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Midterms Won't Tame Tariff Woes for Iowa Farmers

After a rebound last year, farm income is forecast to drop 13 percent this year, in part because of the trade war hitting soybeans. (
After a rebound last year, farm income is forecast to drop 13 percent this year, in part because of the trade war hitting soybeans. (
November 6, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa — Globalization has been both good and bad for American farmers, and that fact is hitting home especially hard for Iowa soybean growers this fall.

Increased free trade opened up new soybean markets in Mexico, the European Union and especially China. So far, Iowa farmers remain confident that President Donald Trump can navigate the trade war for better outcomes, according to Iowa State University economist Chad Hart.

But, he added, the U.S. has never engaged in a trade dispute of this magnitude, where an economic power such as China has retaliated against us.

"This was our biggest buyer by far, and there wasn't any other market close to being that same size." Hart said. "And that's been the problem as that biggest market has shrunk dramatically. We just can't cobble together enough of the smaller markets to make up the loss."

Trump has imposed taxes on imports to encourage consumers to buy American products. But those countries targeted have retaliated by imposing tariffs of their own. The shipment of products subject to retaliatory tariffs declined 26 percent, or $2.5 billion, from the previous year, according to the Tariffs Hurt the Heartland coalition.

Globalization also has meant a loss of farmland in the U.S. and a dramatic loss of farmers who are able to make a full-time living from the land. Farm incomes have been down for the past five years, and Hart said as one ag market ripples across other markets, soybean farmers will expect a trade-war resolution.

"They'll worry if we don't have something settled when we get to harvest next year,” he said. “I think they're prepared to go through this winter and spring, but as they look forward to their next crop, that next harvest, next fall, my guess is, no, they are expecting an agreement by then."

While other countries have continued to buy soybeans from the U.S. to the tune of 3 million tons, it does not offset the loss in sales to China - which are down about 6 million tons from last year.

Roz Brown/Cynthia Howard, Public News Service - IA