Iowa farmers need open markets, not aid packages, anti-tariff coalition leader argues

President Donald Trump's administration's aid to farmers suffering in its trade war with much of the rest of the world is a fine gesture but not the right one, a long time Des Moines farmer said this week as a farming coalition announced a campaign to call attention to the pain that war is causing.

"The aid package introduced by the Trump administration reveals that they are hearing the complaints of their constituents," Scott Henry, a LongView Farms partner active in Farmers for Free Trade's "Tariffs Hurt the Heartland" campaign, said during an Iowa Business Daily email interview. "While we appreciate the acknowledgement, we need them to understand that an aid package, which appears to be more of a political gesture, doesn't solve the issues we are facing: a 40 percent increase in steel, 20 percent drop in soybean prices, etc. We need our trade representatives to be focused on opening new markets more than renegotiating with markets we're already in. I believe that open markets afford us more opportunity and allow our higher quality crops and other exports to compete on a global scale -- which they can and will succeed at without a tariff."

This week, the Trump administration announced $12 billion in assistance and programs to farmers harmed by the trade war. 

"These programs, in addition to our existing farm support programs, will help farmers meet the costs of disrupted markets resulting from unjustified retaliation," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a press release. Assistance to farmers will be in incremental payments, commodities to food banks and other nutrition programs and trade promotion, "in conjunction with the private sector, to develop new export markets," the press release said.

"There is no question that farmers prefer free trade over government aid," the press release continued. "What we are seeking is a level playing field, where our agricultural home team will always be the best competitors and have the best chance to succeed on the world market."

Meanwhile, farmers are paying the price while negotiators seek that level playing field, Henry said. 

"Our farm alone is anticipating at least a 15 percent drop in net income due to the slide in the price of soybeans -- which has been driven lower due to the tariff situation," Henry said. "Farmers want to see this whole thing come to a close."

Henry's predicament and those of others prompted Farmers for Free Trade, a bipartisan coalition against tariffs, to announce this week the launch of "Tariffs Hurt the Heartland." The campaign is a multi-million dollar campaign to highlight the widespread economic pain the trade war is causing middle America, particularly American farmers, manufacturers, workers, and consumers. 

"As fourth-generation corn and soybean farmers, our family understands what's needed for American agriculture to continue to flourish — and it's not bailouts," Henry said in separate comments to Iowa Business Daily. "We thought it was necessary to start a campaign like Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, because it didn’t feel like the president could hear us. Clear, consistent policy that respects exports and international trade is the best thing for our work."

Henry's family has been in the business long enough for him to know what he's talking about. 

"I'm a fourth-generation farmer at LongView Farms, and as our name implies, we take the 'long view' when it comes to the business of agriculture," he said in his separate comments. "Policy interference and restricted market access are two surefire ways to hamper innovation and long-term growth. I've joined the Tariffs Hurt the Heartland campaign, because we clearly need a new way to get through to the president, so he hears our message loud and clear: tariffs hurt us. Clear the path for trade of homegrown agricultural products, and we’ll succeed."

In his email comments, Henry said the Farmers for Free Trade campaign isn't just about farmers. 

"I really think this campaign has the potential to do a lot of good for not just farmers, but manufacturers and other industries impacted by the tariffs," he said. "Our farm has been impacted in many ways beyond just the price of soybeans. We've been receiving quotes to build a new grain bin and due to the tariffs on steel that bid is much higher than what it cost us to build that same bin one year prior. My brother and I have discussed contract finishing hogs and all the companies we'd been working with have said that due to market conditions they are no longer looking to expand next year. These stories need to be heard by the administration and lawmakers alike. We believe a campaign like this is a great way to do just that."

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