Tariffs

Vice President Mike Pence came to Kansas City Wednesday, where he touted Republicans running for office on both sides of the state line and tried to ease concerns about the Trump administration’s expanding trade war.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

After months of verbally sparring with trade partners, the United States is poised to implement wide-reaching tariffs Friday on imported goods, and one in particular has the agriculture economy on edge: soybeans.

Frank Morris / Harvest Public Media

The corn and soybeans growing in Glenn Brunkow’s fields in the rolling Flint Hills north of Wamego, Kansas, got some much needed rain recently and look healthy.

Brunkow has reason to expect a good harvest, but the way things are looking globally, he’ll lose money on the crop. Trade disputes with China, Mexico and Canada threaten to slash U.S. food exports by billions. About half the soybean crop goes overseas, most of that to China — and since mid-April, soybean prices have plunged about 20 percent and corn about 15 percent.

The order came in April. China's government instructed farmers in the country's northeastern breadbasket region to grow more soybeans, calling it "a political priority."

But soybean fields lay empty in the village of Sandaogou, which means "Three Ditches," in Liaoning province. It has been a dry spring.

"We've had a drought this year, so we planted soybeans late. The seedlings should be out by now. We need more rain," says farmer Liu, who only gives her surname for fear of trouble with local authorities. Soy, after all, has become "political."

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

It was an appropriate week for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s trade expert to address a gaggle of Nebraska farmers — even if their responses tended toward frustration.

Ted McKinney arrived in Omaha on Wednesday, the day China threatened to impose tariffs on 106 U.S. products including major exports like soybeans, beef and corn. China’s move came after the Trump administration’s attempt to reign in China’s abuse of intellectual property rules by proposing tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports.

If the proposals become reality they could undermine a stagnant farm economy, and not just in Nebraska. “We have bills to pay and debts we must settle and cannot afford to lose any market,” Kansas Farm Bureau President Richard Felts said in a statement.

Farmers at Betty’s Truck Stop near Sweet Springs, Missouri, took their coffee with a side of bad news early Wednesday morning.

In response to the Trump administration's threats to place tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods — including farm implements — China threatened to sanction $50 billion in U.S. exports, this time targeting airplanes, cars, chemicals and soybeans.

“Beans are down 50 cents overnight, and corn’s down 14 because of this trade thing with China,” Jim Bridges said as he took a seat at a large table in the center of the restaurant. Bridges, who grows corn and soybeans, made a few calculations and reckoned his potential losses at about $50,000.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media file photo

Updated April 4 to clarify the export percentage — China matters to the U.S. pork industry, as more than a quarter of all hogs raised here are shipped there. So, China’s decision to up its tariffs on 128 U.S. products, pork included, worried producers and rippled through the stock market.