Northwest Missouri farmers don’t seem to be showing any breaks with the Trump administration on stalled trade talks with China.
While some sectors of the agricultural community are beginning to criticize the president, those contacted by News-Press NOW say they stand behind the administration. The U.S. is still deadlocked with China in a trade war that has seen both nations lob retaliatory measures, including tariffs, that have dented trade goods such as soybeans.
Tim Gach, who farms south of St. Joseph, said the recent hopes of resolving the impasse are actually reflective of temporary shifts with agricultural goods.
“That’s all being market-driven right now,” Gach said of the brief optimism. “It needs to head to a resolution,” he added of the trade war.
Farmers, according to Gach, themselves remain eternal optimists despite adverse conditions.
“It’s been a real tough go now for several years for farmers,” he said. “I think at some point something has to happen.”
Tariffs slapped on soybeans aren’t just hurting the American farmer, he said. Other parts of the national economy suffer, as do the Chinese people, and the public of both countries are caught in the middle as pawns, he continued.
“It’s hurting everyone in the industry,” said Gach. “I think the president’s trying to get a better deal.”
The nations’ dispute is focused on a U.S. allegation that China has ignored international precepts that govern the sanctity of intellectual property. Gach said that issue has spilled over into farming.
“The intellectual property debate is the game changer,” he said. “Somewhere in there you have to reach a compromise.”
The frustration Gach and other farmers have experienced has arisen from a sense that a trade deal with China has at times seemed close, yet with hopes summarily dashed at the last moment.
No matter what transpires, farmers will do what’s necessary to survive.
“The farm life goes on. They’re going to look for ways to cut costs,” he said. “We’re survivors.”
The consequences of a trade war get passed down the line to other links in the agricultural chain, such as implement dealers, who become unable to make sales when tight budgets prevail.
And Gach further states that means farmers have to rethink their lives and strategies.
“You’re going to be out there re-negotiating your rents,” he said of one example.
Vern Hart, another St. Joseph farmer, said he agrees with the president’s position on trade, and that he should stand firm in dealing with China. But he does admit to a touch of exasperation.
“I never thought it would last this long,” Hart said. “We’re going to take the brunt of it again ... I’ve got mixed emotions.”
He welcomed Thursday’s announcement by the administration of a $16 billion market facilitation program officials said is aimed at helping farmers replace at least some of their lost income from the trade dispute over the summer. Farmers received $11 billion in such aid in 2018.
It’s also favored by the Missouri Farm Bureau, which quickly announced its support for the program — yet perhaps with some reservations attached.
“There is some concern that due to the design of the program, farmers will be encouraged to plant more soybeans at a time when the soybean market is suffering from large carryovers,” said Blake Hurst, the bureau’s president who hails from Atchison County. “The USDA explicitly promised that the program will guard against distorting markets. We hope they are right.”
Hurst said the bureau will stay engaged with government leaders on the impacts of the tariffs to its members.