wheat harvest
Photo: Adobestock
WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Commodity groups representing U.S. farmers said they would prefer the removal of tariffs not aid packages following the announcement of a plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to spend $12 billion on programs to assist farmers financially impacted by ongoing trade disputes across the world.

The groups said the aid package was a short-term fix, and would prefer a long-term solution, such as removing tariffs, entering new trade agreements and securing NAFTA.

Kevin Skunes president of NCGA
Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Association

“NCGA appreciates the administration’s recognition of the harm to producers caused by tariffs and trade uncertainty,” said Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). “NCGA’s grower members are confronting their fifth consecutive year of declining farm incomes while facing high levels of uncertainty due to ongoing trade disputes and disruptions in the ethanol markets. Corn farmers prefer to rely on markets, not an aid package, for their livelihoods.

“NCGA will continue to advocate for administrative actions, including: rescinding the section 232 and 301 tariffs; securing NAFTA’s future; entering new trade agreements; allowing for year-round sales of higher ethanol blends such as E15; and implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard as intended. We believe these additional actions, which would come with no cost, would result in stronger market demand for farmers.”

The USDA plan includes three components: direct payments to farmers and producers of hogs, soybeans, sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton and dairy; direct commodity purchases by the USDA; and funding for a program similar in purpose to the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development programs.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) said they were glad the administration recognizes that farmers need help. However, they are still concerned that a lengthy trade war will cause long-term, irreparable harm to U.S. agriculture.

“We urge the administration to recognize this self-inflicted damage and to end the trade war immediately as well as to work within the rules-based trading system in partnership with like-minded countries to address serious problems in the global economy,” USW and NAWG said. “Agriculture needs strong trading partners, so we also encourage the administration to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership and finalize NAFTA negotiations so that the U.S. Trade Representative can focus on new trading partners that will be as important as ever. These actions will have lasting benefits to wheat growers across the country.”

The American Soybean Association (ASA) echoed those sentiments, saying it appreciates the administration’s response, but it wants a longer-term strategy to alleviate mounting soybean surpluses and continued low prices, including a plan to remove the harmful tariffs.

John Heisdorffer
John Heisdorffer, ASA president

“Our best course of action is to expand other markets and develop new ones to buy the soybeans we’re not selling to China,” said John Heisdorffer, ASA president and soybean grower from Keota, Iowa, U.S. “This means finishing the NAFTA negotiations as soon as possible so we can begin talks on new bilateral agreements with other key soybean markets, including Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.”

Soybean farmers are facing an urgent situation this fall, with a near-record harvest expected and exports predicted to be down by 11% next year. That situation will worsen without long-term answers to the pinch of tariffs — or seeing the tariffs rescinded.

“The American Soybean Association has consistently advised the administration that the best way to reduce our nation’s trade deficit is by increasing exports, including of agricultural products,” Heisdorffer said. “Since the administration has decided to use tariffs to address trade concerns with China, and China has retaliated, farmers don’t have time to wait to see how this trade war turns out.”