Minnesota Soybean Business

For all the marbles? Minnesota in play for 2020 presidential race

In 2020, Minnesota’s 10 electoral votes are up for grabs. The road to winning the North Star State, which has turned purple in recent years, may run through Minnesota’s agricultural arteries.

“This used to be a Democrat state. … I don’t think so,” President Donald Trump told supporters in Rochester in 2018. The November 2018 midterms proved to be a mixed bag for both parties in Minnesota. Each party picked up – and lost – two Congressional seats.

In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton barely defeated then-candidate Trump by 1.5 percentage points in Minnesota. Throughout his first term, President Trump’s reelection campaign has viewed Minnesota as ripe for the plucking in 2020. In the past two years, the president visited Rochester, Duluth, Minneapolis and Mankato. Throughout the fall 2020 campaign, he has appeared in Minnesota’s Iron Range, and is making a stop in Rochester in the campaign’s final days. Polls during the summer and fall have varied – some showed Democratic candidate Joe Biden leading by more than 10 points in Minnesota. Other pollsters indicate the race is within the margin of error.

To win Minnesota, both candidates will need to pull in voters from Greater Minnesota. Trump has enjoyed broad support throughout rural America, and Minnesota is no different. In 2016, he flipped 19 rural Minnesota counties that had previously supported Barack Obama.  Nationally, his standing among farmers remains strong. An August poll conducted by Reuters columnist Karen Braun found that farmers continue to favor Trump over Biden by a 73 to 18 percent margin. A national poll conducted in January by Farm Journal showed 83-percent farmer approval of Trump’s job performance, and a October poll in Progressive Farmer showed Trump leading Biden by an 18-percent margin among farmers and ranchers.

But as the adage goes in politics, “The only poll that matters is the one on election day.”

Trump, of course, is confident he’ll become the first Republican to turn Minnesota red in a presidential race since Richard Nixon in 1972.

“We’re gonna win this state, we’re going to take back the White House,” he vowed to supporters in Mankato.

Wins and losses

When Trump took the oath of office on Jan. 20. 2017, soybean futures in Chicago were priced around $10.50 per-bushel. Since April 2018, when a tit-for-tat tariff war with China began, soybean prices have usually hovered between $8 and $9.50 per-bushel. However, in recent months, soybean purchases from China have spiked, causing soybean prices to reach nearly $11 per bushel. The president’s trade policies have been consequential as it relates to agriculture. As he predicted in his campaign, Trump can boast of several trade wins during his presidency. He negotiated a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico with the 2020 implantation of the USMCA, which updates NAFTA. He entered the U.S. into a new trade agreement with Japan, a country that imports about $1 billion worth of whole soybeans and soybean meal.

Trump’s aggressive trade stance toward China – the largest consumer of U.S. soybeans – affected agriculture more than any other industry. From 2017 to 2018, U.S. soybean exports to China plummeted by 75 percent. In 2018 and 2019, he directed the USDA to issue billions in direct payments to farmers. In 2020, Trump signed the CARES Act, which included $19 billion in direct payments to producers. The trade war with China started to deescalate in January, when the two countries signed a “Phase One” trade deal that included China agreeing to increase purchases of ag products. However, China’s 25-percent tariff on U.S. soybeans remains and Trump’s increasing criticism of China’s response to COVID-19 led the president to suggest a second phase of the trade deal is unlikely in a second term.

Trump’s EPA also has both helped and hurt his standing with farmers. The EPA’s deregulation mission has been consistent, highlighted by its reversal of the Obama-era Clean Water Rule. But the EPA has often ignored Trump’s assurances to protect the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard, issuing Small Refinery Exemptions that help Big Oil and hurt the biofuels industry.

“EPA’s final rule for the 2020 RFS volumes is simply out of step with Congressional intent and President Trump’s promises,” said Kurt Kovarik, National Biodiesel Board’s vice president of federal affairs.

Recommitting to rural America

Democratic candidate Joe Biden is looking to avoid repeating the strategic missteps of the Clinton campaign, which failed to connect with rural America. His website features a section titled “The Biden Plan for Rural America,” outlining his plans to address the challenges facing agriculture. Rather than engage in a trade war, the Biden campaign says the former vice president “will stand up to China by working with our allies to negotiate from the strongest possible position.”

Biden also pledged to support beginning farmers by expanding the Microloan Program, which began while Biden served as vice president, to $100,000. He would also increase funding for the USDA’s Farm Loan Programs.

Biden’s plan to help rural voters also includes:

– Reinvestments in land grant universities’ ag research
– $400 billion toward biofuels, clean energy, research, innovation and deployment
– Creating a task force to help rural communities access federal funds
– Defending and strengthen the Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicare
– Keeping rural hospitals open by eliminating payment cuts for rural hospitals
– Allowing easier access for new and small businesses to obtain loans
– $20 billion in rural broadband upgrades and increase funding to expand broadband access in rural areas by 300 percent

If elected, a President Biden would make infrastructure updates a top priority, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a 2020 presidential candidate and Biden surrogate.

“Biden’s always been a huge supporter of infrastructure,” Sen. Klobuchar told Minnesota Soybean Growers Association directors during its July board meeting. “He would be a great advocate.”

The key to a Biden victory in swing states doesn’t mean he has to earn a majority of rural votes, said former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. But he likely will have to compete for – and win – votes in farm country to defeat Trump on Nov. 3.

“The point is first and foremost to lessen the (Trump rural) margin, so you don’t have to have an overwhelming margin in suburban and urban areas,” Vilsack told Agri-Pulse.



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