Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series highlighting the local impact of Trump’s policies in key counties in MI, PA, WI, and FL.
In March 2018, dairy farmers in Erie County, Pennsylvania received an unanticipated notice in the mail. Dean Foods, a local dairy processor in the area that bought products from over 40 dairy farmers across Pennsylvania, gave farmers a 90-day notice that they would no longer be purchasing their products.
Two months later, Dean Foods closed its Meadowbrook Dairy and laid off over 100 employees in favor of shipping their business to a Wal-Mart-owned dairy operation in Indiana.
Because of President Trump’s trade policies, a 25% tariff has been placed on American cheese in retaliation by foreign countries, forcing American processors and farms to either close shop or conglomerate with large corporations to compete in the costly trade war.
Since dairy farmers are only permitted to sell to one distributor at a time, when organizations like Dean Foods announce they are conglomerating with large corporations, it leaves many farmers without a primary source of income.
“That means that their whole way of life is gone. They’ve lost everything they’ve worked maybe 20, 30, 40 years for. They’ve lost it. They have no recourse, “ Dean Curtis, an Erie County dairy farmer said to YourErie.com.
The U.S. dairy industry is set to lose up to $5.4 billion over the next several decades if trade agreements are not quickly ratified with foreign countries, such as Japan and China. And in Erie County, those losses are already beginning to quantify.
Since the Dean Foods plant closure, local leaders say the decline of the local dairy industry has rapidly increased. According to the Associated Press, Mark Muir, a Pa. farmer who is the current president of the Erie County Farm Bureau, said, “It’s a spiral…. Interest rates are going up. Your inputs are going up. It doesn’t pay.”
Trump himself seemed to admit his trade policies were hurting farmers, calling them “patriots” and promising he would “make it up” to them. Last summer, he issued dairy farmers a $127 million bailout from the Department of Agriculture. But that amount totaled at just 13% of farmers’ losses at the time, according to the National Milk Producers Federation.
In 2016, President Trump won Erie County by just under 2,000 votes. With a margin that thin, President Trump will need the support of Erie Dairy farmers should he want to win the county again in 2020.
And while he has praised farmers, the president doesn’t seem to be planning a change of the trade policies that are wreaking havoc on their financial well-being anytime soon.