PEORIA, Ill. — It is a toss-up every year whether Illinois or Iowa will be the top soybean-producing state, though Illinois has edged out its northwestern neighbor for production honors in recent years.
It’s also difficult to tell which state’s farmers are currently angrier over the escalating trade war unfolding with China. Since Chinese officials announced a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybean and pork products in retaliation for initial U.S.-imposed tariffs on more than $50 billion of Chinese products on April 2, disapproval for the administration’s handling of the situation has rippled across the Soybean Belt.
Farmer-leaders in these states expressed rancor through calls to action by their Farm Bureaus and commodity associations, with more than 1,500 emails sent by Illinois farmers to President Trump and lawmakers through the Illinois Farm Bureau’s (IFB) website by last Friday.
“We urge President Trump to work on expanding trade rather than imposing tariffs that result in retaliation against Illinois farm families,” stated ILFB President Richard Guebert Jr. “We need action now to reverse this trade dynamic.”
In their messages to Trump and the Illinois Congressional delegation, farmers are urged by IFB to include the following: “Please don’t stand by and allow farmers like me to become collateral damage. Please strike a deal with the Chinese.”
They are advised to also remind lawmakers that China purchases 61 percent of total U.S. soybean exports, accounting for more than 30 percent of overall U.S. soybean production, according to IFB.
Illinois Soybean Assoc. leaders responded to the Chinese tariff with, “We are anxious for a positive outcome with our trade discussions with China to ensure the over 43,000 soybean farmers in Illinois are able to continue to efficiently and profitably grow this important crop.”
Research shows raising and crushing soybeans provides $28.3 billion in sales and 114,500 jobs to Illinois, with China purchasing about 25 percent of total soybeans grown in the state, according to the association.
Illinois’ Congressional delegation has largely supported the state’s farmers and rallied against a trade war, including Rep. Cheri Bustos and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Democrats, and Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican.
“Two years ago, then-candidate Donald Trump stood at a podium in Midwestern America and promised to ‘end this war on the American farmer.’ This week, President Trump broke that promise by impulsively igniting a reckless trade war,” wrote Bustos in an op-ed circulated to Illinois newspapers.
“Hard-working farmers in Illinois – and across our neighboring Heartland states – will be its first casualties.”
Iowa farmer John Heisdorffer grows soybeans in one of Illinois’ neighboring states and is president of the American Soybean Assoc. He is calling on the White House to reconsider the tariffs. “There is still time to reverse this damage, and the administration can still deliver for farmers by withdrawing the tariffs that caused this retaliation,” he stated in a press release.
“China has said that its 25 percent tariff will only go into effect based on the course of action the administration takes. We call on President Trump to engage the Chinese in a constructive manner, and achieve a positive result for soybean farmers.”
On April 10, Iowa Soybean Assoc. (ISA) President and farmer Bill Shipley invited the President to his Nodaway farm to help resolve the trade dispute.
“I would like to invite (Trump) to my farm to see us planting soybeans this year – to see what goes into production, how we do it and what we’re going to do,” he said at a press conference in Des Moines. “It’s a huge, valuable export for the United States.”
Media reported Shipley’s invitation and tweeted it to Trump, the ISA reported, but there was no indication as to whether the President acknowledged or will accept the offer.
Trade concerns pushed the Purdue University-CME Group Ag Economy Barometer down to 135 in March, a decline of 5 points from February. On Wall Street, trade war rhetoric served as a catalyst to immediately depress agricultural markets.
“At (the April 4) opening bell, Illinois soybean markets lost $275 million in crop value. Illinois pork producers stand to lose $105 million in market value from tariffs on pork products,” said Guebert on April 6.
“(American farmers) are projected to grow a 4 billion-bushel soybean crop this year,” IFB Vice President Brian Duncan said on CNN in the hours after China announced its counter-tariffs affecting agriculture. “The market price of soybeans dropped 40 cents this morning ... Yes, we feel like a casualty.”