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Truck driver Seth Meyer from Neufeld Harvesting

In this file photo, truck driver Seth Meyer from Neufeld Harvesting guides the grain cart filling the last truckload of winter wheat near Hardin. Montana farmers plan to plant 310,000 fewer acres in wheat this year.

Montana farmers have now received $115 million in federal subsidies to soften the blow from U.S. trade wars.

The latest round of the payments issued in October pushed the value of 2019 payments to $92 million, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, which compiled Market Facilitation Program payment data from each state. Montana’s farmers received $22 million in trade war subsidies in 2018.

Those payments soften the financial blow of U.S. trade conflicts with China, Europe, India and Japan. However, the subsidies aren’t making the state’s farmers whole, said Hans McPherson, Montana Farm Bureau Federation President.

“The perception of these payments has been totally misconstrued. I mean, as farmers, yeah, we’ll take the money. We need the money, but we would rather have the market,” McPherson told The Gazette editorial board in a recent visit. “And the perception in conservative circles has been that farmers were made whole. Nah, we weren’t made whole.”

In September, Bloomberg reported that trade war subsidies to farmers were more than double what the nation spent bailing out General Motors and Chrysler in 2009.

Among the states, Montana ranks 23rd for the subsidies, according to EWG. Wyoming ranked 41st and Idaho 31st. States receiving the most money were all in the Midwest and were major exporters of soybeans, which have been in an economic slump since President Donald Trump began imposing tariffs on China products in mid-2018. China has repeatedly ratcheted up its tariffs on U.S. goods in response to U.S. actions.

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In neighboring North Dakota, trade war subsidies for soybeans alone have totaled $381.7 million so far. North Dakota’s subsidies for all crops in 2018 and 2019 through October total $784.5 million, seventh most in the nation. Similarly, South Dakota’s trade war compensation for soybeans is $389.5 million. Nationally, South Dakota’s $665 million in total trade subsidies rank 10th.

Wheat subsidies were Montana’s biggest category at $25.5 million. Wheat has mostly escaped the consequences of the U.S.-China trade war, in part because China hasn’t been a major buyer of U.S. wheat in general and Montana’s hard red spring wheat in particular.

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Montana is the third largest wheat producer in the nation. Individual Montana farms receiving the most trade subsidies were hog farms. Hog farmers have been hit hard by the trade war with China.

The bigger concern for Montana wheat has been the U.S. backing out the 11-nation Trans Pacific Partnership. By withdrawing, the U.S. was excluded from favorable tariff terms on wheat and other farm products.

President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed a limited trade deal in October, intended to lower tariffs on U.S. farm products and Japanese manufactured goods. Japan’s tariffs on U.S. farm products are scheduled to be lowered in January.

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