When Donald Trump ran for president four years ago, he came to Bangor and promised Mainers like me that he would deliver the greatest trade deals in American history. As a dairy farmer whose livelihood depends in part on exports to China and other countries, that sounded quite promising. Dairy farmers are the economic engines of rural Maine, and our ability to thrive is based in part on how much we can make by exporting our products to other countries.

When Trump took office, his actual plan became clear. He intended to stoke a trade war with China, ratcheting up tariffs and adversarial rhetoric, with the belief that these tactics would help us “beat them.”

Trump’s bluster and policy making by tweet didn’t produce any of the greatest trade deals in American history. Unsurprisingly, when Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese goods, China retaliated and took aim at American agriculture products. Trump’s trade war decimated our exports and dried up one of the dairy industry’s most important markets nearly overnight.

Maine wasn’t spared significant losses from the trade war. We’ve all heard about how Trump’s harmful policies have upended our lobster industry, but our farmers have been hit hard too. Our blueberry market has nearly vanished. And dairy farmers like me have suffered from some of the lowest milk prices in years, as well as huge price swings.

Before the trade war, Maine was home to more than 200 dairy farms that produced 71 million gallons of milk each year nationally. 1 in 8 gallons of that milk was sold abroad. But one economist estimated that the average Maine dairy farm could lose $50,000 because of Trump’s trade war.

Trump’s failed trade war not only changed our profits in the short term, but altered the future of our entire industry. My dairy business worked hard to have a reputation as a reliable supplier that could provide products to China and other countries on a steady basis. With the tariffs, we’ve become an unreliable supplier. The market has broadened, and it’s unlikely to ever return to the single source that we had before. The enormous investments we made to develop our market in China have been blown away in the blink of an eye.

While Trump was overseeing this collapse in American farm exports, he declared that farmers were getting “over the hump,” and predicted that by this time next year farmers would be doing “fantastically well.” Yet where were we by the end of 2019? Farm bankruptcies in the U.S. were up 20%, and farm debt had hit the highest number in American history.

After losing the trade war he started, Trump decided to settle for a bad trade deal with China that left major issues unaddressed in exchange for purchases that would help his reelection campaign. Not only has this deal not fundamentally undone the damage his trade war caused, it hasn’t even increased China’s purchasing of American agricultural goods like he promised it would.

The evidence is clear. I’ve seen it myself. After his reckless trade war and failed attempts to paper over the damage, Donald Trump has caused irreparable harm to American agriculture. He promised better trade deals, but instead, he got played by China. Through his reckless trade policy, Trump has milked dairy farms dry.

That’s why I will be supporting Joe Biden for president this November. Biden has a plan to revitalize farms and all of rural America. He will strengthen our agricultural sector in a number of ways — by pursuing a less erratic trade policy with China and other countries, supporting beginning farmers, and re-investing in land grant universities, just to name a few.

I know Joe Biden will fight for farmers and won’t throw us by the wayside as collateral damage, like Trump has done time and again over his presidency. If dairy farms like mine are going to thrive again, we need a president who cares about our livelihoods. The difference for Maine farmers like me between four more years of Trump and a new start with Joe Biden could not be more stark.

Spencer Aitel, along with Paige Tyson, owns Two Loons Farm in South China and ships milk to Organic Valley Cooperative.


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