Government

Farmers 'deeply concerned' about tariffs, Iowa ag leader says

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig talks with the founders of SwineTech during a late March visit to the company’s offices in Cedar Rapids. Naig on Thursday talked about much a trade war between the United States and China would hurt Iowa farmers and ag-related industries. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig talks with the founders of SwineTech during a late March visit to the company’s offices in Cedar Rapids. Naig on Thursday talked about much a trade war between the United States and China would hurt Iowa farmers and ag-related industries. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

URBANDALE — Iowa farmers are “deeply concerned” about the potential for increased trade taxes and a possible trade war between the U.S. and China, the state’s top agriculture official says.

Mike Naig, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, said this week that China’s tariff on pork and proposed tariff on soybeans — both of which came in response to proposed U.S. tariffs on Chinese metal and technology — already are impacting the value of some of Iowa’s biggest exports.

That makes Iowa farmers, who have been operating with slim profit margins for roughly four years, uneasy, Naig said.

“Folks are deeply concerned about it, and rightfully so. There’s just so much uncertainty,” Naig said in an interview. “It’s very much top of mind.”

China is the No. 3 importer of U.S. pork; $1.1 billion of pork is shipped to China annually. Iowa is the top pork-producing and pork-exporting state in the nation, with roughly 20 million hogs and 6,000 hog farms in the state, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

This week, Trump announced another round of proposed tariffs on Chinese technology, citing unfair trade and patent practices. China responded with another round of proposed tariffs of its own, including soybeans.

Roughly a third of U.S. soybeans are exported to China, according to the Iowa Soybean Association. Iowa is the nation’s No. 2 producer of soybeans after Illinois. Roughly one-fourth of the state’s soybean crop is exported to China, Naig said.

“I acknowledge there are some trade issues that need to be resolved between the U.S. and China and our overall trading relationship,” Naig said. “But we would want (the president’s administration) to understand and know that we don’t want agriculture to be the bargaining chip here.

“So we would really encourage the administration to work with the Chinese to try to resolve these issues as quickly as we can so we can try to minimize the impact on the market.”

The enacted and proposed tariffs already have made an impact. Soybean futures fell as much as 2 percent before rebounding, thanks in part to a severe drought in Argentina.

Hog futures fell a record 6 percent, according to Bloomberg.

“The good news is there’s some time, and our expectation is and our understanding is there are negotiations ongoing,” Naig said. “Our hope is that we can resolve these issues in a way that minimizes the impact on the markets. But it’s also true that while those tariffs may not formally come into effect until four to six weeks out, the markets react in real time, so we started (Wednesday) with soybeans down 5 percent.”

Iowa farmers already were dealing with an agriculture economy that has been sluggish for roughly four years.

“Farm income has been stagnant, and crop prices have been near or below the cost of production,” he said. “Overall, we’ve got an ag economy where we’re definitely experiencing some financial stress. This certainly doesn’t help that situation.”

Naig said his department has been in communication with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as Iowa’s governor and congressional leaders.

“Nobody wins in a trade war, is what I think most folks will say,” he said.

l Comments: (515) 422-9061; erin.murphy@lee.net

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