Donald Trump's Boast That He Is Helping Farmers by Giving Them Subsidies Is 'B.S.,' Says Head of Wisconsin Farmers Union: 'We Don't Want Government Handouts'

President Donald Trump's boast that U.S. farms are getting billions of dollars in subsidies has been rebuked by the head of the farmers union in the country's second-biggest dairy-producing state.

In reaction to a CBS 60 Minutes report on Sunday about how trade disputes and low prices meant many U.S. landowners risked losing their farms, Trump tweeted that the episode hadn't mentioned the $28 billion dollars his administration has spent over the past two years to bail out American farmers.

Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden, however, told Newsweek that farmers don't want to be rescued by the government. They want to earn their own living, free of the Trump administration's trade wars.

"It is absolutely ludicrous," Von Ruden said. "The majority of farmers want to get our income coming in from the marketplace, from the consumers. We don't want government handouts."

Farm in Hartford, Wisconsin
A general view of a farm in Hartford, Wisconsin is shown in this illustrative image. President Donald Trump has said that he backs farmers and that proof of this is his subsidies to the rural sector hit by his trade policies. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Van Ruden said Trump's trade wars have worsened the plight of small farmers in particular, who are already reeling from lower prices, and he warned that it could take up to 20 years for the farmers he represents to recover.

"He is bragging about socialism. That's what 28 billion dollars really is—it is taxpayers dollars that are coming back to the farmer," Van Ruden said.

The Trump administration's farm bailout has now cost more than twice as much as the $12 billion auto bailout in 2009.

.@60Minutes “forgot” to report that we are helping the great farmers of the USA to the tune of 28 Billion Dollars, for the last two years, paid for out of Tariffs paid to the United States by China for targeting the farmer. They devalued their currency, therefore paying the cost!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2019

"For him to say that he's helping farmers is really B.S. too," Van Ruden said, "because the amount of money we get back is between 20 and 23 percent of what we are losing."

Farmers are key to Trump's hopes of being re-elected in 2020. According to the trade journal Agri-Pulse, a poll conducted in October 2016 found Trump leading Hillary Clinton 55-18 among farmers who had operations spanning at least 200 acres.

Yet farmers now find themselves caught in the crossfire of the Trump administration's trade wars against key partners like China, India and Mexico, which are being waged mainly to help sectors including tech and manufacturing. Trump has repeatedly slapped tariffs on Chinese goods entering the U.S., sparking tit-for-tat tariff hikes from Beijing.

Statista graph on U.S. farm exports
The graphic provided by Statista, illustrates the size of the market in China for U.S. agriculture products in 2018. President Donald Trump has instigated subsidies for U.S. farmers affected by the trade spat with Beijing. Statista

Keen to appease the Midwestern states he needs to be re-elected, Trump claimed in June that revenue collected from tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods can cover the cost of the bailout.

But retired Wisconsin dairy farmer Jim Goodman, who is president of the National Family Farm Coalition, told Newsweek that subsidies are not proof of the Trump administration's commitment to farmers.

"It sounds like a lot of money, but when you divide that among the many farms in the country, it doesn't come to very much," Goodman said. "I knew a farmer who got a check for a dollar—that's laughable at best."

Goodman said the major players in the farming industry benefit the most from the Trump administration's subsidies. "In effect, the biggest farmers—who aren't really farmers but own a lot of land and rent a lot of land and let someone else farm it for them—they are the ones who got the biggest checks out of the deal," he said.

"Small farmers that rural communities depend on are still struggling, and the amount of money, if they got any at all out of that $28 billion, is pretty minimal," he added.

The rural sector cautiously welcomed a limited bilateral trade deal Trump struck with Japan that gradually reduces tariffs on more than $2 billion worth of beef and pork, whose producers were hit hard after the president withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

In signing the deal on Monday, Trump called it "a game changer for our farmers and our ranchers."

It puts the U.S. on a par with the countries in the TPP and was welcomed by groups such as Farmers for Free Trade, although experts have warned that it does not make up for the impact of the trade war on China.

Cambridge, Wisconsin farm
Cows on a family farm near Cambridge, Wisconsin, are shown in this illustrative image. Small farmers say they have been hit hard by lower prices and trade disputes. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Von Ruden has a dairy farm in Westby, Wisconsin. In that state alone, nearly 600 dairy farms went out of business in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Across the country, more than 2,700 dairy farms closed that year, a decline of nearly 7 percent.

"The low prices were here before the trade dispute started," Von Ruden acknowledged, but the Trump administration has "made it a lot worse." "The dairy industry has spent years building up markets across the ocean that really got destroyed overnight by the president's trade wars."