When President Donald Trump announced a fire sale on Saturday to save millions of dollars on a drought-stricken farm, many farmers were skeptical.
The decision, which has the potential to devastate the economy of many struggling farm communities, comes after a year of economic turmoil that has put the nation’s dairy industry in a deep recession and has led to a major national food price hike.
The Trump administration has already used its emergency powers to force a sale of about $30 billion in assets including oil and gas leases on more than 100,000 acres of national forest land, which is considered a core area of agricultural production in the West.
But Trump also made an exception for a small portion of the farm-related agricultural debt, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
“These farmers have invested a lot of their livelihoods, their lives, in this land,” the official said.
“If the government wants to take away their property, they will lose their livelihood.”
Trump also called on Congress to pass a farm bill that would help the farm industry.
In his announcement, he also called for a $2 billion increase in the amount of money available for the Department of Agriculture to purchase and distribute food to struggling farmers.
But the Trump administration’s decision to sell off millions of acres of land to the federal government in a fire-sale was quickly condemned by agricultural advocates, who said it was an attack on the nation, a move that would be costly and would force farmers to make difficult decisions.
“This is not a fire that should be allowed to burn,” said John Binder, executive director of the U.S. Association of Counties of Iowa.
“This is a fire we should not let to burn.”
Trump’s move came a day after his administration issued a press release touting the president’s decision.
“Today, the President announced a $1.2 trillion relief package that will enable farmers and ranchers across the country to save up to $10 billion over the next four years,” the release read.
“The Trump Administration is committed to saving American families $3.2 billion in the first four years of this recovery program.”
However, some farmers have been skeptical that Trump would make the right decisions with the disaster relief funds, given the president-elect’s past history of making costly political decisions.
Binder said Trump has previously made costly political mistakes, including the Dakota Access Pipeline.
He has also called climate change a hoax, said the United Nations is a “hoax” and said that the “biggest threat to our future is climate change.”
“This deal is not the right way to help farmers and farmers’ families,” Binder said.
“The American people deserve better than this.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation, a powerful trade group, said in a statement that the move “is not only reckless, but it’s a big step backward for American farmers and their families.”
The trade group said Trump’s decision was also disappointing, because it could have helped improve the situation of rural farmers and rural communities.
“We urge the Trump Administration to use this emergency sale of land as a first step in creating jobs and rebuilding the economy,” said the AFB Federation.
“It is important that Congress provide the emergency relief needed to support our nation’s farmers, ranchers and rancher communities.
The Trump Administration must make a clear commitment to restoring our nation to its full potential.”
But some farmers and agribusiness executives applauded the Trump move.
“Trump’s decision is an important step forward to restoring farm communities and rural America to the way they were before the Great Recession hit,” said Steve Stahl, the president of the Iowa-based Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.
“With this land sale, the Trump White House is putting an end to a devastating drought that has devastated many rural areas across the West and is leaving a devastating impact on our nation.
We welcome this step in helping to save rural America.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Trump’s transition team said the president is “working to secure a farm sale that is long overdue.”
The statement from the transition team did not elaborate on what that sale would look like.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.