Ag leaders in the Trump administration may have thought the announcement a couple of weeks ago of a $12 billion aid package might quell some farmer voices of unrest, but farmers remain split over the damage done by tariffs that have reduced agricultural trade.
Pushing back on the White House tariff strategy, the group Farmers for Free Trade announced Wednesday its plans to buy advertising in radio, television and print that will run in Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
“Farmers are feeling the pain from President Trump’s trade war,” one radio ad begins. Indiana farmer Brent Bible then says, “Free trade is essential to the ag economy. This is not a war that I signed up for. It’s not a war I want to be drafted for. Our farm and many others like ours will be the first casualties of a trade war.” The announcer then finishes, “President Trump, stop the trade war.”
Farmers for Free Trade is a bipartisan group started by former Sens. Richards Lugar, R-Ind., and Max Baucus, D-Mont. The group’s board president, Sara Lilygren, said the ads will speak to farmers who are seeing tariffs force down the price of their crops and livestock.
“They are messages from farmers to farmers about how decisions in Washington D.C. are hurting their farms, their neighbors and the economy of rural America,” Lilygren said. “We are taking the message that tariffs hurt ag directly to farmers at their breakfast tables, on their combines, and in the farm news outlets they check every single day.”
Lilygren is a former executive vice president for Tyson Foods and now is a freelance communications consultant.
Bart Ruth, a soybean and corn farmer from Rising City, Nebraska, also had an op-ed published Tuesday in The Hill, a congressional news website. Ruth cited some of the tariffs and grain embargos of the past — such as former President Jimmy Carter’s grain embargo of the Soviet Union in 1980 — to highlight that, “While there have been some positive changes under President Trump when it comes to American agriculture, we are headed toward economic disaster.”
A sixth-generation farmer and lifelong Republican, Ruth challenges some of the president’s repeated statements that “farmers haven’t had it good for the last 15 years.” In an interview with DTN, Ruth said such comments can’t be ignored.
“That’s just outright untrue,” Ruth said. “When you look at 2007 to 2013, that was probably the most profitable run in American agricultural history. And that’s a point nobody is capitalizing on.”
Ruth said farmers should not be used as a negotiating chip in a trade war sparked by tariffs against allies. Further, if Trump wants to take on China, “the 800-pound gorilla,” then angering several other trade partners isn’t the way to force China to change its positions on currency manipulation or intellectual property, he said.
“Everybody we have started a trade war with has some of the same issues with China,” Ruth said. “It occurs to me if you are taking on your nemesis, you want all your allies by your side instead of dropping tariffs on them before you try to take on China.”
Ruth has worked on trade for commodity groups such as the American Soybean Association going back to the 1990s. He noted that roughly $1 billion has been spent just over the past five years on USDA programs such as the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program.
“Unfortunately, there are going to be some farm families whose livelihoods are on the line and who won’t survive this,” Ruth said. He added that bankers running cash flows now would not have approved some loans last spring under current price conditions. “So even if we get this scenario resolved by the end of the year, the repercussions are going to last longer than that.”
Some farmers standing by the president are trying to make their voices more heard as well. The Iowa Republican Party held a forum with farmers last Friday who defended the president’s trade strategy, arguing little had been done under the Obama administration to tackle trade issues.
Doug Reimer, a hog farmer from eastern Iowa, said the U.S. is “playing hardball with some hardball people on trade.” Short-term pain is expected, the Iowa farmers said in an article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
“We want to feed the world, the country. And a lot days all we have is faith,” said Mike Bixler, who grows corn and soybeans in eastern Iowa. “President Trump, he did say what he was going to do and made some promises. He’s not only taking on China, he’s taking on everybody. That’s all we have is faith, and I’m putting it behind President Trump right now.”
To read the full Cedar Rapids Gazette article, visit here.
These farmer conversations on the impacts of the trade war come as the Trump administration announced Tuesday a list of 279 products valued at $16 billion from China that will face 25% tariffs starting Aug. 23. The White House is working on adding 25% tariffs on another $200 billion in Chinese products. Chinese officials announced last week they were planning to slap tariffs on up to $60 billion more in products from the U.S.
Ruth’s op-ed in the Hill: here.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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