By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Talk of tariffs in the Ohio agricultural community is one hot topic. Sides are being taken on this issue, and it has farmers throughout the state concerned as fall harvest approaches.
In his opening remarks at this year’s Ohio State Fair, Gov. John Kasich voiced displeasure with the standing of Ohio farmers amid the “game of trade wars” by the Trump administration. He said the exchange of tariffs between the United States and other countries will “harm Ohioans who till soil and tend to livestock.
“These are policies that are harming the economic interest of Americans who are important, most particularly the farmers,” Kasich said before his final tour of the fairgrounds as governor.
Last month the Trump administration announced a $12 billion, three-part plan to borrow money to pay farmers hurt by the trade battles, prompting additional criticism from Kasich: “Farmers don’t want aid, they want trade. That’s what they want.”
China has imposed high tariffs on U.S. agricultural products such as soybeans and pork in retaliation for tariffs imposed by the White House on imported Chinese products. Ohio ranks as the nation’s eighth-largest producer of both soybeans and pork products. Soybean prices fell to a 10-year low last month, and pork prices also have plummeted.
“The Ohio Farm Bureau and the state’s 75,000 farmers agree that trade wars and tariffs must end, but they appreciate Trump’s recognition that farmers are suffering losses,” said OFB spokesman Joe Cornely. “Farmers would much prefer to be able to do what they do best, and that is grow a product and sell it at a fair price around the world.
“The message farmers are sending is we need to not only consider the consequences immediately, but over a longer time. We spent many years building these markets, and they need to know we will continue to be a reliable supplier.
“Agriculture is one of America’s, and Ohio’s, strengths in exporting, and that makes the industry a prime target in a trade war. When you get in a fight, you punch someone where it hurts. When we slap tariffs on trading partners, the first industry retaliated against is agriculture. And this isn’t just going to hurt farm families,” he said.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the U.S. must resolve its trade differences with other countries to help farmers open more markets. “Their patience is being tested because they are seeing prices go down to the point that it’s tough to justify putting a crop in the ground next year,” he said.
“The better resolution is not an aid package or this $12 billion that has been talked about, but in the short term that may be necessary. We really have to resolve some of these issues with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and China.”
Across the aisle, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) says he supports tariffs against China, although he wishes they had been better coordinated with U.S. allies.
Ohio State University agricultural economist Ian Sheldon reminds folks constantly that China accounts for the bulk of global soybean imports – two-thirds of the total.
“U.S. exports make up about a third of that,” he said, “making soybeans the United States’ second-most valuable export to China after varieties of airplanes. The U.S. stands to lose that market share to Brazil, the No. 2 exporter of soybeans, and U.S. farmers may not be able to grab that market share back.”
As the Trump administration is firm on tough talk on trade, farm trade groups in this state have been talking to lawmakers about their opposition to tariffs. The Ohio Pork Council, a trade group for the state’s hog farmers, and the OFB have reminded representatives and senators of agriculture’s importance and how much trade means to farmers’ bottom lines.
“Trade was on the agenda for every visit we have made to Washington,” Cornely said.
And no one feels the impact of tariff talk any more that the farmer themselves. Patty Mann, a bean farmer from northwestern Ohio, calls tariff “a scary word.
“The markets just need to be fair and open so our produce can be moved across the world, that’s what we would like to see,” she said. “Tariff is kind of a scary word, and just rumors of tariffs have sent prices into a freefall for weeks. We’ve lost about $2 on our soybean price and probably 50 to 60 cents on corn prices.”
Mann said as a result of the tariffs, if her farm had to sell its crop today, it would be at a loss. “On my farm, I need a little over $9 to break even; the futures is about $8 right now.”