspondent Alan Rappeport, “as the trade fight gets uglier, farmers are beginning to panic.”

And following a recent, increasingly incestuous trend in which reporters and pundits from one news organization breathlessly (and often instantly) hype the findings of a rival, a Never Trump-er Washington Post columnist based an entire essay today on the Times piece, declaring “There are indications that they are now getting genuinely angry over Trump’s efforts to gaslight them so shamelessly over the impact of his trade war with China.”

Or are they?

The original (long) Times article – in the next to last paragraph – informed readers that

many farmers continue to support Mr. Trump and express hope that the president knows what he is doing in his dealings with China. A July survey from Farm Journal found that 79 percent of 1,100 farmers still back Mr. Trump despite the lack of progress in negotiations with China.”

Similarly, Post columnist Greg Sargent wrote: “Let’s stipulate up front [actually, this insight didn’t come until the middle of the article] that there is zero chance that farmers — or rural voters — break with Trump in 2020.”

At the same time, there’s no doubt that American farm exports, especially to China, are down this year. So what gives? Two major developments, both of which have been almost completely neglected:

First, the Trump administration has done very well by American farmers and ranchers by way of tax policy. And second, it’s done just as well by them by way of regulatory policy. At least, that’s what the biggest U.S. agricultural lobbying group has said, in reports here and here. P.S. The American Farm Bureau Federation is no fan of the Trump tariffs.

I could add that American farm prices and incomes began falling years before Mr. Trump’s inauguration – and have actually been leveling off recently. And that, when it comes to trade, farmers are strongly in favor of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement – the Trump administration’s rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But that would be piling on.

It’s not that everyone shouldn’t be heartened by the upsurge in national press corps interest in American agriculture. But that’s only Step One in generating accurate coverage. Step Two is actually learning something.