U.S. farmers scramble to contain trade-war damage, find new markets
Clouds crowded the Illinois sky as Nick Harre walked away from his combine at the peak of harvest to join four fellow farmers in greeting some unlikely visitors. Inside a nearby seed barn, they made their pitch to eight Sri Lankan government officials: Please buy our soybeans, Reuters reports.
The wooing of such a tiny market underscores the depth of U.S. farmers’ problems after losing their biggest customer, China, to a global trade war.
Sri Lanka bought about 3,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans last year. China bought about 32 million tons – but now buys almost none after Beijing slapped a 25 percent tariff on U.S. imports in July. The move came in retaliation for U.S. duties on Chinese goods imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump.
U.S. farmers would need about 11,000 markets the size of Sri Lanka to replace Chinese soybean purchases, but these days many growers will take any shred of new business they can get. A small but growing number of farmers have all but given up waiting for diplomatic solutions and started scrambling themselves to help open new markets and salvage existing ones disrupted by tariffs, according to dozens of interviews with producers, industry officials and trade lobbying groups.
They are lobbying lawmakers, joining overseas trade trips, and hosting prospective buyers – often while neglecting or passing off farm duties during harvest.
Some tried jumping into politics as Democratic candidates this year, but had little success: Fifth-generation Pennsylvania dairy farmer Denny Wolff lost his fight for a Congressional seat, as did Mississippi poultry farmer Michael Evans - who is pro-life, pro-gun and anti-tariffs.
Harre, 29, a third-generation dairy and grain farmer, said he’d rather talk directly to importers than trust the task to Washington.
“I could care less about the politics, to be honest,” he said. “We’re lacking people advocating for us. If someone’s going to be telling our story, I’d rather it be myself.”