MINNEAPOLIS (Xinhua) — “A lot less stressful!” said Jamie Beyer, a soybean grower in the Midwest U.S. state of Minnesota, referring to the life before the United States initiated trade tensions against China, a feeling widely shared by other U.S. farmers.
“But now you know, every day we’re checking the market to see what the prices are doing … The stress certainly adds to anyone’s lifestyle,” Beyer, who is also president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA), told Xinhua.
Soybean price has been hit hard since last year, a collateral damage of the U.S. administration’s tariffs against China, which makes it more difficult for farmers to stay in business as their paychecks are mainly dependent on the market, according to the industry leader, who married into farming in 2003 and joined the MSGA in 2015.
For many U.S. farmers, starting an agricultural operation requires a whopping sum of investment, including purchasing equipment, some of which even cost up to tens of thousands of dollars. More importantly, it is often a long-term decision for families.
“We’re all in this for the long term. It’s a lifetime career and we’re anticipating that our children will farm,” said Beyer, adding that sustainable trade with China helps farmers thrive and sustain the business which most U.S. families aim to pass down for generations.
However, since 2018, the U.S. administration has placed several rounds of additional tariffs on Chinese imports. In retaliation, China levied tariffs on a list of items imported from the United States, including some agricultural products like soybeans.
As the world’s largest consumer of soybeans, China was the destination for about 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports before the trade dispute.
The ratio dropped to 17.9 percent in 2018 as a consequence of Washington’s protectionist trade policies.
Beyer said U.S. farmers have become more cautious in decision-making due to the tariff situation, adding that for instance, some are forced to delay their expansion plan and take more conservative moves instead.
“On my farm, we’re storing grain. So we’re building a big bin to hold our soybeans until we can get a better price,” said Beyer, whose family farm has 1,500 acres (about 607 hectares) of soybeans.
Farmers are used to fixing almost every issue concerning agriculture only to find they are so powerless as the prolonged trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies is both “unprecedented” and “unpredictable,” said the industry leader.
To weather the damage, the chief of the soybean association and her counterparts across the nation have made unprecedented efforts to diversify their export markets over the past year.
Yet, Beyer, echoed by many farmers, said that resolving the trade dispute with China tops her wish list of this year as U.S. farmers want to “have a satisfied customer,” which “happened to be China for many years.”
“We just pray that everything goes swimmingly and that they can come to some sort of resolution,” she said.
Speaking of Washington’s aid program to offset the ongoing tariff damage to producers, Beyer said “the aid is acknowledgement that specifically our industry has been targeted and hurt through the negotiation,” but “we would rather have trade.”
“If we can work together to come up (with) some agreement that benefit both sides of that agreement, it’s very important to agriculture,” said Paap, adding that U.S. farmers want trade rather than aid.
The American Soybean Association (ASA), which represents more than 300,000 soybean farmers, issued a statement in May, opposing using unilateral tariffs to address U.S. trade imbalance with China and other countries.
Instead, the organization suggested the issue be resolved through talks and other measures.
The frictions, if continue, will become increasingly difficult to be settled, said Davie Stephens, ASA president and soybean grower from the U.S. state of Kentucky.
“With depressed prices and unsold stocks expected to double by the 2019 harvest, soybean farmers are not willing to be collateral damage in an endless tariff war,” he said.
Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, receives an interview with Xinhua at Farmfest in Redwood County of Minnesota, the United States, Aug. 8, 2019. (Xinhua/Zhang Mocheng)
The U.S. administration’s trade rifts with China have grilled farmers in various agricultural sectors.
U.S. pork farmers are increasingly worried that their longtime efforts to secure a foothold in China are vaporizing. The protracted trade tensions may dampen the outlook for their access to China, the world’s biggest pork market, and consequently cripple the entire industry.
“Without a doubt, we would love to have access to the Chinese market … There’s a tremendous demand in China, and we can certainly fill some of that demand,” David Preisler, chief executive officer of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, told Xinhua.
More than 25 percent of the country’s total pork production is exported, with China being a major buyer, according to data from the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
China has been historically an important complementary market for U.S. pork, mainly due to different dietary cultures, Preisler said.
According to U.S. authorities, American hog farmers are estimated to be losing out on 1 billion U.S. dollars annually amid the trade tensions with China.
David Herring, president of the National Pork Producers Council, told a U.S. House Agriculture subcommittee in a hearing last month that retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other countries are “one of the most damaging threats” to his industry.
Preisler told Xinhua that his team is currently projecting “a slight profit” for the coming year, down from a previous estimate of “about 20 to 25 dollars per head” three weeks ago.
“If China goes to other customers to find pork, well, they may just stay with those customers even after a dispute is settled,” said the industry leader.
Hope for Collaboration
U.S. beef producers, who are looking forward to gaining a larger share in China, also long for a settlement of the trade rifts between the world’s top two economies, which potentially cloud the outlook for business collaboration.
China is a relatively new market for U.S. beef, but with a lot of potential to tap, Ashley Kohls, executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association, an organization that currently represents over 1,000 members from all segments of the beef community, told Xinhua.
U.S. beef producers have been excited to enter the Chinese market after years of absence as a result of the detection of the mad cow disease in the United States, she said, adding that her association is sending a working group to Asia every year since 2017 to promote sales.
“Anytime there’s any tension between countries that we either have a relationship with or are trying to build a relationship with, it’s just struggle for us,” she noted.
So far, many individuals, organizations as well as business groups in the United States have voiced their concerns about the tariffs’ ripple effects on both related industries and the broader U.S. economy while yearning for a settlement.
U.S. anti-tariff advocacy group Tariffs Hurt the Heartland warned that as the country’s trade disputes with its trading partners persist, repercussions will be felt by farmers, factory workers and everyday consumers nationwide.