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Jackelyn Severin Talks Soybean Tariffs With South Dakota Farmers


In The Moment ... April 18, 2018 Show 318 Hour 1

It's been more than a month since President Donald Trump threatened to put tariffs on more than one-thousand imported Chinese goods.

China shot back with proposals for tariffs of its own, including on US soybeans.

It's currently unclear if either country will follow through with their threats. One thing is certain - the international discussion impacts farmers in South Dakota.

SDPB's Jackelyn Severin asks South Dakota farmers how they are dealing with the uncertainty.

I’m at the farm of Reid Jensen about 15 miles north of Vermillion, South Dakota. Jensen is checking over his farm equipment and getting it ready for spring planting. Today, he is preparing to hook his planter up to his tractor.

“When you hook the planter up to the tractor its like a marriage. There’s a lot of different parts there and you don’t want a divorce,” says Jensen.

Jensen has plenty to do and plenty to worry about, especially with the weather bringing snow so late into the spring season. So, he says he is trying to not to get too wrapped up in what is happening at the national level. However, Jensen is concerned about possible tariffs coming from China on US soybeans but he is optimistic that President Trump will work things out.

“I think he is a businessman and he looks at things that way and there’s some things that need to be corrected with our trade with China. Intellectual property rights for one, and I think that’s what he is trying to fix. He just needs to know that he cannot give up other parts of the trade we have for the intellectual property rights. You know, we need everything to work and to benefit both countries,” says Jensen.

Other farmers in South Dakota are also cautiously optimistic. Scott VanderWal is President of the South Dakota Farm Bureau. He says it is too early to panic without knowing what China will really do. However, he wishes President Trump would use tariffs as a last resort in trade negotiations. VanderWal says right now farmers have enough to deal with without worrying about tariffs from China. 

“It gives us uncertainty and in agriculture we’ve got enough uncertainty already without the possibility of a trade disruption. And the point we make is that with this current economic time in agriculture, where we’re at or below cost of production in most cases, the last thing in the world we need is a trade disruption.”

Another frustration expressed by farmers is how fast President Trump went forward with announcing his plans to implement tariffs on Chinese goods. Doug Sombke is President of the South Dakota Farmers Union. Sombke says if Trump wanted to change things with China he should have had trade agreements with other countries already in place.

“I just wish they would hash this stuff out a little bit and think it through and be prepared to take care of the producers before we even start these type of talks because, just a whisper of it today with the way we communicate really caused a problem for our markets. And, you know, it dropped 50 cents that one day. And now it’s come back nice and we got some levels that look positive but, if this continues like this it’s going to be a rocky road,” says Sombke.

According to the South Dakota Soybean Association China is the biggest importer of South Dakota soybeans. If China does go through with its threat, it is possible that the US can find other countries to export to. However, trade deals take years to negotiate while these tariffs will likely be put into place this year.

Back at his farm near Vermillion, Reid Jensen expresses concerns about the gap between tariffs from China and new trade agreements with other countries.

“Maybe if we would lose the market with China we might gain it back with somebody else but you’re not going to gain it back as quick. Because you’ve developed the relationship with those people and you’ve developed those markets. And I was involved with US grains council and I’ve seen how those markets develop and it’s something that’s built over time. So, it’s just something we cannot afford to lose.”

Jensen says farmers are used to uncertainty and they are able to adapt when needed, otherwise they would not be doing what they do. For now, Jensen says he is going to wait and see what happens with China and try not to stress too much. He is hopeful that President Trump will do the right thing and maintain US relations with the Chinese government.

Chris is a producer for In the Moment.