Farmer unrest in U.S. shows up during industry crop tour

HENRY COUNTY, Ill./CHICAGO (Reuters) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled all staff from an annual crop tour in late August after an employee was threatened, and three sources said the threat came over the phone from an angry farmer.

Farmers have complained that a government crop report did not reflect damage from historic flooding this spring. They are also frustrated over unsold crops due to the trade war with China, falling farm income and tighter credit conditions.

Lance Honig, crops chief at the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and other USDA staffers left the privately run Pro Farmer tour and it was expected that police would be present on upcoming stops of the tour, three sources with knowledge of the situation said.

“A USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service employee received a threat while on the ProFarmer Crop Tour from someone not involved with the tour,” Hubert Hamer, administrator of the statistics service, said in a statement. “As a precaution, we immediately pulled all our staff out of the event.”

The Federal Protective Service was contacted and is investigating the incident, USDA said.

The department declined to give details on the threat, but tour organizers said in a statement that it was taken “very seriously.”

“(We) have taken all steps possible to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the tour,” said Andy Weber, chief executive officer of Farm Journal, the parent company of tour organizer Pro Farmer.

“It’s clearly a stressful time right now.”

Farmers at stops throughout the eastern and western legs of the normally tranquil crop tour have expressed frustration with the USDA, though less so with U.S. President Donald Trump, who they largely continue to support.

Corn future prices posted their biggest drop in three years after the USDA estimated a bigger-than-expected crop on Aug. 12. Farmers have complained the forecast did not adequately take into account a stormy spring and severe flooding.

Farmers have also been suffering from low commodity prices for years, and Washington’s trade war with Beijing has taken China, the top buyer of U.S. soybeans, out of the market. Floods and the trade war have contributed to falling farm incomes and tighter credit conditions as farmers struggle to repay loans.

The Trump administration has also been scrambling to stem the tide of rising anger in farming states after its decision in August to allow numerous oil refiners to mix less corn-based ethanol into their gasoline.

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