WASHINGTON — Donald Trump is telling farmers they’ll need “more land,” “more tractors” and more “bigger and better and more powerful” tractors — and fast — because of the “incredible” deal he has made with China for the purchase of $50 billion in U.S. farm goods.
Farmers, though, may want to hold off on signing a loan for that half-million-dollar combine: It appears the president has gotten his numbers mixed up and has overstated his boast by about 100 percent — on a “deal” that has not even been finalized.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there,” said Darin Von Ruden, a dairy farmer in Westby, Wisconsin, and president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union. He added that farmers were initially optimistic when Trump announced the “deal” ending his trade war this month, but have come to see that that feeling may have been premature. “The numbers are what they are.”
A senior administration official confirmed on condition of anonymity that the $40-$50 billion figure Trump has been touting is for two years of agricultural purchases, not one — meaning that if a deal is actually completed using those numbers, it would merely restore agricultural sales to China to where they were before Trump began his tariff dispute.
Van Ruden said from what he has been able to determine, the Chinese have not made any firm pledges, and could continue to buy from Brazil and Argentina unless U.S. growers drop their prices. “There’s no guarantee at all in this they will be buying from American farmers,” he said.
Trump, nevertheless, has been bragging about the as yet unwritten, unsigned deal since his Oct. 11 Oval Office meeting with the vice premier of China, Liu He.
“A tremendous deal for the farmers. A purchase of from 40 to 50 billion dollars’ worth of agricultural products,” Trump said during a photo opportunity with Liu. “So I’d suggest the farmers have to go and immediately buy more land and get bigger tractors. They’ll be available at John Deere and a lot of other great distributors.”
“Farmers cannot produce enough. They will get more land and bigger tractors,” Trump continued later that night at a campaign rally in Louisiana. “We cannot produce that much wheat and corn. I got China to order a lot.”
At his rally in Dallas last week: “I want the farmers to tell me they can’t produce that much and I’ll say, ‘Yes, you can!’ They’re going to take in $50 billion instead of $20 billion from China.”
The false boasts continued at this week’s Cabinet meeting: “But we took it from $20 to potentially $50 billion. It will be bought — more — more agriculture will be bought — product — will be bought than any time in our history, by far.”
White House officials did not respond to HuffPost queries about Trump’s false claims.
Trump has for decades been prone to both exaggerations and outright lies, and the number of falsehoods he has said or written since taking office is now about 7,000, according to Daniel Dale, a journalist who has tracked them since Trump’s inauguration.
Veronica Nigh, a trade economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said that farmers would be fine with a $40 to $50 billion figure over two years, if it actually happens.
Sales to China dropped from $22 billion in 2017 to $16 billion in 2018 to just $7.3 billion in 2019 because of the tariffs China imposed on soybeans, corn, pork and other U.S. agricultural products to retaliate for the tariffs Trump levied on Chinese goods.
“So $20 to $25 billion would put us back to where we were before and would be better than where we are now,” she said, adding that farmers were “eager” for a final agreement. “We’re looking at those numbers more as a direction than a promise.”
As for Trump’s recommendation to run out and buy up land and expensive equipment, she said farmers have becoming quite proficient at “gauging ups and downs in the sector” and so are not likely to make major investments on just the president’s words.
“And so with the history of being cautious business people, probably not,” she said.