Wisconsin Farmer Tells Fox News Suicides, Bankruptcy Rising in Rural U.S. Amid China Trade War

A National Farmers Union executive and active Wisconsin dairy farmer joined Midwest agricultural leaders this week in condemning President Donald Trump's ongoing trade war with China, warning of increased financial stress and suicide among farmers.

Patty Edelburg, vice president of the Washington-based NFU group, which says it represents some 200,000 U.S. farms, appeared on Fox News Thursday and detailed what she viewed as the dire state of American farming amid falling income and commodity prices, resulting in a surging number of bankruptcies, increased financial stress and suicide in the agricultural community.

“It has been insane,” Edelburg told America's Newsroom anchors Sandra Smith and Jon Scott Thursday. “We've had a lot of farmers—a lot more bankruptcies going on, a lot more farmer suicides. These things are highlighting many of the news stories in our local news."

Recent national data and surveys show rural mental health problems are rampant and rising among U.S. farmworkers.

A Morning Consult research poll released May 1 and backed by the American Farm Bureau Federation found 91 percent of farmers and farmworkers said financial issues are impacting their mental health. About 87 percent of those surveyed said they fear losing their farms and one-third of rural adults have personally sought mental health care.

The NFU and other farming industry groups confirmed to Newsweek they are taking more precautions and offering more resources to prevent suicides in 2019.

National Farmers Union Director of Government Relations Matt Perdue told Newsweek Thursday the group established a website, farmcrisis.nfu.org, to help family farmers and ranchers make tough decisions. As Madison's State Journal newspaper reported in January, the government-backed Wisconsin Farm Center, which helps distressed farmers, saw calls go up by 33 percent last November and December.

Wisconsin saw a record 915 suicides in 2017, which experts cautioned may be a direct result of suicides and suicidal thoughts among farmers buckling to the financial pressures of not getting a fair price for what they produce.

Perdue acknowledged to Newsweek that farmers have historically had higher suicide rates than the general population, but the recent added financial pressures of finding a place in a competitive global marketplace have "exacerbated" lingering mental health problems in rural America.

"Farmers are in the midst of six consecutive years of falling commodity prices and depressed farm income," Perdue told Newsweek Thursday. "In that time we've definitely heard increased concern from our membership, and other organizations have as well, related to folks in their community not doing well in terms of their mental health."

farmer suicides fox news
Patty Edelburg, vice president of the Washington-based National Farmers Union, joined several Midwest agricultural figures in ridiculing Trump’s ongoing trade war with China, warning of increased financial stress and suicides among farmers. Screenshot: America's Newsroom | Fox News | YouTube

Speaking on Fox News Thursday, Edelburg placed today's financial stresses squarely on the Trump administration's trade war with China and failure to assist U.S. farmers.

“We have more commodities, more grain sitting on the ground now because we lost huge export markets," she said. "We've lost export markets that we've had for 30 years that we'll never get a chance to get back again. Farmers are hopeful to get their crops in the ground this year but really hopeful we have a place to sell it come fall.”

America's Newsroom hosts asked Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy to respond to Edelburg's complaints. The lawmaker then echoed several Trump administration figures' claims that farmers must suffer in the "short term" in order to play tough with China on trade.

"China cheats, china cheats, for twenty years our leadership in America has acted like a bunch of weenies, they've let them get away with it. No more, we want you to be part of the global economy, but there are rules," Kennedy told Fox News Thursday.

"Senator you're talking about the long-term game, but there are those in this country who are feeling the short-term pain," said Fox News co-anchor Smith, pushing back on Kennedy's justification for the trade war.

"Our farmers are in pain and I'm sorry for that," Kennedy said. "America was born on a farm. Looking at the bigger picture, the economy is great, wages up, income up, GDP up, productivity up, our economy is hotter than a pepper sprout, but I know that doesn't help our famers."

Earlier in the hour, Edelburg also said farmers want a "long-term" solution, but Trump is going about it the wrong way.

“We don't need Band-Aids. We need long-term fixes to make sure farmers are able to survive. We understand what President Trump is doing with China. We've been trying to fix the manipulative trade policies for years. But the way we're going about it may not be the right fix," Edelburg added.

Kennedy said the Trump administration needs to help farmers selling to China "find other markets," but when pressed to name a single other country he replied, "Europe, Europe."

On Wednesday, Iowa farmer Larry Angler told CNN he plans to "never vote for [Trump] again" as he loses hundreds of thousands of dollars amid Washington's trade war with China.

The National Farmers Union was one of more than 40 farming and agriculture groups who signed a March 25 letter to Congress urging funding for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) to provide stress assistance resources within farm communities.