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Ohio Farmers Brace For Escalating Trade War

Jean Beaufort
Public Domain Pictures

The trade war that's already squeezing Ohio farmers is ratcheting up another notch.

In response to the Trump administration announcing $16 billion in new tariffs against China on Tuesday, Chinese trade officials on Wednesday promised to retaliate with their own tariffs.

The escalating trade dispute has been a major source of anxiety, not to mention economic pain, for farmers, said Joe Cornely, a spokesman with the Ohio Farm Bureau. Retaliatory tariffs from the European Union, Canada and China have made it tougher for farmers to sell their products overseas. Over time, Cornely said, the impact of that decline will ripple through Ohio’s economy.

“When the farmer’s income goes down,” he said, “the local car dealer’s going to sell less, the local mom and pop grocery is going to sell less, the bank is going to feel the pinch.”

The situation is unfortunate says Sankalp Sharma, assistant professor of Agribusiness at Kent State Tuscarawas because everyone loses due to the trade war.

Total farm income is already down about half of what it was in 2013, Sharma said, so the retaliatory tariffs on U.S. ag products are making a bad situation for farmers worse. And while the Trump administration has promised up to $12 billion dollars in farm aid, Sharma said it’s a temporary fix to a problem with potentially long term consequences.

“This is barely going to tide over the farmers, perhaps for a season or a season and a half,” Sharma said. “After that, we’re back to square one.”

Cornley said the farmers would rather sell their crops on the global market than receive payments from goverment.

“While farmers aren’t going to turn their nose up at attempts by the Trump administration to mitigate some of the damage, they didn’t ask for this,” Cornely said. “They want to be able to do what we do well, and that’s compete on the world market. We don’t want our checks coming from the government; we want them coming from foreign customers.”

American farmers are feeling increasingly pessimistic about their economic futures, according to a survey released Tuesday by Purdue University’s Center for Commercial Agriculture.

The monthly survey showed that in July, 61 percent of agricultural producers surveyed said they expect bad times in the next year—an increase of 15 percentage points from June.

Cornely said the Farm Bureau has been lobbying the Trump administration to ratchet down the trade war. But he said, “Clearly, we haven't made our case as well as we'd like to.”

Copyright 2018 WOSU 89.7 NPR News

Adrian Ma