Callaway County farmer says tariffs may hurt local agriculture

Peggy Smart surveys her soybean fields near the Missouri River. Smart said she is wary of the impact of escalating tariff disputes between the U.S. and China. (Garrett Bergquist/KRCG 13)

A longtime soybean farmer on Thursday said the escalating tariff war between China and the U.S. could put some farmers out of business.

Peggy Smart and her family own about 4,000 acres, most of it soybean fields, as well as a grain elevator. She said making a living by farming is hard enough as it is due to the costs associated with seeds, fertilizer and fuel.

"If we tax somebody, they're going to turn around and tax us back," she said.

The trade dispute

China on Wednesday announced it would impose an additional 25 percent tariff on a host of American products including soybeans and pork. This was a response to President Donald Trump's announcement on Tuesday of a series of tariffs against Chinese technology products. The Trump Administration said the U.S. tariffs are a retaliatory measure for Chinese theft of American intellectual property. A 2017 report by the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property concluded intellectual property theft cost the United States anywhere from $225 billion to $600 billion each year.

This is not the first time Trump has turned to tariffs. In January, the administration announced new import duties on solar panels. Missouri solar contractors said about three quarters of all solar panels in the United States are foreign-made. Last month, the president announced another round of tariffs, this time against imported steel and aluminum. Trump has defended the practice of raising import duties, tweeting in early March, "When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win."

The market responds

News of China's retaliatory tariffs sent shock waves through the markets. Nasdaq data show soybean prices plummeted from $10.40 a bushel to below $9.90 on Wednesday morning. Prices rebounded during Wednesday afternoon and most of Thursday, cracking the $10.30 threshold on Thursday afternoon before dropping back down to $10.16 a bushel at the end of the day.

Corn experienced similar, though smaller, gyrations. When markets opened Wednesday morning, corn prices immediately dropped from about $3.88 a bushel to a little more than $3.72. They recovered to $3.85 a bushel by the close of business Thursday.

The impact at home

The Missouri Soybean Association said soybeans are Missouri's top cash crop, generating about $7.7 in total output and supporting more than 20,700 jobs. The group, along with the Missouri Farm Bureau, released statements on Thursday asking the Trump administration to reconsider its position on tariffs.

If China's tariffs go into effect, Smart said they would make farming less profitable and drive more young farmers to seek other careers. It would also lead to higher prices in grocery stores.

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