Donald Trump's secretary of agriculture may need to take a few lessons on how to read a room.
Sonny Purdue, appointed by Trump to serve as secretary of agriculture, was speaking at a farming trade conference in Minnesota last week when he touched on the harm that Donald Trump's trade war with China has had on farmers. In an exchange with a Minnesota farmer, Purdue told a joke about how American farmers "whine" too much.
"I had a farmer tell me this in Pennsylvania," Perdue said, via Newsweek. "He said, 'What do you call two farmers in a basement?' I said 'I don't know, what do you call them?'"
Purdue then delivered the punchline, "A whine cellar."
The report noted that some in the audience laughed, but others booed what was seen as an ill-timed joke. As Newsweek noted, it came just two days after China said it would stop buying all American agricultural products in retaliation for the 10 percent additional tariff that Trump imposed on Chinese goods. This left an uncertain future for farmers and the possibility that many could go out of business, making Purdue's joke particularly hurtful to many who would have been attending the conference.
The trade war has been particularly difficult for American farmers. As CNBC reported, the damage of Trump's trade war comes after an intensely difficult farming season that was beset with flooding and droughts that drastically reduced crop yields. Many have seen profits plummet as Chinese markets dry up from the trade war, and farmers that largely supported Donald Trump in 2016 are now turning on him.
The report noted that Chinese agricultural imports from the United States fell by 20 percent, hitting particularly hard to those farming grain, dairy, and livestock. It also noted that overall farm income has dropped 45 percent in the last six years, from a high of $123.4 billion in 2013 to just $63 billion last year.
Some farmers have said that they aren't sure how much more their farms can withstand.
"It's really, really getting bad out here," Bob Kuylen, a farmer of 35 years in North Dakota, told CNBC.
"Trump is ruining our markets. No one is buying our product no more, and we have no markets no more."Kuylen added that he no longer has an incentive to keep farming, other than the investments he has already made to his farm. Many others have also said they are considering shuttering their farming operations due to lost revenue from the trade war.