The nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office this week reported that eight of the nine states receiving the highest trade-war aid payments per acre in 2019 were in the South. Michigan ranked 23rd.
The GAO launched an investigation at the request of U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
The money from the Market Facilitation Program was intended to compensate farmers for losses related to tariffs on U.S. commodities during President Trump’s trade war with China.
“From the start, I’ve been concerned that the Trump administration’s trade payments have picked winners and losers and left small farms behind,” Stabenow said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s unequal treatment of farmers is a pattern that we’re continuing to see in USDA’s COVID-19 relief program. The administration needs to stop playing favorites and start helping the farms hit the hardest.”
Brown said Trump’s policies have favored big business. “By mismanaging these payments to farmers, the Trump administration has continued to play favorites and betray the small farmers who need help the most,” Brown said in a statement.
Some Midwest Republicans also blasted the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the report.
“That’s kind of an irritation on my part not only on this program, but going back to the Farm Bills,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told agriculture reporters earlier this week. “Somehow, southern agriculture always comes out better than Midwestern agriculture.
“Whatever was decided was decided by regulation and guidance and the secretary of agriculture [Sonny Perdue],” Grassley added.
Perdue, a veterinarian and businessman, served two terms as governor of Georgia. He was born in Perry, Ga. He was appointed ag secretary by President Donald Trump in April 2017.
Georgia topped all states with payments of $119 per acre, the GAO reported, while Michigan received less than half of that — $54 per acre. Georgia averaged $56,732 per farm, while Michigan averaged $18,824 per farm. Larger farms fared better than smaller ones, GAO reported.
Michigan received a total of $260.6 million in aid, or 1.8% of the total. Iowa received the biggest sum at $1.6 billion, or 11%.
Grassley said one of the issues with the 2019 aid program was a lack of congressional advice.
“We didn’t have a lot of direction on that money,” Grassley said. “I’m sure Secretary Purdue is always going to be reviewing these iniquities and iniquities should be eliminated.”
A USDA spokesperson told Progressive Farmer that the aid payments were “based on trade damage, not on regions or farm size.” the USDA accused Democrats of skewing the data and said COVID-19 aid programs will come with more elaborate instructions from Congress. Grassley noted that federal programs guarantee a profit for cotton-growers, but not for corn, soybean or wheat farmers.
A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister publication, the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Read the story here.