Last month I noted that Senator Heidi Heitkamp has put herself in a political position where she needs her constituents to feel pain. The self-styled “independent” voted with the rest of the national Democratic party against the Trump tax cuts. She has positioned herself in opposition to Trump’s efforts on trade. Heitkamps needs North Dakotans to bleeding thanks to these policies – or to at least feel like they’re bleeding – in order to demonstrate the efficacy of her decisions.
Which brings us to a Washington Post fact check published today which prompted Senator Heitkamp’s team to delete a tweet about crop prices.
“A study shows that corn, soybean and wheat farmers across the U.S. have already lost $13 billion because of the administration’s trade war,” a now-deleted tweet from the Senator read. “We need trade policies that make sense for North Dakota, protect farmers and ranchers, and open up markets.”
The Post notes that the “study” referenced in the tweet, which was deleted after the paper made inquiries about it, wasn’t a study at all. It was actually a claim made in an op/ed by the National Farmer’s Union, a Democrat-aligned agriculture group, which in turn had cribbed it from a Wall Street Journal article:
When the Fact Checker asked to see the study, Heitkamp’s office pointed us to an op-ed from the National Farmers Union that was referenced in a New York Times article. But the National Farmers Union said the calculation was not its work. Instead, it said, it obtained the factoid from a quote in an article in the Wall Street Journal.
It turns out the $13 billion in losses is based on a calculation using projected crop production numbers and prices from the futures market. Only, the markets are volatile. As the Post notes, the prices go up and down. “The volatility is particularly clear when you fast-forward to Aug. 8. On that day, Hurt pegged a $9 billion decline in corn, soybean and wheat crops. In other words, the situation had improved almost 40 percent in just two weeks,” they report.
Heitkamp’s tweet says there has “already” been $13 billion in losses thanks to Trump’s trade policies, but that’s not really true. Any losses which may or may not occur will happen when farmers pick a price point at which to sell their crops. What’s more, many farmers lock in prices ahead of time, meaning the volatility in prices now has no impact on them at all.
“Heitkamp’s office deleted her tweet after our inquiries,” the Post reports, and they give the Senator some credit for that, though not as much credit as they would have if she’d had the integrity to post a corrective tweet. “It’s good that she deleted her tweet, but she would have more credibility if she had deleted it with an acknowledgement of her error,” the Post writes.
But Heitkamp can’t afford to acknowledge the error. The truth, in this situation, is not convenient for her re-election strategy.
By the way, the Post article makes another interesting point. They point out that crop prices are coming down off some booming highs. We saw a rise in crop prices through a peak in 2016. Those high prices combined with generally favorable growing conditions has resulted in a sharp rise in production. Which, in turn, has driven prices back down in accordance with the laws of supply and demand.
It’s politically convenient right now for politicians like Heitkamp to make it seem like crop prices hinge on just one variable – in this instance trade policies they oppose – but the truth is much more complicated.