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Many MT Farmers Happy to Have 2019 in the Rearview

Montana farmers have received less than 1% of the federal subsidies to offset losses from the trade war. (Matt/Adobe Stock)
Montana farmers have received less than 1% of the federal subsidies to offset losses from the trade war. (Matt/Adobe Stock)
December 23, 2019

HELENA, Mont. -- If Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer could describe 2019 for farmers in one word, it would be "struggle."

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture says farm incomes are up 10% over last year, Schweitzer says small family farms still are getting squeezed by commodity prices and trade conflict.

He also notes there's been news all year about the country's soaring economy, leaving some farmers to wonder what they're doing wrong.

"You start looking at yourself and wondering whether or not I'm the only one that's struggling," he says. "And I think that's really what I try to tell them, is that they're not alone here. We're all struggling."

Schweitzer says unfortunately, the stressful year also took a toll on producers' mental health, adding that almost everyone knows someone in his or her community who has died by suicide.

Montana has the highest suicide rate in the country.

Schweitzer says the USDA and Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services have assistance for people who need it.

The federal government has offered subsidies - known as Market Facilitation Program payments - to offset losses from the trade conflict.

Since 2018, payments have totaled $14 billion although less than 1% has gone to Montana farmers.

Schweitzer says the program mainly has helped corporations such as Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS, which has received $90 million.

"Here in Montana, if you did get a Market Facilitation Payment, it was maybe as much as $15 an acre, which did not offset our losses," he points out.

The USDA says payments are based on the amount of trade damage, not farm size.

Despite the tough year, Schweitzer is confident that Montana farmers can win back their markets. He says what the country needs now is more stability in its trade policies.

"Countries like Japan want our wheat, especially Montana wheat, and they want our beef," he states. "And so, we have that going for us."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT