Election year crazy, sure; but this is way beyond crazy

Alan Guebert
Special to the Farm Forum

Just when you think 2020 can’t possibly get any crazier, autumn arrives with a carload of crazy in tow.

For example, does any farmer or rancher really know what the White House’s recently announced additional $14 billion in ag bailout money is intended to address that the previous $37.2 billion didn’t address?

That’s an honest question because we already know through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent Farm Income Forecast that 2020 net farm income will be an estimated $102.7 billion, the highest since 2013.

In fact, it’s the highest by far: $40 billion over 2016’s net farm income and $20 billion more than last year’s.

And that’s before the $14 billion. When added, U.S. farmers will pocket $51 billion in aid, or just $11 billion less than 2016’s entire net farm income for all farmers.

Equally crazy is that if anyone in the congressional ag hierarchy asks for an accounting of the money, as Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow of the Senate Ag Committee did Sept. 21, they are denounced as “irresponsible.”

So, since no one is allowed to ask, let’s simply pause to contemplate where exactly in the Twilight Zone we are today.

First, the Dems are worried about spending. Second, the Repubs are screaming for billions more in subsidies. Third, has any farm or commodity group not put its hand out?

Gonzo as that all might be, even more crazy are much bigger sectors of the U.S. economy that continue to be stiffed — and strangled — by Congress and the White House.

For example, American agriculture composes 1 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. By contrast, the restaurant sector is four times bigger, kicking in 4 percent of GDP. To date, restaurants have received pennies in government coronavirus aid while ag has gotten dollars.

Still, American leaders don’t have a corner on crazy. Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s prime minister (and Europe’s best-known COVID-19 skeptic until he survived a COVID infection last April) does crazy as good as anyone anywhere.

To prove it, Johnson, the straw-haired former mayor of London who rode Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union, into No. 10 Downing St., recently said he would not hesitate to break the very Brexit agreement he signed with the EU just months ago if it insists he follow its rules.

Crazy, right? I mean, which leader of a nuclear-armed nation negotiates, then signs, an international agreement they say they will break before the deal even takes effect?

Crazier still, Prime Minister BoJo says he’s not the crazy one in the deal; the EU is, he proclaims, because it actually believed he would honor the Brexit deal he signed.

Johnson’s remark came on the heels of recent questions surrounding a key Brexit sticking point: How do Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — the former is a part of the UK, the latter a part of the EU — maintain their shared, “open” border after Brexit kicks in Jan. 1.

The answer involves more than trade. Leaders on both sides see the open border — unburdened by either EU or UK tariffs — as the key to maintaining the fragile peace between the long-warring sides.

UK farmers, who supported both Brexit and Johnson, now find themselves tangled in the fight. If Johnson rejects the agreement but pulls the UK from the European Union, the EU says it will shut its door to all UK food and farm exports. That would be a devastating cut to UK farmers and one Johnson has no bandage — American level subsidies — to offer.

American farmers and ranchers have an interest in this distant fight. Johnson and President Donald J. Trump want to strike a free trade deal as swiftly as possible, partly to keep trade lines open between America and the soon-to-be alone UK and partly to give Johnson a life jacket in case his Brexit bilge swamps him.

Either way, would you trust Johnson to uphold his end of any deal?

Of course not; you’re not crazy.

Alan Guebert