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Farmers let Kelly, LaHood know the costs of trade disputes

September 4, 2018

With most of this year's crop sold and input costs covered, Steve Warrick said next year will be critical for his Will County farm.

"Nobody has a handle on next year – from bankers to fertilizer companies," he said.

If tariffs remain in place, he said: "It may be easier to farm it out to someone else and raise a steer for myself and raise a pig for myself and leave it at that."

Warrick and more than 20 other farmers and agribusiness representatives shared their concerns with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, during a roundtable discussion on his farm this week. They all stressed the importance of trade and expanded markets.

Adam Nielsen, director of Illinois Farm Bureau's national legislation and policy development, asked the group if they would rather have the trade disputes resolved or a new farm bill passed. One after another, farmers answered: "Trade."

Kelly, who spent time answering and asking questions, told the crowd she supported trade.

"I believe in free trade, but I believe in fair trade," she told FarmWeek after the meeting. "I do believe we need to look at the system. I don't want the United States to be on the losing end, but I also feel that what was decided, happened just like that and we didn't have all the right people at the table."

The meeting represented one of many IFB hosted with congressional leaders during their August recess. Some of the events, held on farms, grain elevators and county Farm Bureau offices, were co-hosted with Farmers for Free Trade, of which IFB is a member.

Angela Hofmann, deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade, said her organization hosted events across the country to "raise awareness that farmers are paying the price for these tariffs."

"We are helping to amplify the voices of farmers who are seeing the price of their commodities drop, the cost of their inputs rise and the markets they rely on cut off," Hofmann said. "Ultimately, our effort is focused on de-escalating a trade war that has hit farmers and rural communities hardest."

Inside the administrative office of CHS Lowder Elevator in rural Sangamon County, a group of about a dozen farmers discussed the status of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations and the trade dispute with China with U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap.

"The point I was trying to make to him was: Let's try to make sure in trade negotiations, agriculture isn't the first and only one to get beat up on," said Garry Niemeyer, a farmer from Auburn.

"We were also very concerned about how and why the basis of our grain prices has widened out so dramatically so quickly," Niemeyer said. "A lot of it had to do with grain not being shipped out of the Pacific Northwest, it's coming back to our area to be shipped to the Gulf of Mexico. And the payment to farmers probably has something to do with that, too."

LaHood said he's heard similar concerns about the long-term effects of a trade dispute from farmers throughout his district. He said he will bring that perspective back to Washington, D.C.

"I understand their anxiety and uncertainty as we head into a trade war," LaHood said after the meeting. "Unfortunately, in a trade war, ag is the pawn … I'm going to continue to fight in Washington, D.C., to make sure we get the best trade deals possible for our commodities, corn and soybeans."

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