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Local Farmers Discuss Impact of Tariffs on their Ability to Survive

Michele Skalicky

Dale Edmondson has been farming in southern Polk County since 1951.  The 87-year-old has had bad years and good years, but the tariffs that President Trump has imposed on several countries, including China, he said, may make things too difficult to overcome.  In response to the tariffs imposed on them by the president, China retaliated by threatening to increase tariffs on soybeans coming from the U.S. by 25 percent.  Edmondson said this may be the first year they go into the red.

"I have survived droughts, I have survived high interests, and I have survived a lot of things, but I don't know whether we can survive this trade war or not, specifically soybeans," he said.

The soybean market is down.  In late April/early May the price for soybeans was around $10.60 a bushel, according to Edmondson.  It reached a low in July of $8.30 and has rebounded some--about 55 cents a bushel.

That, combined with other factors, is making life difficult for farmers.

"It's a double whammy this year," McCaskill said.  "Low commodity prices, a tariff war and a drought.  You put those three things together, and even our very best producers that have saved money for time like this find themselves in a situation where they're going in the red."

Edmondson and 27-year-old James Tucker who farms on land in northern Greene and southern Polk Counties, met with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill Wednesday to share their concerns.

McCaskill said she and other legislators support going after China when it cheats.  She pointed to wins in the International Trade Court when she’s testified on behalf of Missouri manufacturers.  But, according to McCaskill, resources weren’t in place to enforce those judgments.

“We could go after those problems with a scalpel and make progress, but what’s being done now is using a 2 X 4, and when you use a 2 X 4, there’s a lot of unintended consequences,” she said.

Missouri has spent years and millions of dollars developing a market in China for Missouri soybeans, according to McCaskill, and that market is going away.  The question now, she said, is whether or not it will get the market back and how to replace the Chinese market with another location where farmers can sell their beans.

Edmondson wants President Trump  to lift the tariffs.  "He started it.  He can stop it," he said.  And he doesn't like the subsidies the president has talked about offering to farmers. 

"I would lots rather have the market back like it was," he said, "and we don't like handouts."

James Tucker raises corn and soybeans and has a herd of beef cattle.  The sixth generation farmer is concerned the trade war will lead to farmers operating at below cost, "and operating below cost will ultimately lead to selling the farm, which is something I and many farmers are trying to avoid," he said.

He said there's a shortage of young farmers.  The average age of the American farmer is 58, according to Tucker.  "I think it's really important for the government to support and encourage young people to take over agriculture," he said.

He often feels like they're caught in the middle of the issues the U.S. has with China.

"A lot of the agricultural community supports the president," he said, "and he should be taking care of them with their support, and what he's doing right now is basically flying in the face of their support and not being appreciative and not helping them out when they need it."

He said subsidies would help in the short term, but it's not a reasonable solution for the long term.  "We need to have some stability in the market," he said.