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Last updateThu, 19 Sep 2019 12am







    Wednesday, September 18, 2019-5:48:26A.M.






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OPINION | Trump’s trade war with China is taxing Missouri farmers

TARKIO, Mo. — “My family has owned our farm for 116 years,” says Roger Cordes, a farmer in central Missouri’s Pettis County. “I don’t want to be the one to lose it.” Trade wars may be easy to win, but even “easy” wars have casualties.

It’s been a tough year on U.S. farms. The loss of the Chinese market and historic flooding in much of the Midwest have hit farmers hard. Planting has been delayed everywhere by wet, cold weather, and last week’s collapse of the trade talks with China and the imposition of another round of tariffs by President Trump has led to a rout in the commodity markets. The Bloomberg Grains Subindex Total Return — composed of futures contracts on corn, soybeans and wheat — hit a 42-year low on May 11.

The CEO of Revere Plastics Systems, a supplier to the washing-machine producer Whirlpool, recently told MSNBC that his business is booming because of tariffs. It’s good to know someone is benefiting. The story is somewhat different in my part of the world.

Atchison County, my small farming community in northwest Missouri, is home to about 5,000 people. One hundred thousand acres of soybeans are planted here each year. The drop in soybean prices has meant a loss of around $100 in potential income on each of those acres. Atchison County farmers will be looking at a decline of $10 million in gross income this year, or about $2,000 per capita. We won’t be buying many Whirlpool washers.

Supporters of the tariffs begin each conversation with a litany of Chinese wrongs. They say China ignores the rules governing international trade and is at best a geopolitical rival and maybe something far worse. It’s true that the U.S. response to China’s bad behavior has been inadequate. Yet rarely does the conversation move to Canada, Mexico or South Korea, other formerly reliable customers for U.S. agricultural products that have also become targets in Mr. Trump’s world-wide trade war.

Mr. Cordes, a lifelong Republican, is worried about China as well. But he’s also worried about having to take out a mortgage on his farm so he can plant this year’s crop and feed his family. The economic reality has dimmed his ardor for trade wars.

I’d like to stop China’s abuses too, but I’m more concerned with my farm’s financial future. My family produces 150,000 bushels of soybeans a year, but with the price bottoming out, we expect to take a $250,000 hit to our gross income in 2019. Farmers are patriotic. We love our country and don’t want to see it cheated. But we’ve given about as much to this battle as we are able.

Tariffs are a tax on U.S. consumers. We already tax ourselves to belong to international organizations that are supposed to enforce trading rules, as well as to fund the U.S. military, the State Department, intelligence organizations and a legal system that has tools to enforce laws against industrial espionage. All these institutions are better suited than Midwestern soybean growers to take on China’s bad behavior.

Moreover, America’s diplomacy and law-enforcement bodies are funded according to tax laws passed by Congress. Tariffs are imposed unilaterally by the executive — even as they destroy the economic future of farms and other export-dependent businesses.

Journalists never tire of writing with amazement (and no small amount of condescension) about the continuing support for President Trump among farmers and other rural citizens. It’s much easier to understand here on the farm. Mr. Trump so often says and does things that make perfect cultural sense to those of us who live far from the coasts. He can and should continue to count on overwhelming support from the heartland as he approaches the 2020 election.

After all, there is no support for a world-class agriculture sector among his likely opponents. Both Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris have recently sworn their opposition to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade pact that would improve relations with our top two markets for farm products.

At least part of the frustration felt by my neighbors is the feeling that no one in politics is looking out for our interests. Republicans and Democrats alike are pursuing policies that will shrink the size of our agricultural economy. Mr. Cordes won’t be the only farmer to see 100 years of history fall victim to a war that was neither easy nor necessary.

Mr. Hurst is a corn, soybean and greenhouse farmer.