Iowa farmers fear retaliation from President Trump's tariffs

Published: Mar. 15, 2018 at 7:49 AM CDT
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Tough talk on trade from the White House has Iowa agriculture holding its breath for possible retaliation from some of its biggest foreign customers.

Iowa soybean farmers will have a high-stakes meeting with one of those biggest customers face-to-face this week.

There's no question that possible repercussions from proposed taxes on imported steel make this year's visit to China an important one.

"It's uncharted territory," soybean farmer Rolland Schnell said. "Don't know what's coming next."

Uncertainty looms as Schnell prepares for another growing season. The longtime Jasper County soybean farmer, like many in his shoes, is waiting to see if countries like China decide to retaliate against Iowa agriculture after President Donald Trump announced big tariffs on steel.

"It could be disastrous," Schnell said. That's because China is a critical market for our state's soybeans.

"They are by far our biggest customer," Schnell said. "Every four rows of soybeans that I grow out here in the field, one of those is destined for China."

Schnell is a past president of the Iowa Soybean Association, which just so happens to be taking off for Beijing this Friday, for its pre-scheduled annual trade trip to China.

The tariff announcement means the stakes are now higher than ever.

"Retaliation is a concern," said Aaron Putze, communications director for the Iowa Soybean Association, who will be part of that trip. "We'll be chatting with Ambassador Branstad. We'll be visiting the U.S. embassy in China, and we'll be visiting processors. We'll be visiting with those who are purchasers of Iowa and U.S. soybeans."

While it's up to Trump to make decisions on tariffs and other large-scale trade, Putze said Iowa's soybean growers hope to remind the Chinese what makes the crop so important to them.

"We will be in China to reinforce the personal side of trade," Putze said.

Despite tough talk from Washington, Schnell said he's keeping faith in the future "because they need our product."

The soybean association will return to Iowa on March 25.

The state's congressional delegation has written to the president urging him to rethink the tariffs.

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