WAXAHACHIE, Texas — A farmer is all John Paul Dineen has ever wanted to be, but farming is harder than it has ever been.
Ask him to describe the economy for a Texas farmer and he quickly admits it’s “pretty bad.”
“We’ve been on a downhill slide for about five years,” he said. “Our income is 50 to 55 percent less than it was four or five years ago.”
Dineen says several things are to blame – none of which are in a farmer’s control.
“So, we have had some pretty good droughts in these last five years followed by epic rainfall events,” he said.
“Our fertilizer, our fuel, our parts, our equipment - all that stuff is on a steady increase year to year.”
While costs are skyrocketing, the money farmers make off their crops is steadily declining.
“We are producing at a loss,” he said.
The U.S. relies on foreign markets to purchase crops, but farmers began feeling the disruption in overseas markets, particularly China, several years ago, Dineen said.
“That was the first trigger,” Dineen said.
“Then we had some droughts, more flooding, then more trouble with China. And now corn – which used to be $6.50 a bushel or more - is down to $3.50.”
Tariffs instituted by the Trump administration earlier in 2019 have continued to drive the prices down, but Dineen holds out hope tariffs will help in the long run.
“[Tariffs] do send ripples through the market. They push the price down further. It’s one more thing that’s kept the price pushed down to under a profitable level,” he said. “But China has thumbed their nose at rules for years and I do feel in the long term it will help.”
The Dineens are determined to hang on.
“From a mother’s standpoint, you conserve as much as you can,” said Heather Dineen, John Paul’s wife.
Dineen can no longer afford hired help, and he goes to great lengths to avoid a trip to a mechanic.
“You go to the salvage yards for parts, you try and work on it to repair it yourself rather than hiring a dealer or a mechanic,” he said. “I’ve got bald tires on tractors that, in better circumstances, I would have already bought replacements for.”
“You just do what you can, hoping for better days," he said.
Dineen believes the Trump administration realizes how much value farmers bring to the American economy.
“If we do not take care of our ag economy and we have to rely on foreign countries to feed us, that’s a situation you never want to be in,” he said. “For myself, I don’t look at it as a job or work, it’s how I live.”
He’ll keep farming because his heart will always be in it - even if big money isn’t.
The effects of tariffs on Texas farmers is the topic in the newest episode of our political podcast, Y’all-itics. Each week we’ll dive a little deeper into one topic that impacts Texans.
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