The Farm Vote: Ace-in-the-hole or Bust Card for Trump?
Somehow, he’d sensed that I wasn’t just another curious suburbanite taking off work to walk around in the straw and mud for a day…
His eyes narrowed just the slightest bit at the suspicion. I caught it, though, and I knew the jig was up.
He certainly looked the part of the crusty old dairy farmer. Tallish and lean — with thick, ropy wrists and strong-looking hands. Big, swollen knuckles that had coaxed warm milk from 1,000 giant teats of a type most men never want to touch.
“Sir, I promise, you will not be quoted in any way,” I began to explain, “And you won’t be named — hell, I won’t even ask your name.”
At this confirmation, those slightly narrowed eyes turned into sideways daggers, and he went quiet, turning his attention back to the other farmers around him…
His silent message: You didn’t get up early enough this morning to fool me, boy.
You ain’t lived until you’ve been to a really good farm show
The Pennsylvania State Farm Show is a good ‘un. Held every year in early January at the mammoth Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, the state’s capital city…
The show is an incredible experience. A true sensory overload with every kind of food (especially fried), meat, cheese, milk, ice cream, bread, mushroom, potato, fruit, vegetable, animal, honey, syrup, cider, soap, wool, leather, pelt, and bounty of the land you could possibly bring forth on God’s green Earth.
A million square feet of wondrous, all-American spectacle.
I saw things at this show — my first in all my 51 years — that astonished me…
Like a procession of four-foot-nothing cowgirls no more than 11 years old leading giant 1,500-pound blue-ribbon steers around like they were month-old pups.
A giant photo booth fit for high-fashion glamour shoots — except it was for prize livestock, not calendar girls.
Obstacle courses for hog trials, with various adolescents vying for best-trained pig honors, while an announcer gave play-by-play color commentary.
I saw what basically amounted to an equestrian arena for rabbits, hurdles and all.
I saw the “calving corner,” where pregnant cows were actually giving birth in front of throngs of gawking city-folk.
I saw great portraits, pictures, and other works of art — made entirely of seeds.
And I saw a half-ton sculpture of Pennsylvania’s pro sports team mascots made entirely of butter.
But I didn’t come to the farm show for that stuff, or any of the other wonders I witnessed.
I came here to get my own answer to a very simple, yet very important question…
Will farmers vote to re-elect president Donald Trump in 2020?
Although there are less than three million actual farmers in America, farming directly contributes over $130 billion a year to the U.S. economy…1
And its far-reaching economic impact on dozens of other industries that depend on its products tallies up to well over a trillion dollars a year — or nearly 5.5% of GDP.
That’s an enormous economic footprint affecting millions of voters under the Stars and Stripes. Without a large chunk of this voting block behind him, Trump surely wouldn’t have won in 2016.
And if he doesn’t keep this constituency firmly in his corner, the president probably can’t win re-election in 2020.
Depending on the day and the mainstream media outlet you follow, it’s easy to get the impression that the president is in trouble with farmers. Here are some of the headlines:
Farmers get impatient with Trump’s trade war: ‘This can’t go on’
— CNN, May 2019
‘Trump is ruining our markets’: Struggling farmers are losing a huge customer to the trade war—China
— CNBC, August 2019
Farmers’ Frustration with Trump Grows as U.S. Escalates China Fight
— New York Times, August 2019
Ohio soybean farmer say he wouldn’t vote for Trump again even if he could ‘walk across my pond’
— CNBC, October 2019
Why U.S. farmers are falling out of love with Donald Trump
— Financial Times, November 2019
To be clear, the mainstream reporting is not entirely one-sided on this issue. I’ve seen a number of articles on how farmers are sticking with Trump through thick and thin. Although several have chalked it up to appeasement, via the president’s $28 billion worth of “bailout” subsidies to American farmers so far.2
Point is, I wanted to form my own opinion about whether farmers would stick with Trump in 2020. So I went to a pair of major farm shows — the big one in Harrisburg, and another one not far away in York, PA — and started poking around.
The first thing I discovered, as I touched on earlier, is that a lot of farmers don’t really like talking to strangers. They can be a laconic and reticent bunch, by and large. But then, I already knew that from years of hunting on local farms…
I found better luck talking to equipment dealers, sellers of farm supplies and hardware, and other farm-services vendors.
To hear them tell it, farmers in my area seem pretty optimistic about the future, if major capital investment is any indication.
One senior Ag equipment salesman from a major regional tractor dealership group said he’d had his best year ever in 2019…
And a manager from the same group told me he’d recently hired extra people to meet the demand at the parts counter.
I also visited a major regional auctioneer of used tractors and equipment who said 2019 was his company’s best year ever, as well.
One rep for a company that makes gates, pens, and other livestock management hard goods says he talks to lots of farmers about politics…
And although he hears some bitching and kvetching from time to time about trade and price controls, most of them remain steadfast Trump supporters.
Seems they’re willing to “lose the battle to win the war” if it means better, freer trade in the future.
One of the Ag segments hit hardest by Trump’s trade policies over the last few years is dairy. But one officer from a regional dairy co-op said that farmers were hanging tough, because “What are the alternatives?”
The bottom line, at least from where I’m standing (in the manure), is this…
Farmers know how to suffer in the short term — and they’re willing to weather some strife today if it means a better tomorrow.
They also seem to fear heavy taxation and excessive federal regulation more than they fear international trade drama that plays temporary havoc with markets.
And for whatever reasons, they don’t seem to be very hesitant to lay down big money in this economic climate on major purchases of equipment and hardware to serve them in the years ahead.
Add all this up and I’d say Trump’s chances of strong 2020 support in the Ag sector and in the industries and rural communities that depend on it are very good…
And just by the basic numbers — that support alone could spell the difference between winning and losing for the president.
If you love America, go to a farm show and thank a farmer
I want to close this piece out the way I opened it…
With some feelings and impressions I got from the Pennsylvania State Farm Show, which I gather is one of the biggest and best in the nation.
In addition to all the incredible spectacles — too numerous to even begin to catalogue — I also saw so many touching things that made me genuinely happy.
I saw a proud father showing his young son the genetic traits he should look for in a milking cow.
I saw a teenaged girl fast asleep, using the flank of a bedded-down cow as a recliner.
I saw smiling kids wearing funny little paper chicken-beak hats — all clucking and cocka-doodle-dooing.
I heard a guy giving a hog-training seminar to a crowded arena accidentally drop the F-bomb on a hot mike — and everybody cracked up (they’re farmers, not prudes).
I saw grizzled old men lovingly trimming and cleaning and brushing and generally dolling up the youngsters’ entries in the youth steer contest…
And I saw lots of laughing and smiling and diversity and pride and patriotism, too.
In short, I saw a lot of love, and nothing deplorable at all.
I felt a lot of love, too — for this country, and for the people who really make it work.
You will, too, if you take some time out to go to a great American farm show.
Freedoms Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder