Apparently, President Trump's hint that the Department of Agriculture might authorize another tranche of bailout funds for America's farmers wasn't enough to quell their anger. Because in what Bloomberg described as a "sign of rising tensions with the farm community," staffers from the USDA's Statistical Service was pulled from a popular but privately run Midwestern crop tour after a government employee was reportedly threatened.
The threat didn't come from somebody involved in the Crop Tour, but the USDA decided to pull all staff as a precaution.
Lance Honig, crops chief at the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, was scheduled to address the tour in Nebraska City Tuesday night, but a video interview with him was screened instead.
"Federal Protective Services were contacted and are investigating the incident," NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer said Wednesday, without giving details on the threat. "The safety of our employees is our top priority."
The animosity toward the USDA might be inspired by the fact that the USDA has been criticized for publishing crop estimates that were larger than anticipated, weighing on the price of agricultural commodities at an already difficult time for American farmers, who have been struggling with the fallout from Trump's trade war with China. Beijing recently revealed that it would scrap plans to buy more soybeans and other American agricultural goods.
The USDA had already been criticized for its June estimates, and decided to take the rare step of re-surveying farmers to test the accuracy of their information.
The USDA's decision to withdraw from the crop tour comes about two weeks after farmers leveled criticism at Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at a fair in Minnesota over the trade war with China.
In a statement Wednesday, Pro Farmer parent company Farm Journal said it took the threat seriously and has also taken care to ensure the safety of participants.
"For 27 years the Pro Farmer Crop Tour has been a public service for the benefit of agriculture, in good times and bad," it said. "And it’s clearly a stressful time right now."
During recent stops in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska, farmers asked government officials and employees of Pro Farmer about the government's methods for determining corn planted area and yields after a swift swing in prices left many farmers in the lurch. The USDA said yield estimates were based largely on input from pro farmers as well as satellite imagery.
One farmer interviewed by BBG stressed that most farmers likely wouldn't condone the threats.
"We had a great time with the USDA guys yesterday," said Jim Putnam, a Minnesota farmer, who traveled with two USDA staff on the tour Tuesday. "I’m sorry this happened. It makes us all look stupid."
But, if nothing else, the animosity that the USDA is struggling hints at just how contentious the 2020 race could be for farmers who have largely suffered under President Trump's policies, despite supporting him during the election.