‘There needs to be some relief’: Kansas farmers paying price for trade wars and inaction



Kansas City Star

Our national leaders are failing the people who feed us.

Farmers and ranchers have enough of their own challenges — fickle weather, food labeling concerns and how to cater to consumers’ evolving tastes, just to name a few. What they don’t need are additional woes from Washington, D.C. But that’s what they’re getting, in bulk supplies.

In what should be a banner year for Kansas farmers, with plentiful rain and high production, they tell The Star that prices and profitability have been sharply and artificially depressed due to trade wars and legislative lethargy.

The Trump administration’s well-intended but ill-considered trade tariffs are cutting into the viability of farming — and may ultimately carve into what has been President Donald Trump’s most loyal base.

“So far, I see no progress,” says Republican Kansas state Rep. Don Hineman, a farmer himself. There have been promises of progress in trade negotiations, but Hineman says farmers are feeling like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football that keeps getting pulled away.

Kansas Livestock Association vice president of communications Scarlett Hagins said a big topic at the association’s convention in Wichita this week was better labeling on meat alternatives, which members want legislators to address in the session starting next month. But tariffs are a big concern too, she says, as is Congress’ failure to approve the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, NAFTA’s proposed replacement. “That’s something our members really want to see get done,” she said of the USMCA.

International trade, Hagins says, adds more than $300 per head in value to cattle.

The administration’s massive farm subsidies under what’s known as the Market Facilitation Program — at $28 billion and counting, already far eclipsing the $12 billion auto industry bailout of 2008 and 2009 — have failed to prevent the heartland’s erosion of confidence in the president’s tactics. For one thing, as Bloomberg News reports, 50% of the subsidies have gone to 10% of recipients.

And ever-practical farmers wonder how long this can go on — as dependence on the federal payments colors how farmers plan to plant next year. If at all.

“I think it’s absolutely affecting farmers and ranchers, and especially in an election year,” says Louisburg-area cow-calf rancher Aimee Williams. “It’s a critical time. Some of these decisions can impact generations-long family farms that are struggling to make ends meet.”

“Many of us fear it could be a long-term proposition,” Hineman adds.

International trade, Hineman says, depends largely on trust and predictability. And once a customer such as China finds new suppliers, it is slow to return to previous markets — if it ever does.

Though a Republican, Hineman would nonetheless tell the president to “get over this nonsense of trade wars” and work on freeing up markets. Yet the president just announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina for “a massive devaluation of their currencies” that is hurting American farmers. France may be next for tariffs.

Williams’ operation is insulated from much of the trade war collateral damage but is still struggling with market pressures as front-end costs outpace prices at the sale barn. Other farmers and ranchers with similar cost pressures are getting further hurt by the trade disputes.

Asked what she’d tell the president, Williams thinks a long moment.

“Come get in the trenches,” she responds. “Come see how this works. Look at my books.

“There needs to be some relief.”


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