'Hope is not a business plan — and raiding the U.S. Treasury is not sustainable agriculture.'
I’m a first-generation farmer.
Starting out, my wife and I had just $2,500, a pickup truck, a 2-year-old, and the dream of starting a farm to pass down through the generations. We worked hard and now own and operate a 560-acre soybean, corn, and hay farm with a cattle operation. We’ve worked this farm for 40 years, and like many farm families, plan on passing it down to my kids and grandkids.
Due to Donald Trump’s trade war, that dream is in jeopardy — for us and for many other farmers.
I voted for Trump in 2016. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I thought he could bring about real change for rural America. For years, many small and mid-size farms have struggled to stay afloat. Many politicians have promised to help farmers but failed.
Trump promised better trade deals for farmers, and we believed him because he was a businessman and not a typical politician. I felt like he was our guy.
Boy, was I wrong. I’ve regretted that decision ever since.
With his war on trade, the Trump administration has hurt farmers like me. Trump touted himself as a businessman who could finally get farmers fair and expanded trade deals. But his retaliatory tariffs against all of our trading partners, including China, have only upended our markets. That’s hurt farmers and rural communities.
Farmers, rural America — our country needs strong leadership right now. We need a statesman. Trump has shown he is not up to the task.
In March of 2018, the president used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, a law which was never intended to punish trading partners, to declare imported steel as a security threat and impose a 25% tariff on imported steel without congressional approval. He claimed Canada — yes, Canada — was a national security threat.
These countries immediately retaliated and went for our soft underbelly: agriculture. As a result, our products could not be competitively exported, and farms all across the country, like mine, suffered.
Ninety-five percent of the people on the planet live outside the United States. Export is essential for the agricultural industry, and trade is both our business and marketing plan. We lost 30% of our market share overnight just to China alone.
To put it in another perspective, imagine you are making $60,000 a year, and your boss tells you that we angered our best customer, so now we will pay you $40,000 a year, and we will send you $1,000 for your Christmas stocking later this year to tide you over. You’d be furious.
On top of that, everything is more expensive thanks to Trump’s erratic war on trade, which he has executed mainly over Twitter.
This isn’t about Twitter for me — this is about my livelihood.
A few weeks back, when I went to put new front tires on my semi to haul grain, my supplier told me there was an additional $50 tariff per tire. I paid an extra $100 because of the tariffs put on rubber, which is money I could be spending here in my hometown of Maplewood, Ohio, instead. Despite what the Trump administration says, farmers are paying these tariff — not other trading partners, and not China.
The president tried to plug the financial shortfall by sending farms bailout money. I call it hush money because it was designed to keep farmers pacified through Nov. 3.
The bailout money does not address the loss of long-term relationships with trading partners or the loss of sales, or historically low prices. It took us 30 years to build these markets. We developed markets over time. Those relationships have been severely impacted, and I fear they have been irreparably destroyed.
Some farmers rally around the president and say we will be fine. I hear in their voice more hope than fact. Hope is not a business plan — and raiding the U.S. Treasury is not sustainable agriculture.
I’ve been a Republican for the majority of my life. I believe in conservative values, including free trade, but I no longer recognize the party I grew up with. I value country over party and that’s why I now identify as an independent.
Yes, I’ve lost friends and have been labeled a traitor, but I am doing what I think is right. Those values, along with this farm, are what I am going to pass down to my grandkids.
Chris Gibbs owns and operates a farm in Maplewood, Ohio. He is the past chairperson of his local Republican party and chairperson of the Board of Elections. He’s also the Chairperson of Rural America 2020 and founding member of Ohio’s Operation Grant.