MORGAN — Trade policy and discussions of currency manipulation were top of mind Tuesday, Aug. 6, as farmers and ag industry leaders convened for the first day of Farmfest.
State and national ag industry group leaders expressed frustration about the latest moves from Washington re-upping trade tensions between the United States and China. But they also voiced hope that the ongoing trade talks could yield some positive news for farmers.
The Trump administration on Friday, Aug. 2, announced that it would impose a 10% tariff on $300 billion of Chinese goods beginning Sept. 1. The move shook global markets and sunk soybean, grain and pork futures on Friday.
And Chinese officials responded, saying they'd bring their own set of tariffs. Then on Monday, Aug. 5, Beijing announced it would devalue the yuan, China's currency, to make Chinese products more palatable abroad and make Chinese buyers more likely to buy local products.
President Donald Trump called China a "currency manipulator" for making the move.
At the agriculture trade show near Redwood Falls, farmers and industry leaders expressed annoyance at the president's policy-by-tweet style and the uncertainty it injected into U.S.-China trade talks.
“As far as his tweets go, I’m not impressed and I don’t think anybody in here is, to be honest,” Joel Schreurs, a Tyler, Minn., soybean farmer who sits on the American Soybean Association board, said Tuesday.
The latest tit-for-tat tariff feuds come more than a year after Trump imposed tariffs on 25% of $250 billion worth of Chinese goods to pressure the country and its companies to stop stealing American technology. China struck back with its own tariffs on $110 billion in American products, including agricultural commodities like soybeans and hogs.
The taxes on imported goods hit farmers in the Midwest but also the businesses in their communities.
"The message really ought to be from all of the groups to the administration that tweets like that cost a lot of money,” Scott VanderWal, vice president of the American Farm Bureau, said.
VanderWal said many farmers still support Trump's efforts to hold China accountable for stealing technology, but farmers were bearing the brunt of the Chinese retaliation.
Chris Pothen, vice president of global grain marketing at CHS, said the trade wars with China have left soybeans in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota stuck "with no good homes." And while infrastructure has been built to transport them from bins out to the West Coast or down the Mississippi River to be transported via ships, those trade routes have been altered since China stopped importing U.S. beans.
And other global markets just can't stack up with China's prior demand for U.S. soybeans, he said.
“It’s incomparable, China’s demand relative to the rest of the world, on soybeans,” Pothen said. “It’s almost impossible for a supply chain to just pivot and make up for that demand.”
Pothen said the federal government needs to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, strike a trade deal with Japan and ease its trade tensions with China. Until that happens, the trade war will continue to take its casualties in farm country, he said.
“Losing access to global destination impacts farmers at the farm gates,” Pothen said.
Area farmers and national ag group leaders said the pain of the policy implications was being felt all over the Midwest. Dr. Courtney Jordan Baechler, assistant commissioner of health, said farmer suicides had reached their peak in the state and state health and agriculture officials were working to push mental health and resiliency programs.
“We’re somewhat casualties of the trade war," Schreurs, the Tyler soybean farmer, said. "We didn’t start it, but we’re somewhat stuck in the crossfire."
At the state level, Gov. Tim Walz said the state was working to maintain international relationships in the event the trade war wages on. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor said he'd met the counsel general of China and planned to take trade trips to Japan and South Korea this fall with fellow Midwestern governors.
“We’re going to try our best to try to normalize the relationship at a state-to-state level but with the understanding that trade policy comes through the executive branch and the president,” Walz said.