Illinois Farmers Weigh in On Tariff Battle

Illinois farmers may have differing opinions on President Donald Trump’s tariffs, but one thing many agree on is they aren’t in favor of a handout.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $12 billion three-part plan that would borrow money from the U.S. Treasury to pay producers of soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy, and hogs.

The USDA also will buy the surplus of commodities that would otherwise have been exported and distribute them to food banks and other nutrition programs. That will cover fruits, nuts, rice, legumes, beef, pork and milk.

The third prong of the plan is to help farm groups develop new export markets.

Dave Kestel’s family has been farming land around Manhattan, Illinois for four generations. He’s taking the long view when it comes to a trade war with China.

“This should have been done 20-30 years ago,” he said. “It’s been unfair for a long, long time. We import more stuff from, say, China than they do for us.” 

Kestel, who voted for Trump, knows soybean farmers will be among the hardest hit by retaliatory Chinese tariffs that will make his crop more expensive there. 

“I think it needs to be in place,” he said. “I support the president on this stuff, but the farmer, firsthand, is taking it on the chin here.” 

Not all farmers share Kestel’s opinion. 

Like her father before her, Nicole Issert grows soybeans near Peotone. 

“I personally don’t think it’s the right to do,” Issert said. “I think we are fighting people who are more or less our friends and our allies and people we have a good trading system with.” 

Still, both disagree with the proposed plan to offset the effects of the tariffs. 

“I don’t like handouts,” Kestel said. “I want to go out and grown the soybeans. I want to do this on my own.” 

“We would rather have the market price higher and earn our money that way instead of being given money from the government,” Issert said. 

The money comes from the Commodity Credit Corporation, a USDA agency founded in 1933. It has authority to borrow up to $30 billion from the Treasury at any one time to "stabilize, support, and protect farm income and prices."

Farmers said they would rather have Trump settle the trade disputes with China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union and get free trade flowing again.

"A Band-Aid doesn't cure an illness, but it might make it temporarily better," said Dave Struthers who grows corn, soybeans and hay on a 1,100-acre Iowa farm near Collins, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Des Moines. He also sells about 6,000 pigs a year.

Reaction from trade partners to Trump's tariff policies have pushed soybean prices about 18 percent lower and corn and pork prices down 15 percent from the time Trump began discussing tariffs this spring.

China is the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans and one of the largest importers of U.S. pork.

President Donald Trump and European Union leaders announced Wednesday they have agreed to work toward "zero tariffs" and "zero subsidies" on non-automobile goods and would work to resolve U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium imports that have roiled European markets.

The president, in a hastily called Rose Garden statement with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said the EU had agreed to buy "a lot of soybeans" and increase its imports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. Juncker, meanwhile, said the U.S. and EU had agreed to hold off on further tariffs as part of trade talks aimed at averting a crippling trade dispute involving the lucrative automobile market.

As U.S. soybean farmers have struggled against retaliatory tariffs, Juncker said the EU "can import more soybeans from the U.S. and it will be done." He said the two sides also agreed to work together to reform the World Trade Organization, which Trump has vehemently criticized as being unfair to the U.S.

Many farmers remain critical of President Donald Trump's tariffs and the damage done to commodity prices and markets but were appreciative Tuesday that he offered to provide some cash to help offset their losses.

Contact Us