Area farmers want free trade, not bail-out

Area farmers want free trade, not bail-out

Soybean farmers may get some relief from recent tariffs as the Department of Agriculture makes available $12 billion in temporary federal aid, President Donald Trump announced this week.

The plan, according to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, is meant for short-term relief while Trump and other officials work on trade deals, and officials hope it'll compensate farmers for what the White House says is an $11 billion shortfall.

Trump plans to speak this afternoon about his economic agenda at U.S. Steels' Granite City Works. He will be joined by Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Collinsville, and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Taylorville.

But Bailey Edenburn, assistant manager at the Champaign County Farm Bureau, said she would rather see markets open up, not close.

"We'd prefer trade to this money," Edenburn said. "I think that farm country appreciates the fact that they are aware in the White House on farm issues and how much of a beating the farm economy has taken since the tariff issues started. But I think that most people in ag will recognize that free trade is very important; that exports are important to Illinois ag."

The New Deal-era Commodity Credit Corp. will, as soon as September, begin direct payments to producers of soybeans, corn and other crops, as well as start a food purchase and distribution program that will purchase any unexpected surplus of affected commodities like fruits, nuts and rice, to be distributed to food banks and other nutrition programs.

This comes after China — Illinois' biggest agricultural trade partner — announced earlier this month $34 billion worth of tariffs on U.S. imports in response to tariffs imposed by Trump. The tariffs dealt a pretty big blow to Illinois, which relied on the Chinese market to off-load more than $3 billion worth of soybeans last year, more than it shipped to any other state.

Some relief may come from an announcement Wednesday that Trump and European Union leaders have struck a deal to work toward "zero tariffs," as well as more soybean imports to Europe from America.

Chris Hausman, former president of the Champaign County Farm Bureau, who also farms in south Champaign County, said the tariffs make him nervous, and he hopes Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping get past what he called "saber-rattling."

"If this can spur more soybeans sold into the EU, then that's great," he said. "But it's so critical to help keep the market between the U.S. and China healthy. Once you lose a market, it's sometimes hard to get that market back.

"We just can't turn our backs and think customers will just come to us. We have to be ready to go out and be aggressive and capture and keep our markets, and hopefully Trump will realize that."

Ahead of Trump's Granite City visit, Shimkus said in a statement that it's "undeniable" the president has brought steel jobs back to the state, and he hopes he'll do the same for farmers.

"I appreciate the president's commitment to helping my farmers, as he's already helped my steelworkers, by fighting back against those who engage in unfair trade practices," Shimkus said. "The sooner we negotiate better trade deals, the better off all my constituents will be."

But the Illinois Farm Bureau is clear on what it wants: trade, not aid.

"While we are grateful for the support from the administration, we must stress that this aid package will not make farmers whole in the face of continued trade tensions," Illinois Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. said in a statement. "The economic and marketing damage caused by these tariffs will continue as long as they're in effect and, likely, far longer. That's why we urge the president and administration to continue to negotiate trade deals with our global partners, including Mexico, Canada, Japan and the European Union, and get back to the table with China, to work on resolving unfair trade practices that are the underlying issue."

Along with the Market Facilitation Program and the Food Purchase and Distribution Program, the USDA and Trump administration is focusing on developing new export markets for all commodities through the Trade Promotion Program.

In a statement, Davis said he appreciates the help the administration and the USDA are giving to farmers in renegotiating trade deals.

"Many of these same farmers have told me they are willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt while the president works to negotiate better trade deals," Davis said. "But we will need to see results, and I look forward to seeing the details of Secretary Perdue's plan next month."

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