U.S. farmers say steel tariffs are ‘disastrous’

Corn and soybean growers worried about retaliation

On March 8, farm organizations such as the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Association of Wheat Grower, all released statements condemning the U.S. president’s decision to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

The soybean association used particularly strong language in its statement, saying the decision was a “disastrous course of action.”

“(The tariffs) may lead to retaliation by one or more of our valuable trading partners, which in turn will kneecap demand for soybeans in a time when the farm economy is struggling. We have heard directly from the Chinese that U.S. soybeans are prime targets for retaliation.”

Trump signed an order March 8 to slap tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum.

Canada and Mexico will be temporarily exempt from the tariffs, provided the renegotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement reach a satisfactory conclusion, Trump said.

U.S. ag industry reps have been arguing for weeks that the tariffs will have horrific consequences for American farmers because other nations will retaliate with their own tariffs, most likely on agricultural commodities.

Trump has defended the tariffs with a national security argument, saying the steel and aluminum industries are crucial for the U.S. military.

In an opinion piece published in The Hill, a Washington, D.C., publication, two wheat growers said other countries could also use that logic to defend tariffs on food.

“It’s not a difficult argument for a wheat importer to say that if America needs domestic steel to build ships and tanks, they need domestic wheat to feed their soldiers,” said Dave Milligan and Doug Goings, who farm in Michigan and Ohio.

“The opportunities to restrict trade for national security reasons will only be as limited as the protectionist’s imagination. That will truly erode global trade rules as imitators demand protection throughout the world.”

Other groups in America’s ag industry voiced similar opinions, noting that U.S. farmers operate in a global market.

“We have tremendous concern about the global ramifications of any new tariffs on ag exports,” said Tom Sleight, U.S. Grains Council chief executive officer.

“Our products can compete on price and quality anywhere in the world, but the domino effects of new tariffs could make that much, much harder.”

The National Corn Growers released a carefully worded statement, criticizing the tariffs but also expressing hope that the Trump administration with help minimize the potential impact on farmers.

The soybean association was less tactful, likely because the U.S. exports $14 billion in soybeans to China. The Chinese could impose tariffs on American soybeans or simply choose to buy more beans from South America.

“The idea that we’re the only game in town, and these partners have no choice but to purchase from the U.S., is flatly wrong. Our competition in Brazil and Argentina is eager to capitalize on whatever openings these tariffs create for them in markets like China and elsewhere,” the soybean association said.

“There is absolutely a way to encourage growth in domestic industry without cannibalizing the success of agricultural trade. With these tariffs, the administration has taken the opposite approach, and sacrificed the progress and potential of farmers.”

The U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum are expected to take effect March 23.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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