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Surging farm bankruptcies point to Trump’s tariffs crushing NC family farms

by Hannah Hogewood

This week the American Farm Bureau Federation released its 2019 report which, despite its bleak outlook, should give Rep. David Lewis some comfort.

The federation found that farm bankruptcies increased nearly 20 percent from 2018 and 2019 only trails 2010, the year following the Great Recession, in farm bankruptcy increases.

The Southeast experienced a 48 percent increase in farm bankruptcy filings from 2018. The second most of all US regions.

(American Farm Bureau Federation, 1/29/20)

According to the Federation, the increase in bankruptcy filings “was not unanticipated” given several factors including “headwinds on the trade front,” meaning recent tariffs and other barriers to international trade for farmers.

Rep. David Lewis is not alone in experiencing crushing farm debt and millions in collections lawsuits, but as more farmers agree that Trump’s tariffs are to blame, Lewis continues blind loyalty to the GOP.

Are Trump’s tariffs to blame for Rep. David Lewis’s crushing debt?
December 3, 2019 

Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) is being sued for more than $2.5M in unpaid debts by two large ag companies, both of which claim they sent multiple collections letters but received no response. Lewis’s financial struggles first made the news in October when WRAL found out he took a half a million dollar loan from a man later indicted on a bribery charge and two other six-figure loans over the past year and a half. 

Headlines including “North Carolina soybean farmers take a hit due to US-China trade war,” “NC farmers caught in crossfire of escalating trade war,” and “NC tobacco farmers, already reeling, face new threat from tariffs” show that Lewis’s story sounds familiar to many farmers across the state. Sadly, even the second-most powerful Republican lawmaker in the NC House does not appear to have enough clout to force the NCGOP stand up for NC farmers and stand against President Trump’s trade wars.

Lewis said his farm “got into a real bind” that was worsened by the fact that most banks and lending institutions have cut off farms. National reports show this is a common story as cash flow problems have pushed many farmers into bankruptcy. Lewis, who  operates three businesses in addition to his farm, collects a per diem for serving in the NCGA, and until last year worked as an insurance salesman, can’t be faulted for failing to diversify.

Trump’s trade wars with China, Mexico, and Canada are hurting farmers, especially in North Carolina, where cash crops such as soybeans (which Lewis grows) and tobacco depend on foreign markets. In 2018 North Carolina’s agriculture exports to China, Mexico, and Canada were worth more than $1.1 billion. China has been the largest market for NC’s tobacco recently and 75 percent of all NC tobacco is exported to foreign markets.

Larry Wooten, who was president of the NC Farm Bureau when Trump’s trade wars began escalating, was critical of the tariffs. “Our farmers are pawns in that whole discussion,” Wooten said of the tariffs.

Based on his crushing debt and future legal battles, Lewis likely feels like a pawn as well. Yet, instead of standing up to Trump, NC Republicans, including Lewis, have remained silent. North Carolina farmers need strong allies as tariffs and trade wars continue to ramp up and their effects ripple through communities. The NCGOP has proven it’s not prepared to advocate for farmers if it means holding Trump accountable.