Top 10 Ag Stories of 2020 - 2
President Donald Trump continues to insist it didn't happen, but he lost the presidency in November to former Vice President Joe Biden.
The 2020 election widened the split between more conservative rural areas and more liberal urban areas across the country. Biden's win was also the culmination of four years of bare-knuckle politics between Trump and his supporters versus liberals, moderates and some conservatives who opposed the president. Layered on top of it all was a deadly, economically devastating pandemic with the country and the world closely scrutinizing President Trump's response.
With most of the country isolated at home for months on end, 2020 seemed like the longest presidential race in history. And it didn't seem to end until Dec. 14 when the Electoral College gave Biden the win at 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232 votes.
Still, Trump and many of his supporters refuse to yield.
Agricultural leaders moved on to the next four years. They have met with Biden's transition team for USDA, and most commodity and farm organizations have praised Biden for nominating former Secretary Tom Vilsack to return to lead USDA again.
Leading up to the vote, farmers and rural America overall backed Trump over Biden by a wide margin. In the run-up to the election, the DTN/The Progressive Farmer Zogby Analytics election poll showed Trump carried an 18-point advantage among farmers and rural voters over Biden. That was true even though more farmers believed U.S. agriculture was worse off than four years ago.
And why not? President Trump has talked more about farmers than any other recent president. He brought in farmers and ranchers to the White House for press events on China, USMCA and aid programs. A tweet from Trump on China talks could swing soybean prices 20 cents one way or the other. Another tweet from Trump got Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to immediately change his mind about another round of Market Facilitation Program payments that led to $14.4 billion more in direct aid to farmers in 2019.
Trump also talked about ethanol and held meetings about it. He even signed an order allowing the use of 15% ethanol blends year-round, although his administration's own EPA chiefs seemed to undercut Trump on ethanol throughout his term.
A year ago, way back in December 2019 -- pre-coronavirus for Americans -- the Iowa caucuses, set for Feb. 3, couldn't come fast enough. Biden would come in fourth place in the caucuses. He would come in fifth in New Hampshire and wouldn't notch his first primary win until the end of February in South Carolina.
Trump faced impeachment votes in the House and Senate that fell along party lines. Yet, the national unemployment rate a year ago stood at 3.5%. Wages for the bottom 25% of workers had gone up 4.5% in 2019 as well.
And while agriculture was struggling with low profitability, Trump had started pocketing key wins in the trade arena for farmers. Japan in January 2020 lowered tariffs on U.S. farm products to start reaching parity with its partners in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) had been inked in and would go into effect in July. And Chinese officials would sign the phase-one trade agreement in mid-January with a vow to buy at least $36.6 billion of agricultural goods in the first year.
TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
Then life as Americans knew it got turned upside down by the coronavirus.
While primaries continued and Biden built more momentum as the Democratic nominee, the presidential race for months was on the backburner as the country first looked for a way to get beyond the pandemic. That just didn't happen.
In the closing days of the race, Biden and Trump campaigned heavily in Midwest states, repeatedly stopping in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin to stump for votes. Trump touted his trade deals with China, Canada and Mexico, often overselling the impact on farmers. In Wisconsin, the weekend before the election, Trump said dairy farmers were "decimated under Obama" but now "are doing very well" even though Wisconsin saw a record number of dairy closures in 2018 and 2019. Trump touted the USMCA, saying "our dairy exports are expected to surge by at least 100%."
"I ended the NAFTA nightmare and replaced it with the USMCA," Trump said. "With the USMCA, our dairy exports to Canada are expected to surge by 100%."
Biden later took aim at Trump's ethanol policies in Iowa. "Ethanol margins have tanked, and Iowa's manufacturing facilities are idle," he said. Biden also criticized Trump for comments the president made saying the farmers were doing better because of trade aid than when they had to farm.
"He says because of his bailouts, our farmers are doing better now than when they actually had to farm. I'm going to read that again. Our farmers are actually doing better now than when they actually had to farm. Where's this guy from? Who does he think he is?"
Election night didn't create a definitive outcome but generated yet another potential constitutional crisis. Trump declared in the early morning he had won the election even with multiple state votes still in the balance. Yet, Trump also indicated it looked like he could lose.
"This is a fraud on the American public," Trump said. "This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election."
A win in Pennsylvania four days later gave Biden the win, but Trump's supporters would mount several court battles to try to stop ballot counting, or demand judges throw out ballots. That led right up to a Dec. 11 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting a bid by Texas and 16 other states to throw out ballots in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
State electors met Dec. 14 and appeared to seal the election for Biden. Trump, though, doesn't see it that way. He wasn't happy when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Biden the next president.
"@senatemajldr and Republican Senators have to get tougher, or you won't have a Republican Party anymore. We won the Presidential Election, by a lot. FIGHT FOR IT. Don't let them take it away!" Trump tweeted Dec. 18, just one of dozens of related tweets by the president that dispute the outcome of the election.