NC Farmers Tell Tillis, Agriculture Secretary That Trade War Is Costing Them
Some North Carolina farmers say the trade war with China is costing them money, and one said the federal government’s $28 billion bailout hasn’t been enough. They met with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday.
Jim Howie of Union County runs a small beef cattle operation and works for a milk marketing co-operative.
He told Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, that he didn’t care to debate the merits of President Trump's trade war with China. But he said the financial relief the Trump administration has given to farmers hasn’t been enough.
“I really don’t believe I’m qualified … maybe that’s my own fault … to debate on whether those tariffs are right or wrong, but what I will not shy away from is agriculture is paying the brunt in this because of the drop in price,” Howie said.
Perdue, the secretary of agriculture, answered first. As he has in other appearances nationwide, Perdue said the plight of farmers has been overstated.
"Well, I would disagree with you," said Perdue, a former Republican governor of Georgia.
He says the president’s relief wasn’t designed to make farmers whole – only to help them survive.
"But I also would point you to the fact that farm prices peaked in 2012, and they have been going down for six or seven years," Perdue said. "We like to point to trade and China as that point in the spear. Farming, agriculture was retaliated on because that’s what we do better than anyone else in the world. And the president knew that."
That didn’t satisfy Howie.
“I would like to see the facts that back that up," Howie said. "For instance, the first round of relief for dairy amounted to 6 cents per 100 weight. We have taken a considerable higher hit on that as a result of these tariffs, as a result of lost exports to China than 6 cents, 100 weight.”
Tillis took a different approach. He said the trade war is vital to national security.
"When I was back here in North Carolina, I only viewed it through the eyes of a farmer and the impact that tariffs can have on you all," Tillis said. "But I also view it through the lens of someone who sits on Senate Armed Services, and I see a China that’s using an unfair trade relationship with us to fund their plan to be the military and economic superpower by 2050."
Tillis and Perdue spoke at a quasi-town hall event for about three dozen farmers at the Circle S Ranch Turkey Farm near Monroe.
Most questions were about immigration and the need for guest workers. Some also said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement should be approved by Congress. That’s the successor to NAFTA.
Other farmers were concerned about the trade war — like Ronnie Burleson of Stanly County, who farms corn, soybeans, wheat and cattle and turkeys.
But for now, Burleson is sticking with the president and Tillis. Even though he’s now only breaking even, he said.
"There’s no question about that, that the price of commodities went down — tremendously," Burleson said. "That was a hit for us, but we do understand where he’s trying to go long-term, and we hope it works."
Tillis supported the president on trade. And in speaking with reporters, he also said he’s giving the president “the benefit of the doubt” on his decision to remove U.S. troops from Syria near its border with Turkey.