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As Presidential Candidates Make Their Pitch To America’s Dairyland, Farmers Divided On Whether Trump Has Helped Ag

While Some Farmers Still Back Trump, Democrats Are Hoping To Capitalize On Frustration Over Trade

the shadow of a farmer is cast onto the ground of a barn as he walks in between rows of dairy cows
Mitch Breunig walks around his dairy farm, Mystic Valley Dairy, on Friday, July 24, 2020, near Sauk City. Angela Major/WPR

On a dairy farm just north of La Crosse earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence sat down with local farmers and state legislators. He was there to make his case for how the Trump administration has helped farmers.

As a sign of their success, Pence pointed to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the trade pact which officially replaced NAFTA at the beginning of July.

“USMCA is a win for American workers, it’s a win for American farmers, and it’s a win for American dairy and it’s just one more example of how President Donald Trump puts America first and always will,” Pence said.

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Vice President Mike Pence speaks at Morning Star Dairy on Friday, July 17, 2020, in Onalaska, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Rural communities, especially in western Wisconsin, helped President Donald Trump win the state and ultimately the presidency in 2016. And heading into this year’s election, the Trump campaign is hoping to secure their votes again.

The pitch works for some dairy farmers in the state.

Amy Penterman owns Dutch Dairy in Thorp and is president-elect of the Dairy Business Association board of directors. She won’t say who she’s voting for, but she feels like Trump has worked for farmers during his time in office.

“We really appreciate the fact that he’s working to get trade deals done in other countries that are fair and really focusing on those deals to get them done. We just really want him to continue to focus on more trade deals,” Penterman said.

She said her family worries about the future of farming. So having a candidate who understands who dairy farmers are and the issues they face is the most important thing to her.

Amy Penterman owns Dutch Dairy in Thorp and sits on the board of the Dairy Business Association. Photo courtesy of Amy Penterman

“You’re going to know by what they’re talking about, not just a general ‘We need trade’ but really to the heart of it, what is affecting farmer A that we can listen to and find solutions for,” Penterman said.

But Trump’s trade policy has turned off other dairy farmers, who question whether the president has hurt agricultural exports more than he’s helped them. Especially after retaliatory tariffs traded with countries like China and Mexico largely targeted U.S. farm goods.

Mitch Breunig, owner of Mystic Valley Dairy in Sauk City, said he’s most worried about America’s trade relationship with Mexico, which is the biggest importer of U.S. dairy products.

“One of the things about trade or even just doing business with people: you usually do it with people you like,” Breunig said. “When we do these hard-line negative negotiations, it’s just hard to go back and say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do business with you because we like to do business with you.’ Those relationships are built over time and if you wreck them, it’s not like they’re going to be better tomorrow again.”

Breunig said he voted for Trump in 2016, but he’s still undecided this year.

While he thinks renegotiating trade deals with countries like China will pay off eventually, Breunig feels like the Trump administration isn’t aware of the economic situation that farmers are facing.