U.S farmers have long depended on foreign buyers for some of their corn, soybeans, pork and other products. And federal officials have used some agricultural commodities as tools of diplomacy for decades.
But as the Trump administration has pursued hard-line moves with major trading partners, especially China, farmers have found themselves with huge surpluses — and on the receiving end of government aid.
Modern farming became permanently entwined with both politics and export markets in the mid-20th century, says Mount Royal University historian Joe Anderson.
“There’s agricultural policy that’s part of this,” Anderson said, “there’s technology that’s part of this.”
After World War II, synthetic fertilizers and other technological advances allowed farmers to produce well beyond the domestic demand, cementing their reliance on customers beyond the border. Lawmakers took notice, Anderson said, and they began “using food, and commodities in general, as a tool in the Cold War.”
Meanwhile, Anderson said, farmers became so efficient with certain crops that they recognized the need to develop new markets, beyond formal government programs abroad. A recent domestic example is the creation of the booming ethanol industry to buy up lots of corn.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture and many commodity groups also combined forces to open offices overseas and sponsor trade missions to foster a strong trade relationship with various other countries.
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