While Farmers Struggle, Big Oil Gets a Break. The Latest Policy to Negatively Impact Agriculture

The eyes of the nation have focused on our farmers and agriculture economy. Many of us in the Midwest wish the focus wasn’t due to the dire situation many farmers are finding themselves in. Weather. Trade. Prices. Waivers. All taking its toll as the combines roll out into the 2019 harvest.

The prolonged trade war has damaged the markets farmers themselves have created. When will farmers get those markets back? Will they? What are their financial situations? Can they weather it? Will the second round of subsidies help them bridge the void? How has the administration’s ethanol exemptions impacted corn markets? Those are just some of the questions being asked.

Those answers depend on who you ask. Farm groups tasked with mobilizing and vocalizing farmers point the policy blame at different parties. Last week, the National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson went on KFGO radio’s News and Views with Joel Heitkamp and blamed President Trump’s policies. Johnson laid bare that while farmers struggle, Trump gave big oil a break with ethanol waivers. He also discussed the long term impacts Trump’s approach to trade will have on markets for crops.

I think China is a lost market for agriculture. – Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President (8/28/2019)

Additionally, last week Bob Kuylen of South Heart, North Dakota told CNN his farm has lost up to $400,000 because of Trump’s agriculture policies. He also expressed his opinion that farmers are beginning to have doubts about these policies the longer they go on. Kuylen is the Vice President of the North Dakota Farmers Union.


Not everyone faults the administration for harmful agriculture policies, however. North Dakota Farm Bureau President Darryl Lies is blaming Congressional Democrats for not ratifying the USMCA. Lies goes on to tell Forum Communications reporter John Hageman it is, “ridiculous” to lay all of the blame for increases in farm loan delinquencies and bankruptcies on trade issues.” Meanwhile, North Dakota is hit the hardest because of the trade war according to the Feds. The financial impact of the trade war is what led to the federal subsidies now being paid out for the second time.

Here is the thing, Lies is right in two ways. First, House Democrats should ratify the USMCA. Get it done. Second, it isn’t just trade policies hurting farmers. In August, 31 oil refineries were granted waivers from Trump’s administration so they don’t have to blend ethanol into their gasoline. Lies can’t blame Congressional Democrats for that inexplicable move.

When hardship waivers were first granted in 2018 by Trump’s EPA, two North Dakota refineries were granted waivers. Andeavor is one of the largest oil refining companies in the nation. Two years ago they reported $1.5 billion in net profits. Yet, the EPA granted them a “hardship waiver.” At the time, high-ranking North Dakota Republicans wouldn’t say a word about how this would impact agriculture. While farmers struggle, big oil gets a break.

Senator John Hoeven was pressed on these waivers last week. When asked by Chris Berg on 630POV on what specifically Hoeven would do to correct this administrative misstep, Hoeven couldn’t give him a straight answer. Instead, he deferred to the executive branch and this administration. Reminder, Hoeven is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations.



I’m curious why it seems some struggle to admit these policies are harmful? Is it intimidation or fear of backlash? Is it because “their team” is in charge? After all, North Dakota is a Republican state and it is a risk to speak out publicly against Republican leaders who may be enabling bad policies, right? People can still choose not to support Democratic candidates while at the same time acknowledging the impacts of these policies.  Perhaps they don’t want to be called a “whiner” from administration officials?

More frustrating are those who are in a position to speak up, cast a vote, and really do something about it. Those individuals that are tasked with representing farmers are deferring their responsibilities. They’re enabling bad policies. Why are they allowed to get a pass?

Tyler Axness