Georgia farmers could receive up to $50 million in federal payments under a Trump administration plan to offset losses from recent international trade fights, according to a new analysis from the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Cotton producers are expected to reap the largest share of Georgia-bound U.S. Department of Agriculture money, according to the trade group, which projected roughly $42 million going to local farmers based on their 2018 harvest.
Peanut, pecan and blueberry producers could also receive some assistance under the initial $4.7 billion aid package rolled out last week by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, but just how much help is still unclear.
The Trump administration is seeking to bolster U.S. farmers as trading partners such as China and the European Union continue to ratchet up retaliatory tariffs on scores of American goods, from apples to motorcycles.
President Donald Trump says current international trade policies put American producers at a disadvantage. His administration is using new duties to push countries to renegotiate their trading terms with the U.S., but the strategy has also created significant anxiety in rural America as farmers have struggled to maintain their financial footing following years of stubbornly low commodity prices.
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“These programs will allow President Trump time to strike long-term trade deals to benefit our entire economy, including the agricultural sector, in the long run,” said Perdue, a former Georgia governor.
“In the meantime,” he added, “President Trump has promised that he will not allow American agriculture to bear the brunt of the unjustified retaliation from foreign nations.”
The Georgia-bound dollars represent a relatively small share of the USDA’s planned direct payments to farmers. Nearly three-quarters of the money is earmarked for soybean producers, who are mainly clustered in the Midwest and have been hit particularly hard by Beijing’s tariffs.
Most Georgia soybeans are not exported, but local producers could receive up to $5.7 million from the administration, according to the Farm Bureau.
The USDA said more direct payments to farmers could be on the way at the end of the year, depending on how the trade fights unfold.
In the meantime, additional dollars could flow into the state through another section of the USDA’s aid package. The feds plan to buy up an estimated $1.2 billion in excess crops harmed by the tariffs, including roughly $16 million in pecans, $12 million in peanut butter and $1.7 million worth of blueberries, and send them to food banks. But it is currently unclear whether the feds will be buying a significant share of those crops from Georgia or elsewhere.
The administration has also announced plans to set aside some $200 million to help American farmers access new markets abroad. Commodities such as cotton have benefited from similar programs in the past, said Richey Seaton, the executive director of the Georgia Cotton Commission.
The USDA began accepting applications from eligible farmers and ranchers for direct payments Monday, but it may take months before local farmers know whether they will receive federal aid. Payments will be based on producers’ incomes and 2018 harvest, which has yet to begin for many commodities.
Solid estimates have been scant for how much specific crops have been hit by the recent trade fights, but Perdue has cautioned that the USDA’s direct payments to farmers will not be enough to make up for all losses being experienced by agricultural producers.
Still, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said the money “will certainly help stabilize an unstable situation.”
“The cotton assistance in particular will help rural communities, as the monies will be spent and put directly back into rural Georgia,” he said. But Black added that he was worried about local pecan farmers, who are heavily reliant on exports to China, and he said he planned to formulate a proposal for the trade promotion program “to step up efforts to diversify our market portfolio” for the crop.
Many local and national agriculture groups have been critical of the Trump administration’s negotiating strategy on trade. They say farmers would rather have open markets than federal subsidies.
The billions in taxpayer money set aside for tariff mitigation “is not just a drop in the bucket,” said Joe Maxwell, a Missouri hog farmer who is the executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, a group that advocates for small farmers.
“But if you look at the losses,” Maxwell said, “it’s a small amount and the farmer will not even be close to being kept whole for just the consequences of the tariffs.”
Seaton said the president’s endgame on trade is admirable.
“The ultimate goal here is to get us on equal footing with producers in other countries,” he said. “I think that’s a goal that no one can really disagree with.”