Spotlight: Mike Starkey

What has this year been like for business?

We started the year optimistic that if we were blessed with good growing conditions, this was going to be a good year. Fortunately, I have a record crop to harvest this year to make up for these horrible prices we have at this time. Thanks to these tariffs, prices have dropped dramatically, below the price of production. They are killing us.

I do feel badly for other farmers who are not as fortunate as I am because I live in an urban area whereas my land prices have been holding steady because of the demand for housing. I have noticed that there have been many land auctions these past six months since commodity prices have crashed. Having to sell your farm ground in order to survive with these markets just does not seem fair for the hard work that generations of farmers have done.

What impact have the tariffs had on you?

It’s a disaster. Some of us are putting most of our crop in storage so we can sell it next year instead, praying prices get better. It is such a good harvest this year, so we have more crop than usual, but we’re not putting any money in our pockets. We’re only selling what we have to pay our immediate bills.

I understand that, as a nation, we do have to crack down on China. President Trump is right about that. But these tariffs aren’t the way to do it. Agricultural trade is unlikely to be any better than it was before these tariffs. As far as agriculture goes, all the trade deals reported in the past few months have done nothing more than stop the bleeding in a few cases. It’s just driving down our prices and making it impossible for us to maintain our farms. I don’t understand why we have to get hurt in a fight that wasn’t ours to begin with. And I saw that China announced even more tariffs in September. So, it’s going to get even worse before it gets better. There is no sign of this ending anytime soon and I’m afraid China will invest to increase production in South America and Africa. I’m worried, to be honest. And I’m angry, too.

Mike Braun thinks these tariffs aren’t so bad. He said we’re being overdramatic. Really? I wish he’d come around like Joe does, so we can show him the truth. We’re not exaggerating — we’re losing money. We’re losing business.

Has the USDA funding helped at all?

$4.7 billion sounds like a lot of money, but that’s shared between most farmers in America. It doesn’t begin to make up the difference. We do not like handouts from the government to make up for the lost exports that we need to supply to feed the world. We are the best in the world in food production and to have it restricted by government policies really disturbs me and my peers.

We’ve spent decades working to build markets and be able to sell our corn and soybeans overseas. If we lose access to those markets thanks to the tariffs, $12 billion is going to look like a drop in the bucket. As bad as this is in the near-term, I’m afraid we are doing the most significant damage in the long run. We could lose a generation of farmers from this.

Do you support President Trump’s agriculture policies?

The fact that President Trump is giving us this financial aid package shows me he’s trying at least. But I’m really concerned about this trade war. What’s he doing? It’s really having a bad impact on us out here. I wish he’d come visit so I could explain it to him. If he saw what we were going through, maybe he’d be able to fix it.

I know that Joe has been talking to him, and I think he’ll get through to him. Joe’s a bipartisan guy. He works with Trump; he works with everybody. He represents everybody. I know Democrats who love Joe, and Republicans who love Joe, like myself. None of that stuff matters to me. What matters is whether you do a good job, and Joe does. I trust him.

Why do you trust Joe Donnelly?

Joe works as hard as we do. His job is a little different, sure — but his priorities are the same as ours. Joe is honest, hardworking, and humble. He knows we need to sell our products to international markets, so he’s working with the president to try to get him to fix this tariff problem. He’s trying to level the playing field for us.

And he’s always here. You know, they talk about senators spending all their time in Washington, but not Joe. He’s always here, doing events and talking to people. He’s the real deal.

My first positive impression of Joe was when he was elected as our senator 6 years ago, he sat down with a dozen peers of mine in my shop and just listened to what we had to say. He just wanted to have a one-on-one conversation with us and to hear what our concerns were.

When Joe has a seat at the table, we all do. We’ve never had a problem we couldn’t talk to Joe about. He’s always here to listen.

It would be so easy for a senator to say “that’s just how things work in Washington” — but not Joe. When there’s a problem, he listens to what we say.

Joe represents us. He is our “hired help.” He just gets it done.