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TOBAN DYCK: Trump's support in agricultural communities is deepening the rural-urban divide

Supporters hold up signs prior to a "Make America Great Again Rally" at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center April 29, 2017 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Supporters hold up signs prior to a "Make America Great Again Rally" at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center April 29, 2017 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Some would like nothing better than to extract a mea culpa from farmers for the role they played in electing a 'damaging' president

On June 21, the Washington Post published an article about how some “once-loyal farmers” were beginning to doubt U.S. President Donald Trump.

The article looked at the political and environmental challenges South Dakota farmer Ray Martinmaas and others are facing this growing season, such as the U.S.’s deteriorating trade relationships and, in the case of Martinmaas’s farm, excessive rain.

But the Post article and the more than 5,000 comments accompanying it did more than just that — they also exposed the sizeable divide between rural and urban America. And while there are stark and obvious differences between the U.S. and Canada, the highlighted attitudes between the densely populated areas and the sparsely populated ones apply to both countries.

“I always say the West Coast and East Coast can each be a country and the rest of us will be just fine,” Martinmaas told the Washington Post, speaking of his disregard for “coastal elites.” “Here in flyover country, we have everything we need — food, oil.”

Martinmaas also spoke of the dire situation many farmers now find themselves in with respect to trade. It was an article written with a strong farmer perspective. And the comments that followed were equally strong.

“They disdain the coastal elites who pay their bills,” read one comment. “They hate socialism that they rely on. They complain about taxes they barely pay. The sheer ignorance of thinking they feed us (when) it’s us feeding them.”

“I’m kinda wondering where the heck they think the rest of food comes from, like food that isn’t corn, wheat or soybeans,” read another comment.

In an op-ed appearing in Glacier Farmmedia, ag journalist Alan Guebert, who first brought attention to the comments the article spurred, wrote, “farmers and ranchers have a growing problem with today’s younger, better-educated, more influential generation of eaters. These eaters are unafraid to challenge Big Ag’s views and the scornful pats on the head — rather than real answers — they receive to their serious questions.”

U.S. and Canadian farmers are facing a genuine battle under Trump’s presidency. And for many U.S. growers heavily reliant on government subsidies, the conditions may very well be dire. But, sympathy for the ag sector is a scarce commodity.

Some critics would like nothing better than to extract a mea culpa from farmers for the role they played in electing a president who is seen by many as a damaging, myopic leader.

The distrust represented in the comments, however — which seems to be largely based on region and occupation — is unfounded.

While more needs to be done to show people how farms operate, growers also need to be mindful of how they present themselves to the world and how they engage with an intelligent and curious consumer base.

I don’t agree with some farmers. I think some of the fundamental attitudes and practices toward the crops we grow should be revisited. And I’ve struggled to reconcile the fact that many farmers and rural dwellers are dyed-in-the-wool libertarians who are also accepting of public money and somewhat reliant on its availability during challenging times.

But the bullish, cowboyesque attitudes that many city dwellers attribute to the rural community are hard to condone.

Farming is a complex business. To explain how exactly things have changed under Trump’s presidency is equally complex. It’s too easy to disparage and disregard those who don’t seem to understand and whose questions can be interpreted as meddling.

It may be challenging for some to understand how growing soybeans, corn, wheat and canola contributes to feeding the world, but these crops and the many others we’re able to grow here in North America are important pieces to the global food store, which we both contribute to and draw from.

Martinmaas has cause for concern. The article should have triggered the alarm on a suffering agricultural sector. Instead, it bolstered stereotypes and pounded a wedge deeper into the chasm between farmers and the rest of the world.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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