Minnesota’s farmers are among the most productive in the nation. We boast 73,200 farm operations, and we’re among the 10 top states producing commodities like soybeans, corn, wheat and pork. We all depend upon agriculture to inject vitality into the economies that feed and fuel the state of Minnesota.
Our farmers depend on global trade to keep their operations viable, with agricultural exports contributing more than one-third of Minnesota’s total agricultural sales. Exports of goods and services supported roughly 118,000 jobs in Minnesota in 2016.
In March, President Donald Trump announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. On April 2, China, in a retaliatory move, announced tariffs on a number of U.S. agricultural exports, including pork and ethanol, effective immediately. The estimated impact of those tariffs to the U.S. farm economy is roughly $2 billion. The Trump administration proposed additional tariffs on Chinese non-food imports, which instigated, yet again, China’s retaliatory proposal to levy tariffs specifically targeting other U.S. agricultural products. These back-and-forth threats of steepened tariffs continue as we approach the middle of April, and they threaten the economic stability and security of our farmers. If implemented, China’s proposed 25 percent increase in tariffs to products like soybeans, corn, wheat and beef products will have devastating consequences for U.S. farmers.
On April 4, I watched as the soybean market in Murdock, Minn., a community in which I farmed for a good portion of my life, took a hard hit. Nationally, soybeans dropped in value by $1.7 billion following the announcement. Individual farmers could see losses in the tens of thousands of dollars in a year in which soybean production in Minnesota is expected to exceed corn acreage for the first time in 35 years.
Soybeans top Minnesota’s agricultural export commodities, and combined with corn, feeds, pork and soybean meal, they account for 70 percent of the state’s agricultural exports. Many of our top commodities will be impacted by the proposed tariffs, and if enacted, will add insult to injury already being experienced by Minnesota farmers.
These tit-for-tat tariff increases follow the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Similarly, the Trump administration’s handling of North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations has risked valuable trade alliances with Canada and Mexico, two of our most important trade partners. The trend of capricious renegotiation, withdrawal from critical trade agreements and proposed tariff increases only add uncertainty to an already difficult farm economy.
Instead of firing back with rash tariff increases, the U.S. should be working with China to ensure common sense trade deals. We can build trade relationships that benefit both the U.S. and China while supporting our hardworking farmers. But it’s clear the Trump administration is unable, or unwilling, to engage in meaningful trade negotiations that confront the complexities of global commerce.
As commissioner of agriculture, I have had the opportunity and privilege of visiting several countries on trade missions. These global missions serve many purposes, the most important of which are establishing and maintaining relationships to ensure that Minnesota’s farmers will have access to foreign markets. Imposing harsh tariffs puts these vital relationships at risk. At a time when the farm economy has experienced low commodity prices and high inputs, we cannot risk losing any potential market opportunities for Minnesota’s farmers.
It is beyond wrong for the Trump administration and China to continue to engage in tariff warfare, especially during a time of severe economic challenges for farmers. There is broad consensus that food should not be used as a weapon. Since 2012, farm incomes in Minnesota have seen drastic decline, prompting financial stress, foreclosures and farmer suicides. The Trump administration’s disregard for the well-being and economic solvency of Minnesota and our nation’s farmers will only exacerbate the challenges our farmers are already facing.
It is counterproductive to be spending and seeking funding to help farmers survive this economic crisis while at the same time, the Trump administration seems to be doing all it can to alienate our trading partners and push farmers out of business. We are a nation of abundance. Our farmers produce ample supplies of food, fuel, feed and fiber, but they also produce for the export market. The loss of any of these opportunities would be a serious blow to the economic viability of American agriculture.
To quote notable Minnesotan Hubert H. Humphrey, “We would do well to spend a few minutes in considering projects which grace and embellish the earth, instead of shaking it.”
Dave Frederickson is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.